How Leaders Can Navigate November 4th and Beyond

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I’ll never forget the slow trudge to work on November 9, 2016.

After staying up most of the night watching election results from an air mattress in my living room (I had moved to DC just weeks before), my dazed exhaustion that morning felt like a shared experience on the metro as riders sat frozen, staring out the window or on their phones, trying to make sense of what just happened. After going through the motions for much of the morning, answering emails while my mind was on another planet entirely, Secretary Hillary Clinton began her concession speech. I sat glued to the screen, the office silent, doing my best to wipe away tears as Secretary Clinton did her best to bury her own emotions.

The memories of that night in 2016, and the chaos that ensued in the coming months, is a lingering wound made fresh as we face round two of an election that, in some ways, still feels surreal. This year, November 4, 2020 will look very different. Only some will be riding to work, their worried faces now covered in masks to protect them from a pandemic that has hit a crescendo yet again. Others will be at home, troubleshooting their kids’ Zoom sessions while making sure not to miss their own, knowing that the outcome of this election could finally provide some certainty into when schools will be safe again. This election is the penultimate finale to a year that has changed the course of Americans’ lives forever. And for so many, myself included, the outcome is a referendum on our very humanity, and the investment in our well being.

As adjacent as this election feels to 2016, it presents a host of new challenges with a raging pandemic, widespread voter suppression and voter intimidation, and rising economic uncertainty laying the groundwork for a perfect storm. It’s “affecting employees as people, and it’s also affecting how they show up at work,” Tina Opie, associate professor at Babson College, said in a recent Harvard Business Review article. For marginalized populations and communities of color, the stakes of any election have always been high. This election, though, presents an immediate and grave threat to the lives and freedoms of so many. How can organizations provide care to employees attempting to navigate the uncertainty that awaits on November 4 and beyond?

The week ahead will be filled with stress, tension, and anxiety. For so many folks, including myself, what’s on the ballot is beyond policy. It’s a choice between hope and fear. A choice to embrace the rapidly evolving demographics of the country, not to reject them. A choice to seed out hateful speech and hateful policies that make the political, personal. What’s clear is that this election will show just how committed this country is to the humanity of people of color, indigenous communities and marginalized populations. While the temptation not to appear partisan will be high, leaders should walk bravely in acknowledging how difficult this season has and will be for many employees. Communicating this to the organization, and the fact that their identity is celebrated and valued, will be a welcomed reassurance for employees feeling the weight of this outcome and what it means for their safety.

2. Allow space for dialogue

It’s long been deemed taboo to tackle politics in the workplace; it can get messy, tense, and often mutual respect can be lost in “high-charged conversations,” according to a VP at VitalSmarts, Emily Gregory for the Harvard Business Review. However, in leaders acknowledging just how consequential this election is, they must also acknowledge that if an employee is to bring their full self to work, there needs to be space to unpack these issues. “So many of today’s big issues concern social justice, equality, and ‘basic human rights — which are larger than politics’” Opie says. Leaders should be intentional about creating spaces post-election for employees to process and reflect. With a baseline expectation that all dialogue be rooted in psychological safety, respect, and empathy, employees will feel that they can share their experiences authentically, instead of having to compartmentalize while on the job. In healing the divide that has plagued this country, these spaces will be crucial in rebuilding our collective empathy practice — on both sides.

3. Lead with grace and empathy

With all that hangs in the balance, employees will be more stressed than usual, and the uncertainty of November 4 might be more than some can bear. In such a divisive climate, employees of color and those from marginalized communities especially might feel targeted or unsafe, deeply feeling the weight of the outcome. Give grace to employees struggling to focus in meetings or meet deadlines. Redefine what productivity looks like in the weeks ahead. Even when the results begin to crystallize, Bob Feldman of the Harvard Business Review says there is likely to be “lingering bitterness” that could ignite and further inflame tensions. Leaders can provide care by recognizing how difficult the ensuing weeks will feel, and adjusting accordingly not to compound that stress with unrealistic work expectations.

I’m not exactly sure what November 4 will bring. I, alongside much of the country, will be watching with bated breath to see what the country has chosen — fear or hope. Whether Americans have decided to denounce the hateful, racist rhetoric that has flooded our air waves for four years. If we might see a glimmer of hope in controlling a pandemic that has changed our lives. If my Black life does in fact, matter. We might not know the answer the morning after the election, and that is an unsettling thought. Still, with a full or heavy or anxious heart, I will show up to work fully human, and will encourage leaders to lead in that way too. As weary as we are on November 4, we need to find resilience. History tells us that is the only way forward.

I actually have a 9am meeting scheduled first thing that very morning. A meeting to which my boss has suggested we reschedule. And for that — I am grateful.

Written by: Zoe King.

This article has emerged out of the “Humanizing Initiative,” which seeks to humanize leaders and organizations to cultivate leadership. For more information, please refer to


Clarke, K. (2020, October 27). Voter intimidation is surging in 2020. Fight for the right that begets all other rights. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from

Feldman, B. (2020, October 07). Don’t Let Election Passions Roil Your Workplace. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from

Irwin, N. (2020, October 03). The Pandemic Depression Is Over. The Pandemic Recession Has Just Begun. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from

Knight, R. (2020, October 22). Managing a Team with Conflicting Political Views. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from

Nieto, G. (2020, October 27). Hospitals Are Reeling Under a 46 Percent Spike in Covid-19 Patients. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from



We seek to engage leaders and organizations in conversations to cultivate humanistic leadership to promote human dignity and well-being.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
The Humanizing Initiative

We seek to engage leaders and organizations in conversations to cultivate humanistic leadership to promote human dignity and well-being.