It took President Trump two days to call protesters in Charlottesville racist. (To say nothing about his comments before or afterward.) It only took him a few hours after CEOs on his business advisory councils met to discuss how they could best respond to his actions to send a tweet that eliminated the business advisory councils.
In other words, two things happened last week: A leadership vacuum was created by the President of the United States. And that vacuum was filled by what may be to some a surprising group: business leaders.
There’s no need to rehash what happened in Charlottesville and President Trump’s response. These have been well-covered already. What is beginning to receive coverage (such as by the NYTimes here) is the response from business leaders around the country: a clear message that for them, every person matters, regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other personal trait.
As a direct result of the president’s failure to unambiguously condemn racism, fascism, and hate-mongering, members of the president’s American Manufacturing Council and Strategic and Policy Forum began to both publicly condemn the president and resign from their posts. Leaders from some of our nation’s largest and most well-respected businesses chose not only to speak out, but they made a mindful decision to stand up to the most powerful political individual in the country by refusing to advise him because of his lack of leadership. They displayed a true moral compass for all to see and established themselves to be keenly aware of their potential impact on the larger situation.
The justification offered by one member (and a speaker at Conscious Capitalism’s CEO Summit last year), Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup Company, was to the point: “Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville. I believe the president should have been – and still needs to be – unambiguous on that point.” In the face of such opposition, the president announced that “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople” comprising these groups, he would opt to disband them both.
Why is this important? We have all spent the past week trying to process what happened in Charlottesville. In doing so, many questions arose: Where should people look in the face of such a moral, spiritual, and leadership void? What can we do in the face of such hatred? How can we overcome the apparent rise of such backwards thinking? What options are left for those who seek peaceful, productive, and forward-looking approaches to building a better world?
As this group of leaders who chose to speak truth to power illustrate, the answer lies in business.
We need businesses to serve as institutions premised on cooperation and collaboration for the betterment of everyone they impact. And we need business leaders to step up as the moral exemplars of society. Some business leaders are already doing so. More should. More should use the resources at their disposal to create value for all individuals they touch. More should use their bully pulpit to condemn that which is obviously wrong, even in the face of great opposition and risk to short-term returns.
As evidenced by last week, principled business leaders are already doing this. They understand that effective leaders seldom have to force people to do things; they inspire and motivate others to commit to change voluntarily. They don’t cower when politicians threaten to put “pressure” on them. They speak the truth and stand up for what is right. They say that racism, hate, and doublespeak are unacceptable. And they back their words up with action. It’s time for more to do so. And it’s time for society to support those individuals for showing what real leadership looks like.
We need leaders who bring people together, inspire others to do better, and elevate our society. For too long, we have looked primarily to political leaders to do that. But too many politicians spend time in their statehouses and legislative assemblies, separate from the people. The politics of the past is no longer good enough. Business is positioned to lead the way to a better future.
Conscious businesspeople know they are best served—and serve best—by working on the ground floor. The best businesses are the best because they value all people regardless of race, sex, gender, religion, or other such features. They embrace diversity and value people for their values. Such conscious business leaders can and should fill a moral leadership role in this country.
It’s time to look beyond politics and to put our collective business intelligence to action.
Conscious Capitalism, Inc. (www.consciouscapitalism.org) is proud to work with and support many business leaders already doing this. We invite other business leaders who are not yet involved but interested in doing more to get involved.