4 Ways to Lead Through Election Uncertainty

I spent much of this week in Japan – virtually. For three days in a row, I rose before 4am to do pitches with startups from all over the world and dozens of Japanese companies. What struck me, while engaged in post-pitch networking, was nearly every person I met asked me about the election. It reminded me that it’s not just the US, where 70% of Americans report feeling significant stress over the election. Much of the world is on pins and needles. A friend’s Facebook post summed it up perfectly: “Regardless of your preference, do you agree that you just can’t wait for this election to be over?”

But it is not over yet. And I am mentally preparing myself that it likely won’t be on Election night. So I went looking this week for the best advice I could find for what to do, as a leader, over the next few weeks. What I found seems useful, personally and professionally:

  1. Take care of your own stress levels to be available to calm others.
    Work hard to maintain your healthy habits. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Meditate. Manage your media consumption. Social media browsing is particularly stress-inducing. Obsessive checking of fivethirtyeight.com may also be a sign you need to unplug. Channel nervous energy into action for a candidate you support. Model this behavior for your colleagues, neighbors, and kids.

  2. Communicate before and after.
    Acknowledge the challenging days ahead and encourage employees to take the high road. Remind them of your commitment to a culture of mutual respect and inclusivity. No matter what happens, the outcome will be the elephant in the room. It needs to be addressed. On the flip side, an HBR article offering timely advice to leaders also made the great point to resist the temptation to be the office pundit. People will be watching not just your official communications but your pre-meeting banter. Try to avoid heightening the drama.

  3. Offer safe spaces and coaching for courageous conversations.
    The Dialogue Project offers tools for managers to engage in respectful conversations and productive discourse. The Better Arguments project has helpful resources to teach people to have conversations that bridge divides. I am planning on sharing these this week with our leadership team and next Monday with our entire team.

  4. Stay close.
    The last recommendation comes from Psychology Today. It advises to stay close to people you disagree with because avoidance actually increases anxiety. Knowing how heightened passions are across the political spectrum, I found this advice a little surprising. I assumed avoidance was the best way to stay calm. But the article notes: “None of us are one dimensional. We are all more human than we are one tribe or another.”

I decided to put that advice to the test this week and (against Mr. Stevens’ counsel) engaged in a political dialogue for nearly an hour with someone I know to be a staunch supporter for the other party. I listened and shared. He listened and shared. On a surprising number of topics, we agreed. Many we obviously do not. I am not sure I’ll ever understand how someone can ignore certain behaviors. But our divide wasn’t nearly as big as it often feels. A great reminder to keep top of mind as we navigate the coming weeks.

Quote of the Week: “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”

Mahatma Gandhi

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