January 26, 2021
The one thing we can all agree on is that things are contentious out there. Our current political climate is ugly.
Social media has changed politics in our country. But it’s not just the politicians who are taking to social channels to express their opinions. Many people ask me, “As a business owner or leader, should I be using social platforms to express my personal political beliefs?”
The truth is, there’s no single right answer to that question. If you own the company, it’s an easier call. You don’t risk alienating your boss or losing your job, and odds are your company’s values and political leanings are the same as your personal ones.
But what if you are a leader at a company that you don’t own or is publicly traded?
Given that we have finally wrapped up the 2020 election and inauguration, I thought this week’s column might be well spent examining the risks and rewards of sharing your firmly held political beliefs on your personal social accounts. Next week we’ll look at how organizations can use social media to express their social standing and the potential ramifications.
Let’s all agree that we have the right to express our political beliefs, which is one of the privileges of being an American. I’m not about to suggest you can or can’t do anything. But I think it would be ignorant of us not to acknowledge that our choices come with consequences. We’ve seen many examples of how a CEO’s personal beliefs, financial support or comments have affected their employer’s brand and caused boycotts, a spike in sales or, in some cases, the removal of the leader.
It’s an even riskier proposition if your personal beliefs are not aligned with your employer’s politics.
Because of the severity of the potential consequences, many business leaders choose to avoid religious and political discussions altogether on social. But if you want to get political on your personal social channels, there are some things to consider so that the interactions go well.
As an individual, odds are your social connections are a mix of family, personal friends and business colleagues. It’s highly unlikely that you all share the exact same belief set. So the first acknowledgment we need to make is that we should expect a wide range of reactions if we express our political opinion publicly.
You have to be ready to engage with people who think you’re wrong. Those conversations can get heated in a hurry, so you also have to devote time to police that aspect of the discussion. Your civility will be remembered long after the conversation dies down.
Before you post, be clear about your objective. Are you trying to encourage dialogue? Hoping to change minds? Are you just declaring your own beliefs?
Stating your intentions upfront will help you manage the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand. Citing credible sources and fact-checking before you post will undoubtedly protect your reputation, even when someone disagrees with you.
Interestingly, in our current climate, you may be judged harshly by your employees, customers or professional peers if you don’t take a stand on specific issues. If you’ve opted to stay silent, you may be asked to defend that choice.
Whichever choice you make, use your leadership skills to navigate the situation. Listen. Look for common ground. Be honest and candid about both your beliefs and intentions.
No one right answer. No simple choices. No choice without consequence.
It’s a little like politics, isn’t it?