Earlier this year, Peter Molyneux, Health and Care LGBTQ+ Leaders Network chair, and Amy Hobson, founder of The Wellbeing Collective, carried out interviews with leaders from across health and care who are LGBTQ+ to explore what being authentic means to them, why they think it’s important, and how they combine being their authentic selves with their leadership roles. The interviews, which are available as podcasts, covered a number of themes that Peter reflects on here.
‘To thine own self be true’ is one of the many phrases still current today from Polonius’ speech in act one scene three of Hamlet. It has come to mean that we shouldn’t worry about pleasing other people or living by someone else’s rules, but rather live as ourselves. We all have an obligation to be true to ourselves and to our beliefs and values. But how does our obligation to ourselves sit alongside our obligation to others? It can be difficult to do the right thing when not doing so and pleasing others might give you an opportunity for advantage.
When we are LGBTQ+ we have to make decisions about how much we share, which others don’t have to do in the same way
This is a particular challenge for those of us from marginalised groups. We don’t want – and this doesn’t just apply to those of us who are LGBTQ+ - to have to do ‘code switching’ when we come into the workplace or to feel that we need to hide key parts of ourselves to fit in or to be valued. When we are LGBTQ+ we have to make decisions about how much we share, which others don’t have to do in the same way.
We are all learning
Many of our current leaders grew up with censorship and silencing as commonplace. We developed masks and personas and whilst many of us realise that these have long since become unnecessary, we are still adapting to new realities and challenges. None of us think we are the finished article, we are all learning. Language evolves, attitudes change and new issues emerge. However, there was a strong sense that we all know compassion when we see it so that a combination of honesty, curiosity and compassion is what really counts and is absolutely key to being an authentic leader.
Leadership is about listening, and harnessing talent, and organisations have a responsibility to create a psychologically safe space for this to take place
We want teams to be open, genuine and honest. We want leaders who create environments where people can bring their unique contribution. Leadership is about listening, and harnessing talent, and organisations have a responsibility to create a psychologically safe space for this to take place. Above all, it is about people feeling valued. However, being valued includes setting a context for feedback: ‘this is what we think you are really good at and this is what you might want to change.’
Challenging the status quo
Culture is a code. Organisations can be blind to their cultures and how excluding they can be. So, authenticity is key to challenging the status quo and building trusting relationships. There was a strong sense that we are going to need trusted connections more than ever. This means knowing who people are and what really matters to them. We all have different obligations, whether they are familial roles such as brother, mother etc; chosen roles such as friend, partner, husband, wife; professional roles such as nurse, doctor, care assistant etc or organisational roles such as manager, team leader etc. Being authentic is an important part of building trusted relationships that enable us all to see the things that connect us.
25 per cent of LGBTQ+ people who are ‘out’ at university go back into the closet when they enter the workforce, which is a telling and depressing statistic. There are no universal answers. We all need to learn, and we all need to be taught. All of the leaders we spoke to stressed the importance of looking for the right organisation and the right culture where you can find your place. After all, as the philosopher said: life’s not worth a damn ‘til you can shout out ‘I am what I am.’
You can listen to all the interviews in the podcast episodes on the Sussex Partnership website.
Peter Molyneux is chair of the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care LGBTQ+ Leaders Network. You can follow the network on Twitter @NHSC_LGBTQ