If there’s one good thing we can say about a heated election season rounding out an already tumultuous year, it’s this: at least we know that
winter election day is coming. And, given that we’ve already weathered multiple storms in the last seven months, we can draw from lessons learned to prepare ourselves to face the unknowns. As leaders, we (hopefully) now have a better sense of what our staff need emotionally and materially to cope in crisis, what policies, systems, and expectations need to be adjusted, and how to communicate during a time of intense transition.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled some tips for managers and leaders to get their teams through this election season (even if your work isn’t directly related to electoral work, politics, or organizing).
1. Ground in purpose.
With so much going on, it’s critical to drill down on your organization’s purpose and focus on your priorities. For many of you, this might mean letting go of plans that would normally take precedence but are no longer essential. (Yes, it is okay to put off performance evaluations!) We get that it can be daunting to do this at such a chaotic time, but try blocking off thirty minutes to answer this question: What do we really need to accomplish in the next few months?
2. Assemble an election planning/response team.
The election results may be contested, so no one can count on this upcoming election day to be the finish line. In fact, we may be entering another period of turmoil, which means that for many leaders, it’ll feel like just another mile marker in a race of indeterminate length (10k? Marathon?!) as ballots are counted, civil unrest is sparked, and mass mobilizations occur. Whether it’s your leadership team, a new working group, or an individual, make it someone’s job to answer this question: given everything going on in the world, what can we do to set our team up for success in the coming [days / weeks / months]?
This team (or person) should consider the possible outcomes and prepare for the potential impacts on your school or organization, your team, and your communities. After election day, it may function more like a rapid response team, helping your organization navigate and make decisions as new developments arise.
3. Get your policies in order.
(Or assign this to your election planning team.) Do this with an eye towards flexibility and equity. Will you give time off for staff to volunteer, vote, or engage in nonpartisan (if you’re a 501(c)(3)) protest? If so, will it be on a case-by-case basis or will you create relevant policies? If you’re giving time off, think about ways to make it truly accessible for all staff—particularly those most marginalized who will be uniquely impacted in the coming weeks and months. If you’re giving time off for protest, consult with your lawyer to understand risks and mitigations.
As part of this, you may also want to consider adding holidays to the calendar between now and February, especially if your organization is in the thick of election work. Even if you’re generous with individual time off, moments of organizational pause ensure that everyone takes a minimum amount of time to rest, recover, and reset.
4. Plan for connection and communication in the immediate aftermath.
After a major event, the leadership response within the first 24-48 hours sets the tone for moving forward. Consider these questions:
- What will it be like for staff to show up to work the day(s) after election day?
- How will you acknowledge what’s happened, hold space for the myriad feelings and reactions on your team, and ground your team in a sense of purpose?
- How will you equip your team to serve your community and stakeholders?
- How will you handle internal communication with your team about your purpose, plans, and policies?
5. Check in (so they don’t check out).
Everyone is dealing with the uncertainty, divisiveness, and urgency of this election season. We’re also all experiencing the stakes and effects of it differently. While some people may cope by throwing themselves into work, others might be feeling overwhelmed, unfocused, or just plain checked out. Acknowledge what’s happening, hear how your people are doing, and inject purpose, empowerment, and support in your next check-in. Here’s one way to approach it.
We’d love to hear from you! What are the biggest questions you have about how to lead your team through this election season? What are your favorite election-related resources? Join our TMC Community Slack to get added to the #election-season Slack channel, and let us know.