Be a J.E.D.I Leader, Not a Boss with Omar L Harris

Welcome to our first show of 2022. I’m delighted to kick start this year off with Omar Harris. Omar is a former Executive Leader of GSK and Allergan with more than 20 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry. He’s the founder managing partner of Intent Consulting and author of The Servant Leaders Manifesto and Be a J.E.D.I. Leader, Not a Boss. This warm and insightful conversation is packed full of learning including:

Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: Although we can’t predict the future. What we can say is 2022 will not be returning to business as usual. The pandemic, social unrest, cultural divisions, and new remote working, all but guarantee that leading teams and business in the coming year will be anything but business as usual. Leading in the hybrid world, digitalization, automation, all of which workers need to learn skills outside of our routines and our normal roles. Combined of course, we’re getting used to that hybrid world. So how do we prepare for challenges as leaders in 2022 and beyond?

So, I’m calling the six themes as leaders we need to be focused on. Starting with using technology in human ways for human reasons. When it comes to embracing the hybrid workforce, embracing technology is a priority. Professor Roshni Raveendhran and completed some research and explored the integration of novel technologies into the workplace and where those technologies intersect with the psychology of human behavior. With studies, including the examination of monitoring technology in the use of virtual and augmented reality, Raveendhran focused on use of new systems to augment human life and how new technologies can be used responsibly. For example, the use of avatars may relieve that sense of social threat through psychological distance or how an organization’s behavior tracking application may be used as a better means of collaboration rather than for people to be feeling that they’re constantly monitored. As companies start to rethink about how remote working impacts on the workforce.

Raveendhran also said, “One key challenge pertains to the missing social connection, that feeling of being part of the same group. So, the use of things like virtual reality and other augmented reality is going to be a key critical part that drives the psychology for people to adapt some of those technologies too.” One thing in 2022, all companies will need to focus on and that’s improving company culture. Darden Professor Laura Morgan Roberts is an expert human potential, diversity and leadership. And she notes that compassionate, responsive leadership is what every organization needs, whether face to face or screen to screen. She also sites learning as being a key element of that culture change as well as peer to peer support. A crisis is messy, and so too is innovation. Roberts goes on to say, “As organizations compete and grow, the successful ones were emphasized on a culture that is inclusive, authentic, and has development at the heart to retain talent.” Successfully leaders in 2022 will forge beyond diversity efforts and developing that minority talent, pushing that organizations to really embrace the importance of equity and intelligent inclusion.

Ultimately the impact of diversity equity and inclusion efforts. However well meaning, will depend on how well they’re executed by its leadership. Decades of research in social psychology and organizational behaviors show that when individuals question the value of group identity, that social identity threats increase, they register, and they’re massively damaging, not just to the individual, but to the organizational relationships. Professor Martin Davidson is Darden University global chief diversity officer goes on to explore how those organizations can design and Institute programs and policies that worked at eliminate inequality. He calls out in his studies that the biggest focus should be reducing the psychological reactivity that arises in response to any racial friction. And let’s remember in 2022, we’re all in the same boat. Friction can sink the boat, keeping team members out of sync. When in fact they should be pursuing the same meaningful goals that are aligned through all the organization.

Professor Lynn Isabella is an authority on managing teams and she likens a business unit to accrue rowing on the water. What it takes to row together with seven or eight people is true of the manifestation of teamwork in action, winning crews share common characteristics. Not only must every team member have the master with technique at a similar level but have different strengths that each can learn to row with the rest of the crew. Professor Isabella goes on to say in their recent studies. “As a member of the team, each row must learn to follow and lead simultaneously. Individual stars will only slow the boat down.” So, what about leadership capability? or to take their teams to the next levels of achievement. Successful leaders of organizations and teams will need a cohesive understanding of what leadership really is and what it’s not. Having interviewed hundreds of great leaders and coaches from around the world.

