After the most surprising presidential election in American history, millions of people worry what the future will hold. With so much uncertainty about the fate of industries, wages, markets, jobs, human rights, and race relations, people are divided and scared, and these emotions can bleed into the workplace.
Many of my clients and colleagues have noticed lower morale and heightened sensitivity in their workplaces since the election, and they’ve asked my advice about how to handle the fear that’s permeating the environment.
Fear cuts off creativity and inhibits teamwork. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fear moves your team from the higher levels of love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization down to safety and the psychology of survival. Win-win thinking is replaced by individual concern.
When internal and external factors outside of your control threaten the well-being and mental attitude of your team, what can you do? Amazingly, often an inspiring email from the leader can go a long way to calm your team’s concerns, lift their spirits, rally your organization, and create a circle of belonging.
The most meaningful email you can write today is one that demonstrates true leadership. It opens lines of communication, raises individual and collective spirits, and sets the organization back on the path to inspiration.
Here are three tips for writing a meaningful email during turbulent times:
1. Acknowledge the Issue
When writing this email, using a framework of acknowledgment is powerful. Great leaders name the issue. They don’t duck, hedge or waffle.
They acknowledge what it is so the team can move through it. Put words to the underlying sentiment, but move quickly from the problem to the solution. This is your chance to quell concerns, reaffirm confidence and keep everyone moving forward.
Jeff Weiner used his intuition to craft an inspiring letter after Linkedin was acquired by Microsoft earlier this year. Weiner started by acknowledging his team’s fear and doubt, which set a tone of openness that carried throughout.
He wrote: “No matter what you’re feeling now, give yourself some time to process the news. You might feel a sense of excitement, fear, sadness, or some combination of all of those emotions.”
Then, Weiner addressed the one vital question he knew his employees would be thinking after an acquisition: “What does this mean for you specifically as an employee of LinkedIn?” He proceeded to answer this question with the optimism and confidence he knew his team needed.
2. Encourage Employees to Take Action
Having a well-aligned vision is key to success, but that vision can lose significance if it’s the only thing you ever talk about. Instead of rehearsing the same old vision speech, invite your team to take positive action.
Remind the team of commonalities, shared values and vision, and that they have been successful in the past through tough times. Be sure to encourage tolerance, open-mindedness and respect for one another and the end customer too.
We saw Howard Schultz of Starbucks do this in 2015 when the Dow plunged, and more recently just days before the recent election. In his letter to all “partners,” he talks about his personal anxieties, the “promise of America,” and each person’s responsibly to be a good person.
He encourages each partner to take action: “Start today by recognizing the power we have to walk in someone else’s shoes, to demonstrate understanding, and to strip away the differences that divide us.” Schultz then urges his partners to “be the person that makes a positive difference.”
3. Use Personal Stories to Create Trust
It can be difficult for employees to relate to their leaders, especially at larger companies. This email is a great opportunity to connect with employees on a personal level and show them what you have in common.
When your team understands the personal drive behind the decisions you make, they’ll be more trusting of your decisions. Simply discuss your feelings around a shared issue that matters both to you and your employees.
When you’re open about your own emotions, your team will be too, and this will create a stronger culture that’s driven by trust on both ends.
Take Mark Zuckerberg’s post-election statement on Facebook, for example. Zuckerberg posted a photo of himself and his daughter, Max, and called upon his fans to make the world better despite recent conflicts. He wrote: “Holding Max, I thought about all the work ahead of us to create the world we want for our children.”
This kind of vulnerability is uncommon among public figures, but since so many people were feeling vulnerable after the election, Zuckerberg knew his story was timely and on-topic.