Mark Tercek Keep Speaking Up

CEOs, Speak Up!

Leaders Should Seize Leadership Opportunities

Last month’s changes to Georgia’s voting laws—making it tougher for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote—caused a (well deserved) outcry, including from corporate leaders. But what seemed to amplify and even protract the attention was Senator Mitch McConnell’s ensuant admonition of CEOS to “stay out of politics.”  

The backlash came fast and furious. It ran the gamut of calling McConnell a hypocrite to justifying the need for corporations to fill governmental voids in upholding our democracy.  

Since The Instigator regularly addresses CEOs and corporate leadership, I thought I’d throw my $0.02 into the conversation. Not because I want to get involved in a partisan debate, but because, as I elaborate below, this is one of those leadership opportunities that I feel passionately about and view as too important not to be discussed.   

CEOs, to you I say, with vigor: Yes, you should definitely continue to speak up and speak out. It’s the right thing to do for society, and when done with due consideration, it’s the right thing to do for your business too. Speaking up also presents good follow-up opportunities for engagement with stakeholders. 

But remember… 

The CEO platform comes with a certain cachet, which, like everything else, is subject to the laws of supply and demand. Greater scarcity = greater value. If you speak out on all topics, your voice no longer has the same impact.  

Under what conditions should you speak up?  

I’d say when it’s really important. And for that, I suggest two criteria:  

  1. The issue is a crucial one for society that you and your stakeholders care about. This could be anything from voting rights to marriage equality to racial justice. In such circumstances, use your bully pulpit. It’s the right thing for you to do. 
  2. The issue intersects with your business and the societal commitments you’ve made. Say, for example, you’ve made an ambitious climate commitment. In this case, you’ve earned the right to speak up. And doing so can lead to positive outcomes for society and for your business. You can energize your stakeholders (including investors, employees, and customers), contribute to societal progress, and likely learn things that will make you even better.  

Let’s look at it from the other angle. 

Is refraining from speaking up always the safer option?