Being an LGBT leader

Riverside Executive Director John Glenton

By John Glenton, Executive Director of Care & Support and co-chair of Riverside’s LGBT staff group, Spectrum

I recently attended the Stonewall LGBT leadership programme. One aspect that surprised me was how quickly I was able to form relationships with a group of 36 people I had never met before. I realised that because the group was made up entirely of LGBT colleagues, I didn’t need to conduct my usual subconscious risk assessment.

I realised that, as a gay man, when I meet new people I conduct an immediate risk assessment. Is it safe to come out? Is it relevant to come out? Is it worth coming out? Have I got the energy to come out? 

But without coming out I am not the genuine and authentic me, because I need to filter what I talk about and what I share and keep aspects of my life secret. I have become skilled at avoiding using pronouns in conversations about family or my personal life, keeping away from words like he, him, male and husband.

So why does this matter? When I am able to be myself I am able to deliver my best results. I am able to be the best version of me, I am able to make decisions based on my whole life experience, I am more relaxed and I find it easier to develop effective working relationships.

During the course, we explored authentic leadership and how sometimes we can all feel an element of pressure to behave in a certain way. In the past some women have felt the need to behave more like men to be successful in business. We also explored the term ‘good gays’, where a gay man is not too camp, not too obvious, doesn’t share too much his lifestyle and ‘acts straight’. This is so that we fit in and are accepted, but all these types of social pressures can impact upon our ability to be an authentic leader.

Perhaps the most meaningful part of the course for me personally was exploring my life’s journey with a group of other LGBT leaders. I realised how much we had in common and how and why the LGBT bit of me has affected how I make decisions and judgements, why stand up for equality and have strong beliefs in justice. Coming from a community that has faced discrimination and oppression has shaped me into the person I am today.

In 2016 it is hard to believe that as an out gay man I have the role of Executive Director, the company I work for has just supported and paid for me to attend an LGBT leadership course and I am married to a head teacher. The LGBT community has come such a long way when you consider that within my lifetime homosexuality for men was illegal.

This course has helped me to understand the relevance the LGBT bit of me has on my leadership style. Valuing diversity within the workplace can create stronger, higher performing teams.