A 5-Step Guide For Weighing In On Hot-Button Issues At Work For business leaders, weighing in on current issues has become a minefield. Here's a framework for deciding when and how to speak up.

By Remy Scalza

Key Takeaways

  • 1. Start with why
  • 2. Are you truly being additive?
  • 3. Remember internal channels
  • 4. Do a consequence audit
  • 5. When in doubt, wait

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For business leaders, weighing in publicly on current issues has become a minefield. In the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't-era of social media, both voicing an opinion and staying on the sidelines imply business consequences.

Mixed signals from consumers and the public muddy the waters further. On the one hand, employees want to hear from their leaders: they're 14.5 times more likely to work for a company that publicly supports human rights. Yet a recent Gallup poll found that less than half of U.S. adults thought that businesses should take a public stance on current events.

So, what's the best course of action for a business leader to take in fraught times? I've worked with dozens of CEOs at both startups and huge consumer brands on exactly this communication challenge — and there are few easy answers.

Before pressing publish on that latest X post or LinkedIn update, consider these five guidelines.

Related: This Workplace Policy Is Igniting Fiery Debates In The Boardroom — Here's Why.

1. Start with why

Shoot-from-the-hip hot takes and half-baked opinions are an obvious no-no. But what about when you really have something to say — or at least think you should chime in?

Before weighing in on a hot-button topic, business leaders need to ask themselves, "Why?" from both a corporate and personal standpoint.

On the corporate side, the fundamental question is: How is making this statement strategic for my company? Does my opinion benefit employees, customers, and/or other stakeholders? A clear yes here is a strong incentive to speak up.

Nor should the personal level be ignored. If you feel you must say something on a topic because doing so aligns with your beliefs and values, then that might trump more pragmatic considerations. The key is to be honest about whether you're prepared to face the potential consequences, personal and professional.

Take the example of Chobani's CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya. A Turkish immigrant of Kurdish descent, Ulukaya has been an outspoken supporter of immigration reform in the U.S. This has little to do with his yogurt empire and has earned backlash from some sectors. But it's a stand he's personally committed to making.

2. Are you truly being additive?

The concept of decentering can also provide a helpful benchmark. In short, leaders need to ask themselves if they should weigh in at all, thereby shifting the spotlight away from the issue and onto themselves.

Do you truly have anything to add to the conversation, or are you just muddying the waters? Do you have unique insights? Or are you just talking to be heard or to be noticed? Or because you feel obligated to say something?

Listening and learning can often be a more fruitful path than empty statements that add noise without adding value. A simple gut check — Am I truly staying in my lane? — often goes a long way.

3. Remember internal channels

Business leaders often overlook the option of internal communications. But you can get the same benefits with fewer drawbacks by sharing your thoughts via your company mailing list, newsletter, or an all-hands meeting with your employees.

Shows of concern on closed channels scratch the itch to make your voice heard and satisfy employees who believe that the company should take a side or who are wondering why it isn't. If your customers are wondering where you stand, bring up the situation in an email list that goes out to subscribers.

The upside of internal communications is that it can avoid the appearance of being theatrical or indulging in virtue-signaling or exploiting a situation.

Related: CEOs Are Tricking Employees Into Spending More Time In The Office — But Here's Why They're Only Fooling Themselves.

4. Do a consequence audit

In the military, war games are standard fare. Generals go through the motions of combat in advance, illuminating unforeseen risks.

Leaders need to take a similar approach before weighing in on hot-button topics. What will the likely pushback be? Are you willing to suffer the consequences if your comments go sidewise? Is it really worth it, or does it make more sense to stay on the sidelines?

5. When in doubt, wait

The timeless advice to wait a day or two before sending out a heated letter or email applies doubly to business leaders.

The news cycle may move at a breakneck pace, but that doesn't mean you have to. Take the extra time to deliberate with colleagues, advisors and confidantes before sharing a view on a contentious issue. For CEOs accustomed to speed and decisiveness, this pause for reflection can be frustrating. But it's often time well spent.

Media attention will, inevitably, move on. An impulsive Tweet, however, may last a lifetime.

Ultimately, in an era when social media can make all topics seem pressing and all opinions urgently needed, it can also be useful to remember the advice Marcus Aurelius shared 2,000 years ago: "You always own the option of having no opinion — These things are not asking to be judged by you."

Remy Scalza

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

I elevate the voice of bold leaders

Remy Scalza established CSuite Content in 2015 with cofounder, Caroline Carter. He began his career as a journalist, contributing to the Washington Post, New York Times and Globe and Mail. Over the years, he’s helped leaders at both fast-growing startups and global enterprises frame their story.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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