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Why I’m proud to be gay — at home and at work

January 14, 2015, 3:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of Picasa

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? is written by Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young.

I only have two pieces of advice: be authentic and realize that you don’t know everything.

First, authenticity. It matters. If you’re authentic and loyal, dedicated team members will follow. But if you’re not, you’ll never achieve the engagement and commitment needed to fulfill your vision and goals. More importantly, you’ll never get the honest and diverse viewpoints that we, as leaders, so desperately need.

I learned this in 2011 when our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leadership community participated in the “It Gets Better” video project, sharing their stories for the benefit of at-risk LGBT youth. I agreed to participate in the project but, although I considered myself to be authentic in every aspect of my leadership, there was one aspect of which I was not: I was lesbian and nobody knew that.

This was, I knew, my opportunity to truly be authentic. Given the opportunity to share hope with at-risk LGBT youth, I suddenly knew that I could not do anything other than share my own, true story.

So I did just that. I participated in the video and broke down the wall I had lived behind for 30 years: I came out.

I spoke openly, not only about myself but about how EY’s philosophy played an important role in my decision to come out. At EY, we have always seen a diverse workforce as a real strength. We believe that unique individuals – full of differences – are an important part of our success. I needed to let young LGBT adults know that they, too, can make a difference.

Since making that film, I have been publicly truer to myself, my morals and my ideals. To be honest, total authenticity has made me a better leader. I was finally able to make the leap my father always spoke of (as he often did) “You’ve been given gifts—use them!” As difficult as that decision was, it helped make a difference in the lives of many, and I moved from being a successful leader to being a significant one. And I can neither describe nor underestimate how satisfying it is to know that sharing my experience and strength could help an at-risk LGBT kid.

And secondly, recognize that you don’t know everything.

This one is tough because it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you’re now in a leadership position, and responsible for an entire team and its performance, that you’re expected to know it all.

You’re not. And only the best and most effective leaders, will recognize this. The world is too complex these days for you to assume there is nothing left to learn. You may know a lot, but none of us know it all.

So be vulnerable. Ask opinions. Consider the input of others. And, be authentic. When you are, others will believe in you, and they’ll believe in your leadership. They’ll engage, they’ll contribute and you’ll succeed together … as a team.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

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The one quality all leaders must have by China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work Institute.

3 lessons every new leader should know by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

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