From One Man to an Other
Otherness diminishes rapidly when you can relate to the Other's plight. Consider Marshall Carter, the past chair of the New York Stock Exchange and mentor to Deborah Ellinger, president of Restoration Hardware. In addition to having two daughters, Marshall is a Vietnam vet, a former marine, and a recipient of the Navy Cross. When he returned home and sought employment after two tours as an officer in Vietnam, 85 companies rejected him, despite his master's degree in operations research and systems analysis. His stellar resume made no difference; the public's distaste for the war had turned him into an Other.
As mentioned in chapter 2, an open-door leader sees opportunities where everyone else sees problems. Having experienced firsthand the humiliation of being obstructed from opportunities for which he was qualified, Marshall was determined to not block opportunities for others who worked for him. Even in the early 1980s, when he was a senior executive at Chase Manhattan Bank, nine of the 12 vice presidents who reported to him were women. Summing up Marshall's open-door leadership approach, Deborah told USA Today, “He understands what it means to be an outsider.”
Even Others Have Others
Each of us has an Other somewhere in our lives. Others are members of minority groups—not minority solely as in “black or Latino,” but as in the minority within your own organization. Others are those who represent a much smaller percentage within an organization. Just as the needs and concerns of a woman working in a male-dominated workplace are unique, so too are those of a male worker working in a female-dominated workplace. The same holds true for an older employee working in a tech start-up company, surrounded by thumb-tapping, text-sending millennials. In each case, the leader needs to pay special attention to make sure that doors are opening for everyone, not only those who are just like the leader.
The challenge in leading Others is that you often don't know what you don't know. Unless you directly seek out perspective, input, and feedback from Others, you won't know what their unique needs and concerns are and it will be hard to create opportunities for them. Fortunately, this is surprisingly easy to do. Just move toward them. Read blogs and newsletters that are written for these groups. Find out what causes they champion. Listen to podcasts from luminaries they respect. Most importantly, and to prevent stereotyping, spend time getting to know the individuals you're leading, even if their lives are very different from your own. Don't be interrogative. Just follow
your curiosity and ask questions in the way a five-year-old would—innocently and with purity of heart.
A good example of spending time getting to know rankand-fi workers comes from BJ Gallagher Hateley, author of Peacock in the Land of Penguins, one of the best books ever written about working with Others. During her years as the manager of training and development at the Los Angeles Times, BJ worked for a senior executive named Tom Johnson. One evening, while she was giving a workshop for the pressmen who worked at night printing the newspaper, Tom popped into the room and said, “What's going on in here tonight? How's everybody doing?” The pressmen were happy to see him, and BJ was totally surprised. Keep in mind that Tom wasn't just a senior executive, he was the senior executive— the newspaper's publisher. Yet here he was at 10 at night making small talk with the rank-and-file pressmen.
After Tom left, BJ asked the guys, “Does he do that often?” And they said, “Yes, he does. He often comes by late at night, after he's been to some corporate evening event, the theater, or some business dinner. He comes in, picks up a copy of the paper as it's coming off the press, and talks with the guys for a while before he goes home.”
One has to imagine that Tom, who would go on to become president of CNN for more than a decade, benefitted from those meetings with Others as much as they did. It was he, after all, who was the true Other in that situation. In any company, the CEO is always a minority of one. Too many leaders at the top cloister themselves in the
executive suites, where the rarefied air can distance them from the people who do the actual work. Few things are as dangerous for a leader as becoming out of touch with the people's needs and wants. Open-door leaders like Tom Johnson, however, strive to tear down whatever walls exist between them and their workforce. When they do, otherness becomes less important than togetherness.
Open-Door Actions and Reflections
1. Identify a time in your career when you felt like an Other.
• Describe the situation and the emotions that come up for you when you remember it. Ultimately, how was this situation resolved?
• Did someone play the role of open-door leader in this situation? If so, what opportunity did they create for you?
• How could you pay that door-opening forward?
2. Identify two colleagues who are Others to you. Pick one from each gender. Take them to lunch, separately, simply to get to know them better. Afterward, see if there are some doors that would be worth opening for them. 3. Find out if your organization has a diversity office or function. If so:
• Spend an hour there getting educated about what the organization is doing to create a level playing field for Others.
• Review the data and statistics about the composition of your workforce, including the top team and the board of directors.
• Meet with the diversity manager to ask how you can contribute to the organization's diversity goals.