What I know is true, is: Leadership is about influence and not power, it’s more about inspiration than control. Power is based on the development and dependence of others and the authority based on the formalization of a simple hierarchy that we’ve become used to. Command and control approaches lead to burnout and disengagement. The thing is, working through influence takes more effort, but over the long haul. Leads to more engaged, purpose driven and productive teams. Until you create more leaders who are willing to provide their efforts in your direction, you’re not really leading. And my final message to kickstart 2022 is business is human. While COVID 19 and the pandemic has accelerated the mass adoption of new technologies. The things we can rely on are human related. Leadership is profoundly human. We can’t rely on AI and technology to replace the human traits of judgment, compassion, empathy, and ethics.

And in 2022 leadership will require a human touch now more than ever. So whatever new bold technologies you adopt and the innovative solutions you seek, let’s just remember human centered leadership is what’s going to make 2022 a real success for you and the teams that you lead. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. Let’s get into the show.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Our special guest on today’s show is Omar L. Harris. He’s the founder of Intent Consulting. He’s an expert on business and servant leadership. He’s a thought leader, speaker an award-winning bestselling author of five books, including The Servant Leaders Manifesto and be a J.E.D.I. Leader, Not a Boss: This is about leading in the Era of Corporate Social Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion. Omar, welcome to of The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Omar Harris: Happy to be here, Steve. Nice to be speaking with you.

Steve Rush: So, tell us a little bit about you and how Omar arrived to do what you’re doing and how you’re making such a great impact on the world. Where did it all start?

Omar Harris: I mean, it started early on, I think my parents, especially my mother really invested in my town talents early on in my life and kind of, you know, gave me something to aspire to in terms of telling me that she wanted me to do something great in the world with my life. I was enlisted into the gifted program in the third grade. It was kind of a funny story about that. I thought I was being studied for like mental disorder or something like that. And it turns out that it was actually an assessment for the gifted program. And you know from that moment on really kind of having extra time to invest in my intellectual acumen, having the best teachers, having the privilege of being able to expand my mind and learn in different ways. And I think that when I reflect back on it, I always thought I was a bit unfair that I was going to classes, getting access to, you know, information and, you know, different types teaching that other students were getting.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: And I thought it was fundamentally inequitable. And I think that, you know, this is what starts in Western Society. Specifically, around the fact that there are people that we see as elite or having certain pedigree or whatever it is. And you get that, you know, these privileges begin to happen at an early age. And then you have those who never receive any types of privileges who have to overcome constantly for the entirety of their life. And what I fundamentally believe is that everybody is uniquely special and talented, and that everyone needs the same kind of investment in order for them to unlock their true potential, which is what I do now is try to help every single person that I encounter, unlock their unique, potential, their unique purpose and help them connect that to their goals and their progress.

But I mean, I think that I evolved there over the course of a 20 plus year pharmaceutical career, living all over the world, you know, U.S., Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. And I’ve lived a life when I’ve been able to kind of do what I’m good at all the time. And I just want everyone to have the benefit of that.

Steve Rush: And I love the fact that you’ve raised inequity in this whole process, because it’s the one thing that gets often lost between diversity and inclusion, because it is not about race. It’s not about color. It’s not about creed.

Omar Harris: No.

Steve Rush: It cuts across all of those lines, doesn’t it?

Omar Harris: It does. It’s a big intersectionality about inequity and people confuse equity and equality all the time, but they’re not the same thing.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: And that’s why it’s very important to explain what equity is for people. So, they understand really. There’s a famous cartoon that shows three children at a fence looking at a baseball game. Let’s say it’s on the soccer pitch for your global audience or the football pitch. And imagine looking over, trying to look at the watch match, and you have one tall child looking over the fence easily, and you have one kid who’s basically can’t even see over the fence, kind of get a glimpse of some things. And you have a little short kid who can’t see anything, right? And so, this is fundamentally inequity that has nothing to do with anything. It’s happened to be three different heights, right.

Steve Rush: And the treatment strategy for those three people in that case is different.

Omar Harris: Exactly. And the tallest person’s also standing on a milk crate.

Steve Rush: Right, yeah.

Omar Harris: So, it has a little bit of a boost. So, you take the milk crate away from the tallest one, you give the shortest and the next shortest person, the milk create they need to be able to see over the fence, and then everybody can participate in viewing the match.

