Bracing to Lead Through Post-Election Uncertainty

by Vanessa Douyon, Cornelius Lee and Michael Corral | Nov 20, 2020

As we prepare for a pivotal moment in our political history, social sector leaders are grappling with the uncertainty of this election as they plan for an imminent new reality this week (and beyond) and the looming impact that will have on their teams.What do I say? Should I share my own perspectives? What are other organizations doing? How should I support my staff on Wednesday and in the weeks that follow? Whatever results come (or remain unknown) on election day, we will face the challenge of taking care of the communities we serve while simultaneously trying to take care of our colleagues and ourselves. While we’ve been grappling with the same challenges at Promise54 and surely don’t have it all figured out, we want to share our best current thinking inthe hopes that it might help inform others’ thoughts and planning efforts. Also, in the spirit of mining the power of collective brilliance, we’re creating and holding a space for additional thought partnership in the coming weeks. In the meantime, our organization’s leadership has been anchoring our thinking in two key principles.

We’re grounding in what our team is up against, but trying to pause before making assumptions since, as leaders, we will never have the entire context of what our team membersare experiencing. Still, we can remind ourselves of the gamut of possibilities so that we move more thoughtfully. The people we work with and for will experience innumerable thoughts, emotions, and realities -from disillusionment and skepticism, to griefand fear, to excitement and optimism. Our teams will hear and see different things -from those who live in places where there is high political alignment to those more fraught with division. Election outcomes, both short and long-term, tend to weigh moreheavily on teammates whose lives are directly impacted by ballot issues. And what’s more, the established norm of immediate and clear election results is fading and thus our teams and their experiences will likely be in limbo in the coming months. We must make space not just for this day, but for the many weeks that follow.

We’re standing on firm terrain in our own organizational values, beliefs, and context. If you’ve created an antiracist or equity statement, let it shape how you support your team. At Promise54, we are attempting a shift from traditional, less emotional work environments to a more radically human environment that fosters greater connection and belonging. So, as we prepare for the unknowns about what our team will experience post-election, we are turning to our organization’s core values for guidance, and anchoring there. Specifically, at Promise54, given the work we do and especially now, it is critical that we live into our “Be Well” core value; we must take care of ourselves and one another internally in order to support our partners externally. But how to do that isn’t obvious within work and societal constructs that so often expect or require us to move at the same pace and withthe same rigor and quality as would be possible if not also managing trauma, uncertainty, and pain.

So what, specifically, are we doing now? What are other organizations doing? There are a number of resources here that address how to remove barriers your team might experience in fulfilling their civic duty. In addition, here are various measures leaders are taking, including our own, to support their teams after election day. Not all of these are possiblein all contexts, but we’re sharing a fuller list to support leaders in finding useful ideas.

Spaciousness in the days around the election

  • Give your team election day -and ideally some time around election day -off entirely. If multiple days are not possible, consider one day or half day or late starts.
  • Cancel all meetings, check-ins, calls, or events that aren’t critical or, if possible, push to a later start or a longer stretch before staff members have to be “on.”
  • Encourage your team to make the work and meetings that do have to get done in the days around the election lighter. Consider moving more emotionally taxing topics to a different week, support staff to figure out how shift plans and hold managers accountable for doing so.
  • Ask managers to actively check in with folks to move barriers to their team having processing time.
  • Consider a phone-only day to encourage staff to get outside, walk and talk, or just have some space from the demands of being on video all day.
  • Encourage staff to monitor stress points and limit engagement -e.g., social media, news, etc. and if possible, provide space and time within the work day for this (e.g. hire a meditation or yoga instructor to lead the team in a series of optional sessions).
  • If someone on your team is experienced in facilitating tough conversations, or you have trusted support for facilitated hard discussions, engage them! Consider setting up an optional team processing time or debrief.

Monitor Your Team’s Context

  • Monitor the cities where your team is located for safety and civil unrest; respond accordingly to support team members’ safety.
  • Talk to Your Team
  • Share what you are feeling, emotionally and in your body, out loud. Name what you imagine others might be experiencing, but recognize that it’s impossible to ever fully understand someone else’s experiences.
  • Acknowledge the toll the events of this year have taken -we’ll all be experiencing this election in our own double pandemic related context.
  • Be proactive as well as reactive in directly suggesting ways your team might take care of themselves and find space to process (e.g., walking, meditating, taking time off, other available resources).
  • Encourage your team to take care of each other -give folks space, send a kind word, or check in.
  • Prepare your team to support others -individuals they manage, students they teach, community members with whom they will engage. Language can help:
    • For managers / co-workers: I wanted to check-in…Here are some things I can shift off your plate…What other barriers I can help move…
    • For unwelcome conversations, some language that can folks off-ramp: I’m processing…I’m not comfortable discussing…
  • Reshare resources your organization has already made available to support mental health and wellbeing (e.g., therapy benefits) and share additional resources that might support your team in navigating their thoughts and feelings. Here are some:

While there is uncertainty in the weeks to come, one thing that’s clear is that all of us will need to attend to our human needs. In the months to come, let’s normalize thatat workso that we can, in turn, attend to the communities we serve.




Cornelius is: an advocate for those who reside on the margins of society without their consent; a proud Black gay man; a partner to a wonderful man who has taught him myriad lessons in empathy and kindness; an oenophile; a conscientious objector; a work in progress; and a leader and learner of concepts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Cornelius’ decade+ career includes roles as a classroom teacher, founding school team member, K-12 school leader, and as the Associate Director of Leadership Development at Education Pioneers, where he led the organization’s national programming and operations team. In addition to his role as a Partner at Promise54, he is an Adjunct Professor at Dominican University’s Graduate School of Education, and he serves on the City of Chicago’s Mayoral Advisory Council on LGTBTQ+ issues. In his spare time, he enjoys a good glass of vino and exploring the intersection of wine and equity. Cornelius holds a BA in Journalism from Western Kentucky University, an MAT from Dominican University, and an M.Ed. from Harvard.  

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Associate Partner


Michael is: A person of faith, a follower of Christ, and a question asker. He is the proud son of Mexican Immigrant parents—the two hardest working people he will ever know—and the youngest of three. He is a high school graduate, the first in his family unit. He is a husband to an amazingly brilliant woman who is much smarter than he will ever be, a reality that makes him jealous on most days. He is a lover of sports, history, music, ice cream, cookies, and his mother’s mole con pollo y arroz. Through his experiences navigating an education system that was never designed to support all children in reaching their full potential—especially Children of Color in low-income communities—he believes that we all play a part in either dismantling or upholding our inequitable, racist, and discriminatory systems throughout society. Michael has previous work and research experience in the K-12, higher education, and non-profit sectors of education. Past roles have included a middle and high school math interventionist/teacher in Phoenix, AZ, adjunct professor and research assistant at the University of Connecticut, Director of State Affairs at Teach For America, and Research Associate at Inflexion. He holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Eastern Oregon University, an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Administration from the American College of Education, and a Ph.D. in Learning, Leadership, and Education Policy from the University of Connecticut.

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Vanessa is: a proud Haitian-American, a fierce Momma, a wife, a family organizer, and a 3rd gen foodist who spends treasured time recipe testing and cookbook reading. Vanessa brings experience leading two school systems as a senior leader - overseeing strategy at Blackstone Valley Prep and people operations at New Orleans College Prep. She brings a strong lens for strategy and talent across the sector, from strategic advising and at Bellwether Education Partners to managing recruitment at Teach for America. Vanessa began her career as a math teacher in Central City, New Orleans. She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BA from the University of Florida.

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