Bracing to Lead Through Post-Election Uncertainty

By Cornelius Lee, Michael Coral & Vanessa Douyon

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 in the 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 (see more event information below). 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 members are 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 grief and 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 more heavily 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 with the 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 possible in 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…
  • Re-share resources your organization has already made available to support mental health and well-being (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 that at work so that we can, in turn, attend to the communities we serve. 

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We’re hosting a Post-Election Processing and Brainstorming session on Monday, November 9th from 11:00am-12:00pm ET to provide a space for our community to come together, find connection, and mine the collective brilliance of the community around us to address our most pressing concerns and challenges. While we can’t predict what any of us will need in the days following the election – as leaders, as humans – we do know that we’ll be better positioned to address whatever those needs are in community with one another. We’ll spend the hour in small groups aligned to what you are most interested in – processing, sharing ideas. Please sign up here by EOD 11/6 if you think this may be a space you want to be in.