Business leaders should avoid the political quicksand

In recent years, it has become fashionable for business and community leaders to comment more and more on social and political issues.  Sometimes, the push comes from others: employees at your company, or family members. Maybe you just feel a calling to get engaged on a particular topic. The pressure could come from a variety of different sources. But it is a leader’s job to think before they act. Who do you represent, and how will your actions reflect on them? If you do decide to act, it is always worth taking time to consider what the consequences could be.

A recent supreme court decision has brought the topic of abortion front-and-center. You might feel pressure to jump in, to be a good citizen on one side or the other. No matter how you feel, it is important to remember that by taking a position, you risk creating a rift with your customers and business associates. So, the question to ask yourself is: what can I gain from taking a public position here, and what I might lose? You have to think like a business leader, not just a private citizen.  No matter which side you take, or how well thought-out your statement, someone will challenge your facts. Taking any position on a controversial topic is like stepping in quicksand.

The same logic applies to the political arena. If you get involved in partisan politics, remember that nationally, there are about an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. So, your position will likely be opposed by about half of your audience. Supporting political causes and specific candidates seldom has anything to do with your business; why not just stay away? Make anonymous political donations if you like, but try to keep your personal political thoughts as private as you can.

There is some thinking in marketing circles that voicing support for specific causes, or choosing to express social and political opinions, resonates well with customers. That might be true in some narrowly-focused businesses but in my time at Tractor Supply Company, I can’t think of a single controversial topic for which it would have benefitted the company to take a public stance. You don’t add value to the workplace or to your customers when you get into these issues and, in fact, you may create confusion. Stay away from the noise and focus on your core competencies.

Keep life simple. Run your business to serve your customers, and stay focused on what got you into the game. Avoid these distractions and you will stay out of the quicksand.

published Nashville Business Journal

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  1. What about an issue like Corporate income tax rates, or Right to Work ? Does it not make sense to weigh in on issues that will effect Company value?

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