No matter what your politics are, we can all agree that we’re now living in one of the most tumultuous and emotional periods in modern political history. Add in a deafening eco-chamber on Twitter, a relentless and highly energized media, and advocates of every stripe now having a digital megaphone in their pocket, and it’s not surprising that so many CEOs are anxious about dealing with this new political climate.
But as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, dealing with the unpredictability of President Trump isn’t easy. Overreacting is a problem. So is under-reacting. Either can have major ramifications on your share price, customer satisfaction/ NPS, sales, reputation, and so many other priorities.
So what’s a company to do? The first step is to know when to engage and why. That requires stripping away your emotions. It requires being tough enough to not be baited into action by reporters, advocates or even the White House itself. It requires clear, rational thought and the willingness to take some criticism and make some people unhappy — no matter what you do. But, if you take the time to ask yourself the following questions and thoughtfully, even ruthlessly answer them, your odds of getting this right will go way up.
Why am I so upset about the issue at hand?
Am I upset because it impacts my business or because it bothers me personally?
Is this an issue I should address in my personal capacity as a citizen or something that has to come from the business itself? If the latter, exactly why does it have to come from the business?
If it does impact my business, who else but me is upset? Shareholders? Customers? Employees? Partners? Reporters who cover us? How many of them and how upset are they?
If they are upset, do they want/expect us to do something about it? What would make them happy (ifanything)?
If they do want us to act (as a business), is there a reasonable, responsible action we can take that would impact the issue/solve the problem?
Is this an issue where we have genuine expertise and credibility? Why would anyone care what we think? Do we have anything new and worthwhile to say?
Are we solving a problem or helping something in a meaningful way by getting involved? If so, exactly what?
What is our exposure to the federal government? Do we rely on them for procurement? Licenses? Grants? What would a public fight mean for us (if anything)? And would a fight actually help us with our customers/shareholders/employees/partners?
If we get involved in this issue, what does it mean for the next one?
The upshot of all of these questions is that while you shouldn’t ever hesitate to exercise your constitutional rights as a citizen, if you’re going to speak out on a political issue on behalf of the company itself, there better be a very compelling reason that can rationally address and answer all of the questions above.
In other words, take your time and keep your head. At some point, Trump is going to say or do something that will include your industry and impact your business. It’s going to be a long and bumpy four years. You may have to speak out at some point. But before you do, if you make sure you know exactly what you’re doing and why, you’re far more likely to get it right.
Bradley Tusk is the founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings. His political strategy firm and venture capital fund work frequently with Fortune 500 companies and startups facing complicated political and regulatory challenges.