What’s a leader to do in the wake of a divisive election? For Silicon Valley CEOs from Apple, eBay, Facebook, and LinkedIn, the answer is smile, give us a all a hug, and tell people to get back to work. But Microsoft’s President Brad Smith showed us how a leader ought to lead in a crisis.
This election is a fascinating leadership challenge. Based on my conversations with tech workers and Trump’s lower levels of support among college graduates, I expect that the majority of employees at these companies are scared about the prospects for a President Trump. But it’s not in the best interest of CEOs to take a political stand — they’ll alienate some of their staffs and complicate relationships with the Trump administration. They have to say something, but they can’t say anything. Hence the reassuringly empty statements from everybody but Microsoft.
Let’s take a look at a few. These are representative excerpts, with links to the original source. Weasel words highlighted in bold.
Microsoft President Brad Smith gets analytical
Smith blogged a 3100-word report in response to the election. In true analyst fashion, he quickly dispenses with the feelings and moves on to “What does this mean, and what do we now?” — with charts.
Like so many people across the country, we woke up in Redmond, Washington this morning thinking about yesterday’s election. And like so many Americans, regardless of who we supported through our vote, we strongly share the view that this is a time for the nation to come together. Every president-elect deserves our congratulations, best wishes and support for the country as a whole. . . .
First and foremost, the vote yesterday registered a strong concern about the plight of those who feel left out and left behind.
In important respects, this concern is understandable. In recent months we’ve been struck by a study from Georgetown University. It shows that a quarter-century of U.S. economic growth under Democrats and Republicans alike has added 35 million net new jobs. But the number of jobs held by Americans with only a high school diploma or less has fallen by 7.3 million. The disparity is striking. The country has experienced a doubling of jobs for Americans with a four-year college degree, while the number of jobs for those with a high school diploma or less has fallen by 13 percent. . . .
Finally, it will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time. As this election demonstrated, technology now plays a ubiquitous role in our daily lives. But people will not use technology they do not trust.
Apple CEO Tim Cook: Damn the feelings, all together now
Cook’s message to employees is warm, friendly, and ultimately meaningless. “Strong feelings” is very new age.
I’ve heard from many of you today about the presidential election. In a political contest where the candidates were so different and each received a similar number of popular votes, it’s inevitable that the aftermath leaves many of you with strong feelings.
We have a very diverse team of employees, including supporters of each of the candidates. Regardless of which candidate each of us supported as individuals, the only way to move forward is to move forward together. . . .
I’ve always looked at Apple as one big family and I encourage you to reach out to your co-workers if they are feeling anxious.
Let’s move forward — together!
Linked In CEO Jeff Weiner muses awkwardly
I don’t think Weiner knows what this election means for LinkedIn, but he knows he has to somehow connect it to the company mission. He writes as therapist-in-chief.
. . . as might be expected from this long and sometimes brutal election cycle, the emotional responses people expressed ran from shock and sadness to grief and mourning; some telling stories of celebratory outreach from colleagues; and yet others feeling nothing at all. I heard women driven to tears of frustration over the fact a highly qualified woman was passed over once again for a leadership role, . . . [and] was told of how a highly talented and deserving co-worker, here from another country on an H1-B visa, was filled with dread over whether he and his family will have the opportunity to remain in the U.S. . . .
Let’s make sure to provide one another the time to process everything that’s just transpired. As leaders and achievers, many of us have a natural tendency to solve other people’s problems as soon as we hear them. However, we need to be sensitive to the fact that some members of the team don’t need or even want immediate resolution. . . .
Beyond the healing, all of us should be prepared to channel this energy into action. Though human nature will dictate that we try and find one unifying theory for everything that transpired, the truth is that this outcome was the byproduct of multiple dynamics. Most relevant to the work we do at LinkedIn: The growing sense of disenfranchisement among tens of millions of Americans.
eBay CEO Devin Wenig tells people to get back to work
In contrast to the other CEOs, Wenig hardly comments on the division and focuses on eBay’s coming holiday season.
The United States has chosen its next President. This has been an historic and emotionally-charged election. . . . As I travel to our offices around the world, I have the privilege to interact with people of countless nationalities and backgrounds. This diversity is one of the most valuable assets we have as we drive our business forward. [No, this is no more coherent if you read the ramblings I’ve deleted.]
For now, we have a lot of work to do, and an approaching holiday season. We must stay focused on the task at hand. Our company is on the right track, but it will take all of our efforts to ensure that we finish what we started in 2016, and position the company for acceleration in 2017.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg keeps short and irrelevant
In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg basically says “well, that happened.” Here’s the whole thing:
Last night was Max’s first election. She’s got a lot of election nights ahead of her.
Holding Max, I thought about all the work ahead of us to create the world we want for our children. This work is bigger than any presidency and progress does not move in a straight line. The most important opportunities of Max’s generation — like curing all disease, improving education, connecting everyone and promoting equal opportunity — will take long term focus and finding new ways for all of us to work together, sometimes over decades.
We are all blessed to have the ability to make the world better, and we have the responsibility to do it. Let’s go work even harder.
How to write in the face of the impossible
This was a stress-test for leaders. How do you deal with a shock to the system, one that sets your employees at one another and portends an uncertain future?
I think Microsoft President Brad Smith’s approach is best: address the problem firmly, sympathetically, and briefly, then identify what it means for the company and what people should do.
The best therapy for workers is to know that their leaders understand their situation and have clearly identified what comes next for them. Next time you have a crisis of leadership, read what Smith wrote and learn from it.