On November 8, 2016 we as Americans voted in the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump.
In my work life, I have not known such a time where politics have held such potential to seep into the workplace. Much of our funding is from Medicaid. Many of our clients receive Medicaid. We have employees who are immigrants from other countries and have made their lives in the US. Our policies reflect inclusion of all employees and our health plan pays for birth control – neither of these will change regardless of federal policy. We have not been an organization that allies with a certain political party and we won’t become that. We are and will continue to be an organization that fights for inclusion; that serves communities and that prides ourselves on being a safe place for all to work.
As leaders who strive to lead from an apolitical stance, these times can be difficult. I asked some of our Service Alternatives leaders,
“What have you learned about leading ’the work’ through unsettled political times?”
and this is what they had to say. There is a lot of brilliance in here. I know I learned some things and hope you will too!
- I have learned a lot about leading through political change with this new Administration. Nervousness and concerns around losing funding for programs has been huge, so we stop and have a discussion around it when it comes up. The concerns I hear about first are regarding the impact of funding cuts on the people we support- both direct staff and individuals in our service. Then I hear secondary concerns about personal job security if funding disappears. As a team, we create a safe space to share discomfort and other emotions that come up. When everyone has shared, I always like to move the conversation forward into what we can do to build natural supports for the work we do, and strategize how we can create sustainability of services should funding change. Building and sustaining a sense of hope through these conversations is my role as a leader. It’s challenging sometimes given the strength of emotional responses to political change, but these conversations need to be viewed as an opportunity to build trust and relationship with each other and to renew our sense of alignment to our core values and the purpose of the work we do.
- I have become more well read and more clear about understanding which political issues are truly business issues that we must be involved in on an advocacy and legislative level.
- I find that open communication and transparency are key to leading through unsettled political times. Employees need clear direction and to know that leadership is involved in communicating the stability of the company and our services. Our clear communication to our divisions during the State budget crisis was an important piece to alleviating employee concerns. Our continued development of agency wide communication and cascading information shows purposeful thought and stability to our teams. Additionally, personalizing leadership through thoughtful conversation and active listening helps to redefine focus and minimize anxiety.
- I think there’s wisdom in the old adage not to bring up religion or politics in polite conversation. When it comes to work, I believe in trying to help people find their passion in their work. I believe that work can be a place where we’re united by our common mission. At SA, all employees are in service of our vision and working in alignment with our values. We may have other values that drive us outside of work—fairness, faith, justice, competition, liberty, love, life, happiness—but we have a common language among peers.
- At my core, I love debating ideas. Conflict, when participants are grounded in common purpose, allows us to view proposals from a variety of perspectives. But I feel we’ve grown too isolated and siloed in our communities of the like-minded. When all you hear is affirmation and confirmation you can start to wonder, “Why would anyone possibly disagree with me? Isn’t it obvious?” You begin to define your personal identity with your beliefs. When your identity as a person is defined by your beliefs, any challenge to your beliefs is a challenge of you as a person. To be dismissive of an idea you disagree with is to dismiss the person who believes in it. We’ve lost respect for differences of opinion and bygones. There is no healthy conflict or debate to be had, only toxic arguments and fights.
- Politics are an unavoidable part of our workplace, whether it’s benchmarks, governing mandates, or funding sources, we are impacted by the decisions of local and national leaders. We can keep our heads down and try to work within the confines of client support, but we also have an obligation to advocate for our organizational needs. We work to advance the potential and sometimes that means working to advocate for our staff, clients, and communities in a political way.
- For me, leading through difficult political times means taking really good care of myself. By staying grounded and healthy personally, I am better able to manage my own stress about our political situation. By doing this, I am a stronger leader and am less likely to both respond to others’ concerns/questions and manage my own opinions in a professional manner.
- When political conversations arise, I work really hard to avoid making assumptions. By asking questions, I stay open to new ideas and have the potential to learn something new myself. It is about being respectful.
For me, I am more well read than I have ever been on current events and am deepening my knowledge of history. I am more mindful than ever that my role as a leader is to lead our organization to our shared vision in a manner that is grounded in our shared values. This professional focus grounds me to my purpose and helps me to be discerning of topics that support or detract from our mission. I have the privilege every day of supporting individual and organizational needs and am grateful to have this anchor during these tumultuous times.
What have you learned about leading through tumultuous political times? Please feel free to share your perspectives by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.