Do you have friends or a co-workers who are hyper-political, easily offended or overly charged when it comes to politics? Do the folks on your team argue over state or national elections? Maybe the most opinionated person is you? It's disconcerting when your coworkers are overzealous but what's even more problematic is the hyper-political leader. You may have cheered in November when the mid-term elections ended, but make no mistake the campaign isn't over. On the contrary, if you haven't noticed, a new presidential election cycle has begun.
Political discourse at the right place, in the right company, and on the right time is a good thing. But we all know freedom of speech is never really free. Often there is a cost involved. While the right place and right time may be debatable, over-sharing your political ideologies in any work place is not best practice. Remember the old adage, "Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial"?
Yes, election season is upon us, and believe it or not, it is possible to survive election cycles with your leadership integrity and the trust of your team intact. Use these five practical tips to avoid sabotaging your team's success with your own personal political biases.
Political Self-Sabotage Protection Plan
Silence Your Walls (and your desk): Don't let furniture, frames, or bulletin boards scream at your team. Would you wear a politically charged t-shirt to work? Then why would you tack that same message to your walls? How you choose to decorate your office speaks volumes to those who visit there. A poster that reads "Visualize Whirrled Peas" is one thing, but "Vote Right or Die" or "Vote Left or Die" is never a proper welcoming message (whether 50 percent of people agree with you or not). Party pins, bumper stickers and political propaganda are better left for other venues than the professional setting. Not only can a simple bumper sticker incite negative feelings or cause mistrust in the office, it can cost you friendships, customers, clients, partners and even profits. Purposefully placed negativity in any form has no place in the leader's toolbox.
Cut the Snark: Know when to zip it and nip it. It's ok to have opinions. This is where the wisdom of your parents comes in handy. Remember: "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." or "If you don't have something nice to say, then say nothing at all." Saying nothing at all has become a challenge for many people. Don't assume everyone agrees with you and don't give the impression that the team must think like you. Some of your team members may withhold sharing valuable work ideas or opinions because they think you may not value their opinions. A diverse team is a productive and creative team.
Reverse Your Forward Habit: Resist the urge to forward politically charged emails: That cartoon, video or meme may have made you LOL, but others may not find it so funny. Protect yourself from crossing the line or losing respect of others or even your job. Over simplifying complex problems by verbally or visually accosting those with opposing views is a bad idea. Leave that to the newspapers.
Say No to Politicking and Say Yes to Voting: The leader sets the tone. Know your policies, preferences, and best practice and discuss them with your team. Rather than focusing on specific candidates or issues during election cycles, encourage the importance of voting and good citizenship. Most people will agree that it's important to vote. As the leader, go vote, encourage your team to do the same and leave it at that. Set a goal for 100 percent voting in your office, and celebrate the freedom we have to do so.
Mute the Media: Turn off TVs and radios or consider choosing a streaming service without the negative ads. Leaving the office tv on in the throes of election season is only asking for trouble and decreased productivity. Remember: The media no longer wants your undivided attentions. Your divided attentions are much more lucrative. Don't fall prey to media campaign ratings games.
To be certain, there's always another election around the corner. In order to avoid unnecessary divisiveness, choose to protect your team, your mission and your sanity. Doing anything otherwise will only serve to damage team trust, your leadership integrity, and quite possibly your bottom-line. None of that is worth the risk just for the sake of "being right" or "making political points".