This post is about how we, as business leaders, need to become more inclusive in our choice of language. We need to retain the ability to be truthful to our mission and still not alienate people who do not share our view of the world. This takes a lot of thought and intention because leaders managing through our culture wars are being challenged more and more to “take a side.” Not because it is good for their business, employees and partners, but because it makes for a good sound bite for news outlets. What my clients are teaching me is that inclusive language needs to include everyone, even those with whom we disagree.
Unfortunately, we can’t look to many of our politicians as role models for how to do this. Many of them need to go back to kindergarten, where we learned how to play and be nice to everyone in the class. I am embarrassed when I listen to some of our high-profile politicians. I am not sure what the goal is, but it seems to be to evoke strong emotion and anger. I can tell you I wouldn’t want them representing a hot dog stand, let alone these increasingly diverse, divided, and complex United States.
Due to the content of this post, it’s important for me to share that I am a person who wants everyone to live their happiest, most fulfilling and authentic life. I celebrate LGBTQ+ people and have dear family and friends who identify as such. I don’t understand the fearful and hateful rhetoric directed at LGBTQ+ people.
This week I saw an interview with Brendan Whitworth, the CEO of Anheuser Busch on CBS Mornings. I love it when I catch these interviews because I often see some pretty skillful leadership behavior. I know big company CEOs get a lot of excellent coaching on presenting, framing and language choice. But when done well these interviews are a mini master class on how to discuss difficult topics and manage conflict. Mr. Whitworth was already a pretty accomplished human (former marine and CIA intelligence officer) when he took the reins of the company. I can’t speak to what kind of leader he is as I do not know him but I would bet he is better than the average bear.
What most impressed me was his clear statement of concern for his employees and business partners and their longstanding commitment to LGBTQ rights. You don’t have to choose one over the other. You can care about them all. The Bud Light Pride Campaign angered some customers who boycotted the brand and this has negatively impacted their revenue. Declining sales can often translate into layoffs. And this includes negative impacts with strategic business partners, in this instance, distributers.
If I could improve Mr. Whitworth’s comments even more, I would have asked him to speak in support of Dylan Mulvaney, the trans woman who partnered with Bud Light during March Madness. Ms. Mulvaney was a business partner after all. She received a lot of harassment after the online Bud Light commercial. Some of it was very hateful and scary. Hate speech can provoke violence. I hope Ms. Mulvaney is safe and that the harassment stops. It would have been good to hear that from Mr. Whitworth.
As we just passed the first anniversary of overturning Roe vs. Wade, I am reminded of another example of the importance of inclusive language. After the ruling, a CEO client was feeling pressure to put out a decisive statement. Some of his team were advocating that he take a public stand in support of choice. His wise Chief Legal Officer recommended a more inclusive response that would send a message of care to all his employees, no matter how they felt about the decision. She knew that there was bound to be strong emotions on both sides and that adding to that would not be supportive, productive or helpful.
I am sure it was the right choice for his employees, shareholders and business. This is the job of a business leader, regardless of their personal or political opinions. We should leave the legislation to the politicians and we should make sure we vote for the most skillful and effective of them.
As Pride month comes to a close, I hope we can choose to be kind to everyone, even, and especially those with whom disagree. I have work to do here, and no doubt you do too. My hope is that we can do it together.
I write this. No AI tools used. Sometimes I struggle so much to start one of these posts and I know that AI might help prompt ideas, write a few easy to edit paragraphs and generally give me a running start. But I believe we learn to THINK and DISCERN when we write and that seems important to me. I founded Leadership Consulting Partners 23 years ago to collaborate with leaders, teams and organizations to create more productive, effective, and human people systems and practices. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.