Gut Check: Are You an Enlightened Leader?

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D. Blog

There were probably more than a few raised eyebrows last month when Ed Clark, CEO of the venerable TD, North America’s sixth largest bank, gave a speech at WorldPride Human Rights Conference in Toronto about how the corporate world needs to embrace and respect the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

TD officially began to publicly support the Pride movement in the early 1990s, and in 1994 offered full benefits to the partners of same-sex employees.

However, no senior executive at the bank had ever expressed their views as strongly and in such a public forum, in support of LGBT issues.

Is this just a marketing ploy, a way of currying favor with the LGBT community and gain a competitive advantage over competitors? Clark did not deny that being more enlightened and inclusive was good for the bottom line. But he also made it clear in interviews after the speech that this was also an issue of leadership.

In other words, Clark believes true leaders need to be enlightened.

“You have to start and say this is just the right thing to do,” Clark told the CBC. “This is about human rights, (…) being a good corporate citizen, (and) being a good person citizen.”

Thankfully, Clark is not alone in demonstrating this kind of leadership.

It was already well-known that Apple CEO Tim Clark is gay. In fact, he has been called the “most powerful gay man in America”by some media pundits. And yet, it was still worthy of headlines last month when Cook led some 5,000 Apple employees in a Pride Day march in San Francisco.

Cook has in many ways been much more outspoken on social issues than his predecessor, Steve Jobs. At the company’s AGM in April, Cook was involved in a very public argument with a climate change denier, who criticized Apple for investing too much in sustainability and environmental initiatives. Cook angrily rebuffed the shareholder, telling him “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

The examples set by Clark and Cook raise an interesting question about the very nature of leadership: do we have an obligation to be leaders outside our organizations? Or, put another way, do we have a responsibility to be enlightened and to advocate for enlightened perspectives in the broader community?

Clark and Cook clearly believe that they have a responsibility to reach beyond their organizations. TD has been employing enlightened internal policies for two decades; it was not until last month however that a bank’s executive put that enlightenment in a public forum as an example for other leaders.

There certainly are risks. Despite the fact that there is broad public support for many LGBT issues, like same-sex marriage and equal benefits for same-sex partners, homosexuality is still a taboo subject in many countries around the world. Some continue to punish, even torture their citizens for being gay.

That is why far too many organizations lag behind the leading edge occupied by Clark and Cook. They focus more on the risks of being out front on this issue, and less on the benefits of leading change.

And isn’t that one of the key traits of a true leader? The ability to not only embrace enlightenment; but also to lead it.

This week’s Gut Check question is probably one of the toughest I’ve ever posed: do you have the courage to be an enlightened leader?

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