Steve Rush: It’s a really interesting approach. And I’m glad you’ve highlighted, as I’m a visual, I can actually see these three characters actually stuck about the fence.

Omar Harris: Right, right.

Steve Rush: Now you had a wonderful, diverse career across full continents and had the experience to really firsthand learn and experience around the whole kind of diversity equity and inclusion genre. But from your perspective, is there may be a time or a moment or experience where there’s been this kind of this moment for you where you went, ah, this is it?

Omar Harris: I don’t think it was certainly a single moment for me. I think it’s just being observant to your experience and the experience of others. I think that for me, one of the things that really affected me early in my career was the fact that I was one of the only African Americans in marketing, in my entire 30,000-person company. And asking myself the question, why are there not more of us in pharmaceutical marketing? At the time I was working in cardiovascular disease and cholesterol, and this is a disease that disproportionately affects you know, black and African American people.

Steve Rush: Right.

Omar Harris: Not only, you know, bring the solutions to market more effectively, but also have more effective consumer messaging and messaging to doctors around the disease modality, you should at least be representing the demographics of your primary patient populations.

Steve Rush: Absolutely.

Omar Harris: High blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, you should have a higher propensity of people, of African descents in those teams. I think just because they’re going to have a personal connection to that story. I mean, both my parents have high blood pressure, everybody you know, every person that I have, that’s a friend of mine, or over 40 has high blood pressure in our community. So, we have a connection to it, an emotional and intellectual connection to this that others may not have that would give us an advantage in terms of messaging and marketing and all the things we’re trying to do. But at the time I was the only person of color on that team in the world.

Steve Rush: That’s a remarkable stat in itself, isn’t it? Did you find out what the reason was for that?

Omar Harris: I think it comes back to the fact of where they’re sourcing talent. I think, you know, once again, there’s this whole misnomer or myth that there’s not enough of a certain type of group for certain position. We don’t will have enough, you know, African American talent for marketing. We don’t have enough women in tech. We don’t have enough, blah, blah, blah, whenever you see scarcity, it’s because you’re not looking in the right place.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: Or you’re not actually investing in planting seeds to create the crops that you need for your future success. So basically, intelligent organizations, it’s sort of like going back to our football example, there’s a reason why there are junior clubs, right? Right. So basically, the top, you know, Manchester United, scouring the world for the next stars, 15, 20 years before they ever become adults.

Steve Rush: Of course.

Omar Harris: You know, they’re looking at seven-year-olds, ten-year-old, and they don’t care where you’re from. You could be from the middle of Sub-Saharan Africa, or you could be from Latin America, you could be from Timbuktu. It doesn’t matter because they understand that they need a constant supply of stars, and that star base is not going to come from a single demography. And this is something that corporations, we don’t understand yet, we’re not actually building a pipeline early enough. Pre-College, right? You know what I’m saying?

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: Like looking at where the talents are. There are talents all over the place if you create a wide enough net early enough to find these individuals and groom them, which is why all the work in stem is so important and trying to encourage, you know, African Americans and women and immigrants to get into that space. Because now we’re trying to build a pipeline of future engineers, entrepreneurs, or whatnot. That same philosophy needs to be applied to regular. Business, finance, HR, you know, marketing, sales leadership, all these different functions. You do the exact same thing. There’s no difference in those approaches. In my case, I think that I was only there because my particular organization happened to be sourcing at least one or two African Americans from my school, which was a historically black college and university every year. But most corporations were not using HBCUs as a talent pipeline source. And that’s why the demography were so bad. And even with them actually having a pipeline, you know, you’re one of ten every year, I was one person brought in and given a chance every year.

Steve Rush: And that in itself just feels wrong in today’s society that you were brought in to be given a chance. I mean, how disrespectful to your education and your future talent is that just that notion almost right?

Omar Harris: Yeah. So, you know, you understand that you recognize that you know it’s not right. But then you have to basically try to change things from the inside while you’re in there.

Steve Rush: Right.

