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Leading out loud: Executive presence and communication for LGBT leaders

April 12, 2017

In today’s workplace, it can be tough to be your true self without the fear of being labeled or treated differently. This often leads people to feel like they live double lives at work and at home. Making it difficult for people and especially for LGBT leaders to be open, honest and transparent – both in the good and bad times.

JD Schramm, a lecturer in organizational behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, spoke to a packed room in Bloomberg’s San Francisco Technology Hub. He stressed the importance of executive presence and communication for LGBT leaders to lead their lives in a genuine and transparent manner. He talked about how leading with your authentic self and transparency can result in successful outcomes.

As a LGBT leader himself, JD shared an example in his home life showing the power of transparency and honest communication. When he and his husband Ken were trying to adopt a child, the mother decided to not proceed with the adoption, they were devastated. Ken wrote a blog about their 3-year journey in failed adoptions and their earnest desire to grow their family. This blog attracted over 4,000 social media followers, the majority of whom they had never met. A young mother from a traditionally conservative town was so moved by their story; she reached out to JD and Ken about adopting her baby daughter.

With this adoption story, JD emphasized to the leaders in the room, “I encourage you to not just share when things are going great but to also share about your setbacks.”

In his work life, JD conducts research at Stanford and developed a framework to help LGBT leaders to reflect on what lives they can decide to lead both at work and at home.

JD’s model defines four main quadrants along two major axes in the diagram below. On the X-axis we have individuals that lead either Affected (artificial) or Authentic lives. On the Y-axis we have individuals that lead Transparent or Opaque lives. These categories are not binary in that it represents a continuum between both points. Every day LGBT leaders can choose which point on each axis they will operate on.



While inspirational leaders such as Harvey Milk, Lord Browne or Caitlyn Jenner often lead Genuine (Transparent and Authentic) lives, it’s important to note that wasn’t necessarily always that way. Instead, it’s important to understand and appreciate the journey to the top right quadrant.

Unfortunately, research shows that over 40% of LGBT employees choose to conduct their work lives in the Opaque quadrants. There are many reasons for this, such as companies and countries having little to low LGBT inclusiveness. With that said, JD stressed that there is nothing wrong if leaders decide to lead within the Compartmentalized or Discrete quadrant to adjust their leadership style to be mindful of cultural norms.

While JD’s research is ongoing, what he has learned and shared is already invaluable to the mission of diversity and inclusion.

For LGBT leaders striving to find their place in the workplace, he left a few words of wisdom:

  • When given the chance to speak up and take it
  • Share both the good and the bad. Transparency and focusing on the journey is key
  • Look for ways to give back, such as mentoring someone
  • Learn effective and engaging storytelling by being authentic and forging human connections with the right amount of detail
  • Create an open dialog with people who might share different views by providing the opportunity for people to ask questions and inquire
  • In tough situations, learn to know when to pause the conversation, acknowledge the facts and continue the conversation at another time