Company Culture
Leadership / Workplace culture

How should CEOs, HR and managers address their teams after that insurrection?

First, acknowledge it: "This is a time for real leadership, and you can't do that without dealing in truth," said one adviser.

The U.S. Capitol in the spotlight. (Photo by Flickr user BKL, used under a Creative Commons license)

Supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building in Washington D.C. on a Wednesday afternoon — for many Americans, a work day. Same for the next day, Thursday.

If you’re charged with directing a team or an entire company, it might be tempting to push through that work day as if nothing happened, either due to uncertainty of how to address the situation or a belief that it’s not necessary to do so because it’s not relevant to your job.

But the start of 2021 has proven that, like all of 2020, business as usual doesn’t cut it anymore. Even major industry chiefs know this.

Following Wednesday’s insurrection, how should company leaders like CEOs, HR and managers address their teams?

Whitney A. White. (Photo via LinkedIn)

D.C.-based Whitney A. White runs Afara Global, where she advises businesses on workforce issues, including diversity and inclusion strategy. (Catch her on a past episode of’s TWIJ Show talking about building better DEI initiatives within your company.)

Her advice for those in leadership roles today: Acknowledge and name what happened first.

“Start with honesty,” she said. “Call this what it is — ‘insurrection.’ Don’t sugarcoat it. This is a time for real leadership, and you can’t do that without dealing in truth, dealing in facts.”

Shanna Hocking, founder of leadership consultancy Be Yourself Boldly and fundraiser at a large Philly nonprofit, advises managers to allow their employees some leeway today.

“Leaders should understand that team members may not be fully focused on work right now and extend grace,” she said. “If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that there is little separation between personal and professional — who were are in our lives is who we are at work, too.”

It’s important to focus on being humans before bosses, too.

“As the situation unfolded today, I reached out individually to 30+ employees to acknowledge I didn’t have words for everything happening in the world, but the few words I did have is that we’re in it together — and I told them ‘no need to respond,'” Hocking said. “Leaders need to open the doors for dialogue, even when they don’t have all the words, and understand their team members might not have the words they need either.”

And leaders should give special consideration to how the events might be impacting employees differently, including Black and brown employees, who may feel especially frustrated, but not surprised.

“It’s also important to display empathy and understanding around how stressed, frustrated and disheartened many of your employees might be feeling right now,” White said. “What happened in our country yesterday strikes at the very core of democracy. The response — or lack of response — the insurrectionists were met with by law enforcement is also a painful slap in the face to Black and brown communities that are all too often the victims of deadly force at the hands of law enforcement for offenses far less serious than treason or for no offense at all.”


This story includes reporting by Christopher Wink.

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