Omar Harris: So now my job is to, first of all, perform and demonstrate that, you know, they didn’t make a mistake with the hire. And then second of all, which creates an immense pressure actually, by the way, that you know, other people don’t understand the pressure that, you know, you’re female or your different demographic talents are putting themselves under because they realize that there’s not a lot of them and that if they don’t succeed, they carry the bag for everybody else. Which is different than some other racial groups don’t have that same baggage.

Steve Rush: That’s very true.

Omar Harris: Coming in. Like, basically we’re carrying the bag for everybody else of our type.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: You know, they didn’t speak concerned about themselves. I’m worried about me, I’m not worried about everybody else who looks like me or from the same ethnic group or racial group as I am. But I know that at least in the U.S., and I know this exists in a lot of people from African nations is that when we get these chances, we’re thinking of them not only for ourselves, but we’re thinking about everybody else who could potentially be coming in behind us. And so, we take it very seriously. And we put ourselves into, an enviable position of having to be perfect to succeed.

Steve Rush: Yeah, and I was very fortunate. I was brought up in the outskirts of West London, a very diverse community. But I get white privilege. Most people have to actually really give themselves a nudge to consider that it is actually a privilege being a white, Caucasian male, in most cases in the workplace until recently where things have really started to change.

Omar Harris: Right.

Steve Rush: And we’ve got higher profile, that’s making people think very carefully about that. I’ve always been acutely aware of that from a young age. That’s not as frequent as you bump into you, right?

Omar Harris: Well, no, I think it’s an interesting point you bring up. I think that we all talk about capitalism, and we believe in capitalism, we believe in these society. The capitalism, the free-market economy is based on competition, right. The more competition there is, it basically brings the best out of everyone, right. But when there’s advantages in the system that prevent competition from happening, then we all stagnate. So, what we’re seeing today is finally, we’re seeing the ideal competitive landscape where basically, you know, for a given job, you have women, you know, immigrants, different ethnicities, different genders, different gender identities, all competing for the same positions that only makes everybody better at the end of the day.

Steve Rush: Of course.

Omar Harris: The issue however, Steve is that leaders have no idea how to lead these diverse teams now. That creates a whole different problem, which is, you can bring in the talent, but can you manage them?

Steve Rush: Well, that’s a really interesting notion. So, I run a coaching group, a volunteer coaching group. And, you know, for the first time we put this whole white fragility on the table. As coaches have been, do we talk about it? And how does it hold us back if we don’t? And it’s really interesting that still in today’s community, there is this sensitivity that still sits around race and sexuality and diversity, but people are still or still a bit nervous of bumping into, in fear of doing the wrong thing.

Omar Harris: It’s prickly. I think people would rather avoid the conversation and assume that everybody thinks the same way. And that’s where the issue comes out to.

Steve Rush: Right.

Omar Harris: You can’t assume. Assuming, you know, gets us all in trouble. And I think that having structured dialogue is important. But for me, more important than the dialogue and I guess some of the recognition of biases and beliefs is the point, why are we doing this? Are we doing this, trying to be become better people? Are we doing it for moral imperative? Okay. Those are really good reasons to make change happen. But for me, fundamentally, this is about business risk. And this is about, you know, what higher executive level executives are paid to do, which is to mitigate future business risk.

And the best way to mitigate future business risk today is to have an environment where injustices are consistently eradicated, and inequities are consistently eliminated. Diversity is consistently expanded, and inclusion is consistency enhanced. And so, I believe that when you approach it from the position of business risk and the need to create an environment that fosters a culture where your diverse talents, whatever you have, whatever your demographic mix is, can actually provide the innovation that all the statistics state are available. The teams that are more diverse than those are homogenous. This is when you begin to see the real benefits for business. And when you can begin to finally add value to not just shareholders, but, you know, customers, the community, the environment, and your employees

Steve Rush: Yeah, hallelujah to that, love that. So, you’ve created some great products working with your team Intent Consulting. You have TYMPO, which is an innovative solution for enhancing employee inclusion. And you also have Equity Pulse. Wonder if you could maybe just tell us a little bit about how you use them and how, as a leader listening to this, I might think about using some of that methodology?

