Over decades as a CEO, I have never felt the need to share as many messages with my employees about public events and civic life as I have over the past year. COVID fallout, racial justice protests, the seditious siege of our nation’s capitol: all have prompted me to relay expressions of sadness, support and healing.
Not surprisingly, the latter messages on social justice and the attack on the Capitol did not land the same way with all of my company’s employees. I knew, of course, that would be the case. I’m sure many of you can relate to the difficult balance of sharing reflections or taking positions with which some portion of the company might vehemently disagree or find too political. Yet I believe strongly that it is incumbent upon me as a business leader to speak to my team members about more than corporate plans and results. We are all humans touched and shaped by events in the broader world; leaders do well to remember that the “human” part comes before the “employee” part.
These reflections took on additional resonance as I crafted my annual message celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Day. I acknowledged to my staff that recent events had left me feeling somewhat defeated and worn-out. But after re-reading many of Dr. King’s writings and poignant quotes, I was struck by how many of his messages were the direct antidote to what weighs down so many of us, our country and me personally.
Of the themes that caught my attention, his messages of “letting light drive out the dark'' and “love overcoming hate” stood out. They spoke to me personally to act, to find forgiveness and to go forward with grace and love. Despite my deep anger over the events of January 6, I was stopped in my tracks by his quote about “riots being the message of the unheard.” Was I not listening closely enough?
I hope that, in the year to come, I’ll have fewer occasions to talk to my team members about wrenchingly difficult civic issues, and more opportunities to celebrate success and joy. I hope, too, that regardless of the message, I’ll have been able to inform it by listening more closely to views, opinions, hurts and joy across the spectrum. I know I won’t be able to please everyone; but that isn’t, and shouldn’t be, my aim. Rather, my goal will be to listen in order to understand, and emulate Dr. King by leading with courage and respect.