The global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, racial unrest, a divisive presidential term and so many more events in the past few years have all eyes on the news, including business leaders. C-suite leaders, managers and executives used to have little “extra” time to ensure they were up-to-date on current events. Now, reading the news an essential aspect of leadership.
A 2022 Adobe study called “The Future of Time” revealed that 70% of participants are “[spending] more time during the workday absorbing or discussing news coverage compared to a year ago.” Additionally, “[small- to medium-sized business] leaders and enterprise managers alone are on average spending three hours per day reading, watching or listening to national or global news coverage.” In the U.S., the top two concerns are “economic instability/inflation” (79%) and “gun violence” (65%). In addition, 38% of employees in the survey expressed that increased uncertainty in current events is making it hard for them to focus at work.
Here’s how leaders are changing their habits and adjusting to their new norms of paying more attention to the news to best adapt their leadership to uncertain times.
Reading the news, knowing your employees
For the average person, staying abreast of local, national and international news developments might be a matter of choice and preference. But for bosses at multiple levels, it becomes directly connected to leadership skills, according to Nina Vasan, M.D., M.B.A., Chief Medical Officer at Real, clinical assistant professor at Stanford University and founder and executive director of Brainstorm: The Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation.
“It is important to remember that work is only one part of a person’s life,” she says. “What they experience in their life outside of work in terms of stress and worry is often carried into the workplace and can impact their productivity and well-being. Especially for a manager or leader, I think it is important to be aware of current events as they can have a significant impact on the mental health of your employee as well as your own.” This awareness will help you make business decisions, be more empathetic and be attuned to additional support your team might need, she adds.
You are leading a company, but you might also be expected to provide more support for employees’ mental and emotional needs, Vasan explains. “Now more than ever, employees expect their employer and leaders to provide mental health care and support as they navigate the stress of work and life,” she says. Though leaders won’t replace therapists, doctors and other medical professionals, they might offer better opportunities for work-life balance, from paid time off to hybrid work options and additional support like therapy apps.
Making business decisions based on current events
As companies keep an eye on a potential impending recession, along with reading other pivotal news events, they might make decisions about the trajectory of their company with this information. William Stonehouse III is president and co-founder of Crawford Thomas Recruiting, a “full-service staffing agency with a focus in the areas of sales recruitment, accounting and information technology,” according to their website. His personal news consumption has increased in the past few years, which he credits to the world’s interconnectedness. He watches the news closely with an eye on making plans around the most current events.
“A war in Europe leads to political fallout here at home, which has led to shortages and price hikes that have major effects on various industries I work in,” he says. “News consumption has to be increasing for my counterparts as well given how often it comes up in conversation and the number of articles and news links being forwarded. I definitely think business leaders like myself are taking in more news not to see what happened but so they can hopefully figure out what is going to happen and plan accordingly.”
Stonehouse specifically tailors his news consumption to more than traditional business journals he used to read to make business decisions. Now, he’s also looking for information on international news, healthcare, technology, finance and sources related to the supply chain, he says, aiming to “understand what issues, shortages or situations are on the horizon to better plan business decisions around.
“Really understanding how a war in the Ukraine is related to a shortage of eggs and how a lack of microchips creates an automotive shortage… is something I didn’t imagine being as important as it is today,” he adds.
Reading industry news
It’s not just wars in other countries and political unrest impacting business leaders, but also more specific changes within their industries and interest areas. Olivia Dreizen Howell, co-founder and CEO of Fresh Starts Registry, has been watching industry outlets to determine the place of female founders in investment tracks.
She credits a recent TechCrunch article for specifically impacting her trajectory for the year, and for her brand. The article showed that women-founded startups raised 1.9% of all VC funds in 2022, a drop from 2021. Instead of continuing down a traditional VC route, Fresh Starts Registry decided to shift paths. “As the CEO, I made a bold decision… to pursue funding in the way that felt right to us—networking and engaging with people who want to see female founders succeed, and people who firmly believe in our mission,” she says. This strategy change happened due to news coverage she was paying attention to. Howell says she’ll be paying more attention to it now.
“As a startup CEO, I often have my head down in building a business and networking, and we sometimes lose sight of making sure we are up to date on the news and trends, but that is just as important,” she says.
How business leaders are integrating reading news into busy days
It’s not easy to carve out multiple times per day to invest in news coverage, especially given the wealth of information—and fake news—cluttering our feeds. Stonehouse explains that having to check each claim and article against other sources to corroborate information is time consuming but necessary in the current age of misinformation.
“I find myself reading twice as many articles on single topics to check for bias or to make sure what I’m reading is factual,” he says. This can make it difficult to fit in reading the news as a busy business leader, though both leaders say it’s necessary.
Howell has found it helpful to follow news outlets on Twitter, as well as individual journalists who you find trustworthy. “See what they’re tweeting about and posting,” she says. “It will really help inform you of any trends and changes you may have to be flexible about.”
Remember to strike a balance
But, like anyone, reading the news and current events can feel depleting. Vasan reminds leaders and employees alike to keep a healthy balance of news consumption while considering the impact on business. “The past few years have been a crash course in how significantly world events can impact employees’ mental health and well-being. From the pandemic to racism to significant political and economic events, what is happening in the world outside of work directly impacts how people show up in the workplace,” she says. But it’s important to protect your own mental health as well.
“Remember it is OK and encouraged for you to take breaks from the day-to-day of the news to care for your own mental health,” Vasan says. “It is less important that you keep up to date on the exact specifics of a crisis and instead have a broad understanding of what happened.”
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