Omar Harris: So, I’ll start with TYMPO because basically when I was writing my most recent book, Be A J.E.D.I. Leader, Not A Boss Leadership in the Era of Corporate Social Justice, Equity, and Diversity and Inclusion. I was thinking about what solutions exist to highlight in the book, basically, what can you go to as a leader who’s trying to do this important work within your organization. There’s a system them I roll out around in justice in the book. And then the diversity, there’s a lot of work and great solutions around hiring diverse talent and, you know, making sure you capitalize diverse talent, but I realize that the equity and the inclusion pieces where areas where it’s more difficult to quantify for business leaders, the impact of these two areas, right.

Steve Rush: Right.

Omar Harris: So, what do we get when we invest in these areas and what is the outcome for our business? And so, I began challenging myself to think about, how I can come up with solutions. And I think about technology a lot in turn, how can we leverage technology to make things more transparent, make things more equal and make things more visible to everyone. And so, the idea for TYMPO was basically thinking about the corporate all hands meeting, the town hall, where you have your senior leadership coming together to talk about, in all the companies, you know, employees coming to together to talk about performance, initiatives, benefits, whatever the topic dejour may in that quarter. And what happens is you have the CEO and their leadership team talking at the employee base. There may be some Q&A that happens with employees, but it’s not really an inclusive event. It’s really a one-way conversation, right.

Steve Rush: Right.

Omar Harris: This is what I want to tell you. And so, I thought about how I could transform that into not only a two-way conversation, but in a fully inclusive conversation where we can lean into the difference that we have in our organization. And so, TYMPO takes the idea of audience response systems, where you have a polling function, and you’re allowed to basically poll the audience at different moments. And specifically turns that into an opportunity to allow your employee base, to include themselves in the three most important questions leaders should be asking. First of all, when I communicate, what do people understand? Of what they understand, understood, what do they agree with? And of what they agree with, what do they align to do?

So, these three questions, Steve drive business. Understanding agreement and alignment. And so, in TYMPO, the type of polling you ask is related to those three questions, understanding agreement, and alignment. What we can visualize, basically the percentage of our population that agrees, understands it is aligned with whatever we’re talking about, right. We can also drill down by demographics for the first time in real time. So, we can see, you know, but let’s say Boomers versus Zoomers on a given issue of agreement or understanding or alignment. And then we can allow people to ask questions directly linked to understanding agreement and alignment. My job as a senior leader is to present strategy, but also to make sure you have high understanding, high agreement, and high alignment. Makes me work harder as a senior leader, which puts me in the position of a servant leader. I have to serve and support you in order to get your understanding, your agreement and your alignment. And I have to include you in the conversation in order to move the organization forward. And that’s what to take me designed.

Steve Rush: Love it.

Omar Harris: Yeah. So that’s TYMPO. In the U.S. in 2019, this organization called the business round table, which is comprised of the top 200 U.S. corporations across various industries changed the definition of a corporation away from shareholder capitalism, which is the profit motive for shareholders to what they call stakeholder capitalism, which is a more benefits for more stakeholders like employees, customers, communities, and the environment in addition to shareholders, and basically they committed to transform capitalism in this direction. The question I asked myself was, is who was holding them accountable?

So, I created Equity Pulse as a service, similar like where employees can actually rate their employers on their progress related to J.E.D.I. issues. And it’s fully anonymous, and employees can come from any company, go to equity polls, fill out our brief survey. And what will happen is, we’re going to create company profiles based on their J.E.D.I progress through the lens of the employees of the organization. So, the most powerful feedback you can possibly have is, your employees telling you how they think you are doing based on this survey that we’ve put together,

Steve Rush: It’s a really neat approach to getting people to focus on what really matters, which is subtly different to most employee surveys. It kind of focuses on that inequity, doesn’t it?

