In the days following the tragic events in Charlottesville CEO's spoke up, some more forceful like the CEO of Walmart calling the President by name, others more general such as General Motors Mary T. Barra calling on people, "to come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us - tolerance, inclusion and diversity." or Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan saying, "The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation's bedrock principles."
These CEOs are saying it is okay to speak up. In fact, it is their responsibility to lean in. They took risks in becoming CEO and they are starting to take the risk in speaking out and voicing their opinion. Sometimes its personal, but most of the time it can be their chance to reinforce their corporate values and share a little bit of insight as to who they are as a company by making current events a bit more personal.
While many business leaders struggle with voicing their opinion either personally or professional out of fear of offending a customer, colleague or investor or isolating themselves by taking a position, their voice has weight and the customer and team member want their CEO to say and or do something.
If speaking up results in public backlash, the business leader should be prepared to deal with the issue and work with their PR and legal team to get in front of it. Whether it is holding a news conference, publishing an op ed or posting a Tweet. Words do matter and they should be communicated carefully.