By Michael Gunther
My journey as an entrepreneur started early in my life. Growing up with 10 brothers and 6 sisters drove me to be an entrepreneur in order to finance college and extracurricular activities that my parents simply couldn’t afford.
After college, I started my career in the corporate world at a time when corporate America was beginning to preach diversity but didn’t always enforce support for diversity. So after 10 years in the corporate world, I started Collaboration Business Consulting for the freedom to work with those I wanted to but, more importantly, to truly be myself and Out in the work environment. Starting my own company on my own terms allowed me to no longer lead a double life between my work and personal worlds.
Over two decades, I have been fortunate to lead a team of professionals who are dedicated to inspiring, educating and empowering business leaders to achieve their potential. We have helped launch close to 300 businesses while assisting another 400 businesses with their growth strategies and success. It hasn’t always been easy to address being gay with potential clients, community members, etc. It comes up in ways most people probably do not even think about. But simple everyday questions — Are you married? What does your wife do? Do you have kids? — generate a situation where I have to choose to be authentic or not. It sometimes feels like coming out every time these questions are asked. Will this person be okay with me being gay? Will they judge me differently? I realize that I shouldn’t care but the current political climate shows that there is a large group of our population who may have issues with diverse individuals.
I have learned, though, that life and business is all about relationships that are built on trust. By being myself, I have been able to create amazing professional relationships beyond my imagination. In addition, as any entrepreneur can probably attest to, growing a business can be challenging. It requires strong leaders who are good at creating solid relationships through authentic, purposeful and impactful collaboration with their team, customers and community. So, if you are not Out, how can you then truly build solid relationships? There will always be a lack of authenticity between you and other individuals.
I think it is critical for leaders to be themselves and create a workplace where a diverse workforce is viewed as a company strength and not a liability. Inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, allows leaders to build strong, collaborative teams. Bigoted, misogynistic, and prejudiced behaviors only alienate and degrade individuals for the benefit of insecure leaders.
As a leader, are you creating an environment of inclusiveness? Are you being authentic in all your relationships? Leadership is about inspiring others to achieve something greater than themselves – are you building people up or tearing down others? I encourage you to evaluate yourself to see if you are an inclusive leader who truly supports diversity and understands the value that diversity brings in achieving sustainable results.