If I were to ask any global citizen what we can learn from Queer people, the answers may be fairly stereotypical if not pedestrian. But if we broaden our social perspective, we can learn a lot from the Queer community at a time when our world seems to be more enigmatic than usual.
As our society becomes more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, the key question for any leader is how to respond to today’s challenges when today’s answers seem antiquated. In short, it requires us to adopt the transformational leadership mindset that has become a cultural hallmark of the LGBTQ+ community.
As we review the historical record and current socio-political standing of the Queer community, we should be asking ourselves two important questions: given the barriers that it has had to overcome for hundreds of years, what does the Queer community possess that not only allows it to survive but thrive? What does the Queer community have in the cultural DNA that allows it to thrive in an unpredictable ethos, much like the current society we live in now?
In truth, the LGBTQ+ community possesses the type of leadership acumen that can be of benefit to everyone if we treat the community as an instructive case study for how to mold and sustain transformational leadership. To be clear, transformational leadership is not built on personality or charisma. Instead, it is based on the idea that an individual must be able to lead oneself before leading others. It is the type of stewardship based on one’s understanding of and one’s fidelity to one’s values. It is based on one’s ability to embody authenticity, foster resilience, and embrace adaptability. In each of these respects, the LGBTQ+ community offers wisdom that can support a new generation of leadership. Let us review each in turn:
Authenticity. Authenticity is the enthusiastic embrace of who we are. Yet and still, authenticity requires self-discovery before one can fully acknowledge who they are to themselves and the world. In that vein, no other community has embraced self-interrogation like the Queer community. The “coming out” process affords us the contemplative pathway to distinguish who we are apart from the world’s judgment and, sometimes, haughty expectations. Most times, “coming out” is reduced to the singular act of informing someone that you’re LGBTQ+, but sharing news of one’s gender identity and/or sexuality is the culmination of a formative process by which people explore their sense of self and identify the values that make them unique and powerful. When leaders acknowledge and honor their core values, they can make sound choices that engender trust and inspire those around them. In this respect, the Queer community can offer great wisdom in helping leaders be the best version they are.
Resilience. While authenticity is the product of self-discovery, it is often fortified by resilience. Resilience is not just an act of resistance or the bent of being a contrarian; it is a set of bedrock skills whereby people maintain their values despite whatever setbacks and obstacles may come their way. In the Queer community, resilience is a daily experience – if you are misgendered, micro-aggressed, or misrepresented daily, you must develop the mindset and practice of detaching from negativity in order to maintain your vision for your life and career. In essence, resilience is about developing a “brain hack” so you don’t internalize limiting beliefs and small-minded thoughts. As leaders, it is essential that we nurture our sense of resilience so as not to be distracted by the vagaries in the world. The Queer community has perfected the practice of being resilient despite the social tailwinds that swirl around us.
Adaptability. At the same time, while resilience means showing commitment to one’s ideas, adaptability signifies being flexible enough to entertain other ideas and to shift one’s behavior to meet the dictates of the world around us. Queer people rely on a non-binary mindset not only in how they describe their gender identity and/or sexuality but also in how they regard social conventions, business strategies, and cultural innovations. The currency for 21st Century leadership lies not in responding routinely to old challenges but in responding to new problems in a novel and unconventional way. The Queer community has a long and successful history of shifting their behaviors based on new social trends in the environment. Adopting a Queer mindset can help any person become more adaptive in their leadership approach.
In the end, Queer leadership insight can be useful for anyone if we recognize the wisdom offered by the LGBTQ+ community. Regardless of where you are in your leadership journey, here are a few tips that can help you become a more transformational leader:
- Engage in your own coming out of the process whereby you identify, own, and celebrate your values. Make your values an intentional part of your style. The Queer community will cheer you. Your peers and colleagues will thank you.
- Start to develop a resilience practice. Learn how to manage your triggers and develop positive self-soothing strategies that will help you negotiate stress daily.
- Encourage risk-taking, creativity, and innovation. Challenge sacred cows and give yourself the freedom to embrace new norms and new ways of doing things.
By honoring Queer wisdom, you can do your part to grow as a leader and positively impact those who are around you in your organization or community.
How to Develop Lion-Like Resilience and Reclaim Your Purpose(Opens in a new browser tab)
About the Author:
Dr. Joel A. Davis Brown is an organizational development consultant, professor, and author of the recently published book: The Souls of Queer Folk: How Understanding LGBTQ+ Can Transform Your Leadership Practice. He is based in San Francisco and New York City.
By Dr. Joel A. Davis Brown