November 3 has always been an emotional day for me. This year will be no different.
On November 1, 1988, my wife and I were at the hospital with my father who, until a few days earlier, seemed physically indestructible. On that day, doctors told him he had just three to four months to live.
My father was a man of few words. I learned at a young age that each word he said really mattered and when he spoke, I should listen. That night he said three things to me:
First, “Take care of your mother.”
He continued, “I might not get to see your son, but that’s your fault for waiting too long to start your family.” My father was tough, but very funny. My wife was seven months pregnant with our first son Matthew at the time, so I knew this was his way of telling me that he was excited and happy for me and that he was looking forward to meeting his grandson, but preparing me for the likelihood that he wouldn’t.
Last, he said, “You need to vote.”
This became my mission. To understand why, you need to know a bit more about my father. You see, he was in the newspaper multiple times because he was always the first person in line to vote in Alameda County, California. The polls would open at 7 a.m., but he would be at the polls at 5 a.m. to ensure he was first to cast his vote. Everyone in our community knew his story. He was raised in the overtly racist South in Barnesville, Georgia and few things were more important to him than education and voting. Both were not optional.
Two days later, on November 3, 1988, we brought him his ballot and with the nurse as his witness, he marked an “X” and cast his vote. It was jarring to witness because that was all that the physically strongest man I have ever known could do. In just two days, his health had rapidly deteriorated and his three to four months to live became seven days, with November 8 being his last.
My father’s last conscious act on this earth was to vote. The importance that he placed on doing his part to shape the country we live in helped to shape the man I’ve become.
I vote. I encourage my family, friends and colleagues to vote. I do this because I know it matters. I do this to honor my father’s memory and to ensure that my children, and their children, will never have to endure what he did. He loved Martin Luther King Jr. and his peaceful protests, so I am sure they are together in heaven, but feeling disappointed at the America their children and grandchildren are living in right now.
I voted about ten days ago and delivered my ballot to city hall to ensure that I had met my father’s standard for self-responsibility. Most of you reading this have probably already voted as well. If you haven’t, get out there!
So now what?
I have already set up two post-election listening sessions for all employees at Great Place to Work. One will be on the morning of November 4 and the other on November 11. We will join together virtually and go from there.
Why? Because I expect things to be unresolved for a while. I know that many of us will be anxious, nervous, stressed, perhaps sad or happy, frustrated or feeling like a winner or an unjust loser. I know emotions will run high and yet almost everything will be out of our control.
How will we get past that?
We are going to come together and acknowledge all of the emotions and fears that are present. We will support everyone on their individual journey. There will be no happy ending on Election Day. Too much damage has been done. Society is weaker. There are passionate and emotional “winners” and “losers” fueled by years of fear and “us” versus “them” positioning. No matter the result, the overwhelming feeling among the “losers” will be that the outcome was rigged. When the emotion-filled chasm between “winners” and “losers” is as large as it is today, we all lose.
Well, what can we do? Better yet, what will we do? At Great Place to Work, we will stand on our values of Integrity, Excellence, One Team One Mission, Curiosity, and Care — For All. We will recognize the pain of millions of people who have been living with and impacted by two viruses: COVID-19 and racism. We will acknowledge the need for healing and that it will take a lot of time. I hope you will do the same for, and with, your people. As we’ve seen, our workplaces can be the safe haven that society isn’t.
As For All leaders we must:
- SPEAK: Leaders at all levels need to state what they believe and stand for in terms of your organization’s values.
- LISTEN: Create safe ways for people to state what they are confused about, frustrated by, afraid of, as well as hopeful for. Ask how to make your people’s experience a more psychological and emotionally safe one. Take note of their comments and suggestions.
Ask people to be thoughtful, compassionate and careful not to pour gasoline on the fire that exists for some. Everyone needs to behave like mature adults, and those who decide to dish out pain need to be held accountable.
- LEARN: In the months ahead, laws will be tested and society will be tested. So organizations should do their best to get the facts, as we have all tried to do regarding COVID-19.
- ACT: Vote now. Encourage your teams to take time to do so if you haven’t already!
Ask your leadership team what you’re going to do for your people and what your organization is going to do to help rebuild our nation.
Add representation targets at the highest level of your organizations, knowing only the best will be chosen.
Partner with non-profits and purpose-driven organizations that can help create more inclusive, fair and equitable communities.
As an optimist, I believe that nobody can stop this nation from being a just nation for all. I mean NOBODY.
So, on this November 3, no matter who “wins or loses” let’s join together and recommit to this work in our organizations and communities to take care of one another. For leaders, the next wave of change starts now. Our people need our leadership more than anything else and it is our responsibility to provide it. This means that everyone, including you, will need to be a bit of a leader now.
If we can help you, let us know. We are better together.
Michael C. Bush
Chief Executive Officer | Great Place to Work