Recently, Elon Musk did something that would make the C-suite execs of decades past roll over in their graves: he tweeted about politics.
“Am departing presidential councils,” Musk wrote on his Twitter account. “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”
Back in the day, it was good business to keep politics out of the boardroom. But since Trump was elected president and has ushered in a bold new world of fake news and alternative facts, it’s become clear that those old rules about maintaining the peace and not taking a stand no longer apply. Truth has become slipperier than ever, which is why smart leaders are latching onto what they believe is right and proclaiming it, boldly. And it’s paying off.
When today’s leaders don’t say what they mean, the PR fallout can be a nightmare. Just look at Uber and Lyft’s dueling battle over the immigration ban: Uber kept its cars running during the taxi strike at JFK airport, which was read as unspoken support of the ban (and though they later denied their support, people were still angrily deleting the Uber app left and right). Then, their number-one rival Lyft came out swinging with a heartfelt statement opposing the ban and a pledge of $1 million to the ACLU. Across liberal circles, Lyft came out the clear winner. It’s obvious: in this political climate, today’s transformational leaders have to say what’s on their mind. And not just on Twitter.
The boardroom needs more warrior kings
You may be sitting there, shaking your head, unable to overcome the fact that measuring against Elon Musk, eccentric visionary and billionaire sixteen times over, is a high bar. True enough. But you don’t have to be Elon Musk to be impactful.
Let’s travel back in time a few thousand years, to the Battle of Thermopylae. The stirring cry of “this is Sparta!” is a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a good reason: this battle was aquintessential example of the truism that you don’t have to be huge to have a huge impact. A group of about 300 Spartans and 6,000 soldiers from other Greek cities, led by the warrior-king Leonidas, faced down nearly 1,000,000 Persians at Thermopylae, a narrow coastal pass—the narrowness of which enabled the underdog Greeks to use their long spears. They may have won if a Greek traitor hadn’t informed the Persians of another pass; the Persians then blocked the Greek army on both sides and ultimately won, but not before the Spartans gained immortal fame through their incredible bravery. And thus began thousands of years of history, songs, stories, art, and action movies full of hunky men.
Today’s small- to medium-sized businesses often have more employees than the entire Spartan section of the army at Thermopylae. Let that sink in for just a moment. No, neither you nor I are Elon Musk, and hopefully neither of us will have to lead a spear charge any time soon, but as modern business leaders with insider knowledge and powerful viewpoints, we can impact the lives of more individuals than Leonidas the Warrior King did that day. But we have to speak up.
Today, it isn’t Persians who are blocking us at the pass—it’s fake news. It’s alternative facts. Forces like these, hell-bent on manipulating the truth, have coalesced to make vocal leadership even more meaningful and necessary than it was a few months ago. So you’re not a politician? Doesn’t matter. Fake news is everywhere, not just in politics; it’s infiltrating healthcare, tech, business, and economics. If you have a meaningful platform and you’re not sharing your views, you’re doing the world a disservice. Elon Musk is already out there tweeting what he believes in. Ask yourself: why aren’t you using the platform you have to truly lead?
Strong convictions make great leaders
Taking a stance is scary, that’s for sure. It’s hard to shake off that old idiom: “Don’t rock the boat.” But data shows that visionary, change-oriented leadership—often called “transformational leadership”—doesn’t just sound inspiring in bus-side advertisements, but it gets results.
A 2009 study from the Journal of Business Research found that transformational leadership increased employees’ creativity. These studies show visionary leadership increased job satisfaction, productivity, and organizational commitment among employees. Want more? A 2008 study from the Journal of Applied Psychologydiscovered that transformational leaders were more effective at getting their followers to commit to a particular change initiative, especially when the change had some sort of personal impact, than non-transformational leaders were. It turns out that passion is hard to fake. But when it is real, people will follow with zest and enthusiasm. Genuine thought leadership is not about branding – it’s about courage.
The world needs your thought leadership today more than ever before. Everything is under attack. We used to think that scientists and business people didn’t have to be political—those days have ended. If you are sitting on years of experience in your field and have a passionate opinion about its future, and instead are choosing to sit on the sidelines and not be vocal, you are missing an opportunity to serve. Don’t take up your spears, like the Spartans did, but learn from their iconic bravery and take up your words. The way to stem the tide of fake news is not with derision, it is with candor and expertise. You don’t have to tweet about it, but you shouldn’t be afraid to speak your beliefs out loud, to a world that’s desperate for leaders with not just opinions, but truth-based convictions.
Culled from Forbes.com