What I’m learning about how to lead people during political times

Hi there,

I’m Roxanne Petraeus, the CEO and co-founder of Ethena, and I’m starting this newsletter to talk about people. Why? As a former consultant, I’ll give you three reasons:

  1. People are super interesting.
  2. Every business problem really comes down to getting the right people in a room and making sure they tackle the problem, not each other.
  3. I learn by writing.

With this biweekly (the kind that means every other week) newsletter, I’m going to share one thing I learned about leading people. Sometimes, it’s something I learned by doing. Other times, it’ll be something I learned through a conversation with a smart person, whether in tech/startup land, the military, academia, and all the other places people hang out. Ready? Let’s talk.

PEOPLE & POLITICS (take a collective deep breath)

What I learned from addressing the Roe news

Politics at work is about as stressful as politics at Thanksgiving. Many ways it goes wrong. But ever since I started Ethena in late 2019, it’s been one continuous stretch of “unprecedented times.” I know we’re all grappling with the same question–how do you lead during a global pandemic, economic turbulence, social justice movements, war, and everything else that’s graced my news feed. Do you keep calm and carry on? Do you make space for people to bring their frustrations and joy openly into the room/Zoom? Some middle ground? I’ll call out that I still don’t have an easy answer. And there’s no approach that will satisfy everyone. But one of the few perks of being CEO is that I get to lead my way. And I want to lead in a way that makes my teams feel safe, acknowledged, and like the humans that they are, while also being a productive, fast-growing company. And I believe we can do both. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for Fast Company on exactly this topic where I share five principles I use for leading people during political turbulence. Here’s how those principles played out for me when the Roe v. Wade leak happened, which feels especially relevant as we wait for the final decision:

  1. I posted on LinkedIn about my miscarriage and how that informed how I think about women’s health and workplace participation.
  2. At our weekly company all-hands meeting, I shared my thought process for posting, so that my team could understand the framework I use when deciding whether to “speak out.”
  3. I encouraged managers to check in with their teams in whatever ways feel most authentic and comfortable to them. I like writing publicly; other folks like bringing up issues in 1:1s.
  4. I did not explicitly share a political stance or call to action. Nor did my company release what would have felt like a performative public statement.

What worked?

After the meeting, I got direct feedback from folks saying that they appreciated hearing a direct acknowledgment of the news and how I was navigating it. I also saw great examples across the team of managers finding their own ways to check in with their teams, including this message in our #general Slack channel:

Just want to acknowledge here that today might be a rough day for folks. Reach out today (to me or your manager or trusted colleagues and friends) if you need support whether it’s work-related or more generally. Take care of yourselves today, y’all.

What would have made this better?

Not surprisingly, the only people who reached out directly had positive things to say. I’m the CEO, so most people won’t directly tell me that I did a bad. What would have been really amazing is some sort of anonymous survey right after the meeting with 1-2 questions. Something like:

  • Is the way Ethena deals with politics and the news something that makes you more or less likely to stay at Ethena?
  • How do you want to see Ethena joining conversations about politics and the news in the future?

I’m making decisions based on a framework; having data to understand the impact of those decisions on my team would be very impactful. Thankfully/terribly, there’s always a next big news story that will allow/force me to keep improving on my approach of leading during hard times.

How are you navigating the news at work?

I’d love to hear from you – what’s working, what isn’t, and what do you want to try? I’m always open on LinkedIn and Twitter to conversations with smart people, but if you want to reach out directly, you can reach out via email.

Thanks for chatting with me today,

Roxanne Petraeus

CEO & Co-founder, Ethena