Omar Harris: Exactly, exactly. And so, it’s kind of a third party, external accountability tracker that hopefully will get into the zeitgeist. So, people will begin to reference it and say, okay, before I make a, you know, before I decide what company I want to go work for, let me check out the equity pulse on that company. Let me check out the, you know, let me see if their walking the talk, and that’s what I was trying to do. That’s the intention of Equity Pulse.

Steve Rush: So, when you came up with the notion of Be A Jedi Leader, Not A Boss, how much star wars influence was there actually involved there?

Omar Harris: Zero. Well, I won’t say zero. I won’t say zero. So, in The Servant Leaders Manifesto. I had a throwaway line where I said that servant leaders wield influenced like Jedi wield the force.

Steve Rush: Ah-huh.

Omar Harris: And so that was a throwaway line, which is very much linked to Star Wars, if you think about that line.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: But as I thought about, you know, Jedi, the acronym, because when I wrote that line, I didn’t know there was an acronym for Jedi that was just as equity, diversity and include, I didn’t know, this was a thing, a real thing in this zeitgeist. The Jedi acronym was actually created by a man named Marcella Bonta who works in the environmental advocacy space, right. And so when I learned that there was an actually an acronym for Jedi, I took the same idea and flipped it on his head and said, this is a compelling, it makes a great title, but also like, there are some parallels between if you think about the Jedi and you think about, you know, the Knight at a round table, and you think about the people who are forces for good in the universe. And so, although I don’t really make explicit Star Wars parallels in the book, you cannot with, you know, they’re very litigious.

Steve Rush: I can imagine.

Omar Harris: The idea pervades subconsciously, which is, being a force for good in your team, department, division, function, organization, community, what does a force for good look like today? And a force for good means, we can’t allow the stuff to persist. We can’t allow bad actors in our systems to just go walk around willy-nilly. Not being, you know, with no retribution or no justice for them. We can’t allow these pay gaps; gender pay gaps to persist. We can’t keep trying to make, you know, everyone conforms to a particular style of working in today’s day and age. And we can’t exclude people if we want to be successful. I wanted to give a language, but also a methodology to what it means to be a force for good in the corporate setting.

Steve Rush: And as part of that force for good, you manage to call out those business sins of employee equity so that we can get rid of some of that toxic boss behavior, and then you’ve overlayed some principles as well. Maybe we could just spin through those?

Omar Harris: Yeah. So, there’s five business sense of employee inequity. And I think these are relevant to your global audience, Steve. The first one is privileged hiring. So, the problem begins right from the start, which what we just talked about, which is, you are only looking at a certain area for your new hire. So, you’re basically looking at, you know, pedigree or what university person went to or where they previously worked, or how many years of experience they have. None of these things are proxies for success. None of them guarantee success.

Steve Rush: Right?

Omar Harris: The reason why we have these filters, and these criteria is because managers are lazy, and they don’t want to onboard and train people. So basically, the justification is, the pace of work is too fast to have to onboard and, you know, help people come up the learning curve. But anytime you do it in an organization, regardless of how much pedigree you have and how much experience, you’re going to have to go through a learning curve regardless. And people fail all the time, they come from the best institutions, with the best education and the best background. It’s not a guarantee for success. So why not cast a wider net. So basically, the solution to privilege hiring is hiring for behaviors and not pedigree. So basically, the behaviors I recommend are. I call up the whom, work ethic, heart, optimism, and maturity. When you put a team together, people who work hard, have shared passion are solution oriented and mature enough to overcome inevitable conflict. That group of people will trump, you know, your high IQ, elite, intellectual talent, every time. That’s the first that equity, the second employee equity is sink or swim onboarding. So, as I mentioned before. You come in the door and your first day you’re working, and no one is giving you the keys to the kingdom, telling you how to navigate this new system, who you should be talking to, answer your questions about the who’s, what, when, where, why, how’s everything works in the organization. You basically are given 90 days to sink or swim. And if you don’t make it, we’re going to kick you out the door, which makes no sense if you think about how much money companies invest in recruiting, right.

Steve Rush: And people don’t perform well when they’re into that kind of pressure either do they?

