Leading Proud, Part 1: What does it mean to lead proud?

By: Margo Gouley

Pride Month arrives every June with a flurry of mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, there is joy. Pride has become a huge celebration, and I am grateful for that. I love to see the events in my local community being well attended by a diversity of people, feel the enthusiastic support of my colleagues at work, and absorb the general feeling of, well, pride, that my fellow community members express. 

On the other hand, there is a sadness that accompanies the joy. Members of our community continue to face disproportionate amounts of discrimination, harassment, and violence. Not everyone feels the pride and sees the support, in June or at any other time of year. On top of this, there have been setbacks for our community in 2022, many of which directly impact children and families. This is devastating. 

And then I remember that pride is a protest, and that we celebrate and march and demand better for our community every year despite of and because of the setbacks and the barriers that we still face. In an effort to honour and continue the legacy of the founders of our movement, we choose to lead with pride in the face of it all. 

Because when we lead with pride, change happens. 

So, how do we do it? Today’s post will focus on strategies LGBTQ2+ community members can use to lead with pride at work and in their communities. And my next post will focus on what allies can do. 

Strategy 1: Figure out what proud leadership means to you.

We’re not all in the same boat and leading proud is going to look different for each of us. The important thing is clarity. Clarity for yourself about what proud leadership looks like for you and your ability to communicate that clearly to others. Think of it as your leadership brand, your leadership identity, the mark you want to make on the world. What does that look like for you?

This is a challenging question to answer, so here’s a simple exercise for getting started. What words do you want others to associate with your leadership? Do you want to be seen as unfailingly honest, incredibly creative, trustworthy, results-driven? The answer to this question is a clue as to what values you hold dear, and how they impact the way you lead. Try to distill your list down to just 3-4 words. And when you’re doing this, think of your WHOLE self, not just your professional self. Are there values rooted in your personal relationships, your community relationships, or your life experiences that you aren’t showing that much at work right now but that are absolutely crucial to your ability to lead proud? Put those on the list. 

Strategy 2: Be the steward of your story.

This is language borrowed from Brene Brown. I love it because it emphasizes 2 important aspects of storytelling: getting clear for yourself about what your story is, and finding people who will respect and protect your story. Both aspects of storytelling are crucial for it to work as a tool for connection. 

How can you do this? Think back to strategy 1. What values do you want to keep at the heart of your leadership brand? Then ask yourself: when have you lived this value? How did this value become important to you? What is the connection between this value and the work that you do? When have you failed to live this value and what was the impact on you or others? 

The answers to these questions are the source of your most powerful leadership stories. Get clear on what they are. Then, think about who needs to hear these stories. Who would be inspired by these stories? Who might become an ally? Who might amplify your story with others who can help you on your leadership journey?

Strategy 3: Connect with your community. 

Networks can be transformative. They can transform our perspective by helping us realize we’re not alone. And they can transform our impact when we use them to amplify our impact. A strategy implemented individually transforms the individual’s experience. But a strategy implemented collectively can transform our whole environment. Whether that environment is your workplace, your ERG, or your local community, use the power of network effects to create the change you want to see. 

If this sounds overwhelming, start small. Volunteer at your local LGBTQ2+ centre, join an employee resource group at your workplace, or reach out to LGBTQ2+ leaders you respect social media. If you’re not sure what to say, my advice is not to overthink it. A simple “I’d love to connect with other LGBTQ2+ leaders in [insert relevant field/organization/city]” is honest and to the point. 

Whether you are trying to deepen your own commitment to proud leadership or inspire others to lead proud, these 3 strategies can be transformative. Give one or all of these 3 strategies a try this pride month. You’ll be surprised at how powerful any one of them can be. 

And check back next week for my post on what allies can do to support LGBTQ2+ leaders during pride month and all through the year. 

To learn more about The Humphrey Group’s Proud to Lead learning experience for LGBTQ2+ leaders, or to contact us about bringing this learning experience to your organization, visit us at thehumphreygroup.com.