Over the last ten weeks, a theme I have recommended for CEOs and business leaders is showing empathy for their employees and key customers. That means more than a quick how are you doing, but truly listening to their issues as they deal with the stress of COVID, working from home, financial pressures, etc. While many may dismiss this, it is my opinion that those CEOs who do show genuine empathy will build relationships and a culture that defines their business for the next decade.

Well, “Houston, we have another problem.” The last week has seen massive protests across the country arising from the killing of George Floyd. Listening to interviews and reading much on the subject, what has struck me the most, is the fear and concern that African Americans have for themselves and their kids in the day to day environment from interactions with law enforcement. I cannot begin to understand this, but hearing successful executives like Peter HenryCharley MooreRalph ClarkLee Pelton, and Fredrick Baba talk about their experiences and what they have to tell their children is shocking. Adding to this seeing the videos of Christian Cooper being accused by Amy Cooper of threatening her life and Steve Locke’s post from 2015 just brought home how different our experiences are. As Peter Henry says, “a heart-stopping moment is . . . encountering a random law enforcement officer in an uncontrolled environment.”

The stress your African American employees are experiencing you cannot relate to. COVID is far more damaging to their community; they are taking the brunt of unemployment and wealth destruction while daily being scared that they may have a negative encounter with law enforcement. They are worried about their families and themselves, and especially at this time, their stress is off the charts. Now is the time to show empathy and listen.

I have heard that the new job interview question is “What are you working on?” The purpose is to look for clues that show how their resume translates into the needs of the current world and how involved that person is in today’s most critical missions. Well, CEOs must realize that the “A players” are going to ask them the same question. For all the complaints and grumbling about millennials, they are the largest segment of the workforce, so you need them, and they are saying, we’re not going to tolerate it anymore.

Look at Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew put out a statement saying that taking a knee would never be acceptable to him as it disrespected the flag. Within hours there was a response from his teammates decaying Brees’ stance, especially a strong rebuke from Malcolm Jenkins. It was apparent that Drew had lost the support of his team. A quarterback, no matter how good, needs his team to win. So after trying to figure out how to straddle the fence, Brees gave up and apologized for his earlier comments.

So decide on what you are going to do to show empathy and support. However, whatever you do, do not put out an announcement as the NFL did initially, which said nothing! If you are going to say nothing of consequence, say nothing. As Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, CEO of the Mavericks and the first black female CEO in the NBA, said, “As a leader, it’s’s important that I’m clear about what I stand for and what I am against. I abhor racism, disparate treatment, inequities, and inequality.” Adding, “more importantly, [business leaders need] to listen to their employees.” If you stand for nothing it is best not to make it obvious.

I think Mark Cuban put it best when he said, “Dear White People: We are the ones that need to change.” So as Emerson College’s Pelton asked, “The most important question is: What are you going to do?” I would ask you to rise to the occasion. You will be measured by it for a long time.


Copyright (c) 2020. Marc A. Borrelli