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Business Leader as Community Leader: Civic Engagement During Unrest

Aug 20, 2017
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Business Leader as Community Leader: Civic Engagement During Unrest

I wanted to write an article about how to thrive in business during times of uncertainty and upheaval. Over the past month, we have seen the ouster of several senior White House officials, a replay of the Cuban missile crisis, race riots in Virginia, and terrorist attacks in Barcelona and elsewhere. Times are so crazy that I wouldn’t be surprised if the sun is blotted out soon.

Rick’s Café Americain. I think that topic would be worthwhile. Maybe I will write it soon. But, thinking about how to thrive in business during this chaos feels too much like Rick running his bar in Casablanca quietly serving drinks to the Vichy French as well as the French resistance. Rick was an enigmatic character. He wanted to keep his head down, run his business and not get entangled in other people’s conflicts. (In fairness to Rick, and the WWII America that he represented, he eventually engaged in the unavoidable conflict).

Community Engagement. America needs business leaders to be engaged in our communities as civic leaders. Entrepreneurs, executives, managers and other business professionals are accustomed to conflict resolution, communications, consensus building and compromise. These are skills that our country needs right now. Our elected officials lack the moral authority to bring people together in these times. So, those of us in the private sector (the marketplace and our neighborhood communities) need to rise to the occasion and lead by example.

I am not talking about political activism here. There is already too much activism in the workplace and marketplace in my opinion. Instead, I am talking about business leaders and professionals taking the time to be engaged in the community. This may come in the form of volunteering, or by publicly reaffirming the principles of our representative democracy and the civic virtues we used to call good “citizenship”.

Sure, this can be derided as “virtue signaling”. It can be dismissed as “chamber of commerce” propaganda that everything is good in my town, so let’s sell, sell, sell. True, all things being equal, peace and tranquility are good for business. But, remember that peace and tranquility are good for our communities, neighborhoods, and families. We don’t want our neighbors angrily marching in our own neighborhoods, right?

Activists and some politicians want to stir up strife for their own political ends. We are the ones who suffer from their hatemongering and hyper-politicization. If we want the people in our cities and towns to get along, private citizens have to build positive, peaceful relationships across racial, religious and partisan lines. If the politicians can’t be trusted to ease tensions, who better than business leaders to be the voice of reason and harmony?

Avoiding False Dilemmas. Business leaders are often comfortable making decisions despite having incomplete information. In the real world, we rarely have perfect knowledge. Despite imperfect knowledge, business leaders have to confidently make decisions and build consensus around those decisions. A wise leader will know to avoid a false dilemma.

Have you ever walked into a lunch room and seen two loud, angry co-workers arguing about something-or-other? Just because they are loud and angry doesn’t mean one of them is right. Both of them can be wrong. In fact, there is typically an indirect correlation between volume and dispassionate reason.

Picking sides between the two loud fools in the lunch room is probably not wise. A good manager will look for away to de-escalate the tensions, then address any substantive issues later when tempers have cooled. Chances are, both people in the argument escalated some petty conflict and willfully refused to understand the other person’s concerns. This is not behavior that should be commended in the workplace.

We don’t have to master all the details of what happened at Charlottesville or any other news event. Suffice it to say, we don’t want the same things happening in our workplaces or neighborhoods. While activists try to stoke the flames of hatred and dissension, we need leaders easing tension and fostering understanding and dialogue. If you are running a business, you don’t need to have a town hall for employees so they can “let it all out”. Instead, business leaders should model the behavior they want from employees and colleagues. Demonstrate fairness and goodwill to others. Reaffirm the standards, virtues and behaviors you believe in without weighing in on every news story as it develops.

Partisans and activists are trying to take advantage of the moral leadership void in this country. Business leaders, executives, and aspiring professionals should do their part to fill that void. If we don’t, who will?


Photo Credit: Stockbroker 123rf.com

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