Omar Harris: Exactly. So why would you not just do what I say in terms of going overboard on onboarding? So basically, onboarding is not HR job. Onboarding is the hiring manager’s job. And when I onboarded people from my organizations, I spent a minimum of three hours with each new employees, making sure we aligned on expectations, on trust builders and trust breakers, on communication styles, on our collective strengths and how we’re going to work together and what our mission was together. And so, at the end of that section and making sure I make myself fully available to them to answer all their questions in their first 90-day period and building a robust 90-day plan for them. That transformed not the trust that we had together, but it transformed the success rate and the hit rate for people that were bringing into the organization, right?

So, get rid of sink or swim onboarding, and go overboard on onboarding will be the second thing. The third thing is, okay, so we bring you in, we onboard you, but then we basically want you to be like everybody else. We whitewash your talent. We just basically say, forget what you’re good at. You get to go through this process. And how many people who are young coming into an organization are told, like, put your head down, just do this thing for five years. When you become a director, then you can change stuff. We’re not going to listen to you or give you any airtime or let you speak to us until you have been here long to be worthy of speaking. It’s ridiculous because young people coming in today know a lot more than young people, maybe 20, 30, 40 years, did, coming into business.

Steve Rush: Totally.

Omar Harris: So, you are doing your business, a disservice by not giving these people some room to run when they come in the door, because they’re going to do things in a different way. That’s going to transform how your business connects with what’s current. What’s happening now in terms of business. So rather than whitewash your talent, you should look at every individual and try to extract the maximum talent they have for the benefit of your business. What I call, turn talent industry, and build everybody up who comes in the door to be their most productive and engaged self. The fourth inequity is corrupted compensation. So basically, nobody can understand in organizations how they’re being paid, like ask group people, you know, explain to your compensation system to me. Explain why certain people get certain bonuses, explain why certain people get certain options, explain the variable compensation element of your pay. Explain this to me.

You talk to 10 people in a company, 10 people will give you 10 different answers. Because companies don’t compensate consistently. There’s all this bias and subjectiveness in compensation. I’ll give you an example, you know, I’ve been in talent conversations where the most passionate manager in a room is able to justify someone getting a 15% pay raise to keep them in the organization, just because of their skill of arguing for that person’s compensation, right. Whereas someone who’s not as good at arguing, their employee basis stays 15% lower. Just based on the ability to argue.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: And debate, not based on objective matters of performance.

Steve Rush: There lies a problem as well, right? The measures of performance are also inequitable, often.

Omar Harris: They’re inequitable and they’re more subjective than we would like to admit.

Steve Rush: Right?

Omar Harris: If there’s anything that needs to be objective, it needs to be compensation. And you make your conversation more objective. HR does these market surveys with Mercer and companies like that, where they come up with their benchmarks and their goal is to basically have the majority of their employees at the median or a little bit above the median number, right. For that particular function. However, they don’t do internal equity audits to understand the variability of compensation within their own organization. So, I’ll give you an example. I was the youngest, senior marketing director in the history of my company at the age of 31. And there were senior marketing who were making $200,000 more than me and the inequity there was ageism.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: Because I was young. They could get away with paying me less. And because other person had basically had the benefit of, you know, pay raises, annual raises, whatever it is, or they came in at a higher level. So, you have this gigantic range of pay between me on the low scale and someone else from the high scale, right. But I’m aware of this. You think this is not going to affect my performance in terms of how much I give you, because you’re not giving me what you could give me.

Steve Rush: Right.

Omar Harris: Right. So clearly you can pay that amount of money for this role. You’re just choosing not to and justifying and saying, because I’m young. Well then don’t gimme the job. If I was too young to get the job, then don’t gimme the job.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: You gave me the job, which means you believe that I can do the job. And by the way, I was leading the company’s flagship division. So basically, you had senior directors who were managing, let’s say 700 million to dollars. I was managing 5 billion, getting paid $300,000 less than the next person.

Steve Rush: Doesn’t seem at all fair in this.

Omar Harris: Like, is that fair? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s fair. But you know, that’s either here or there, I’m over it. So, last one we go to is, targeted termination. I literally comment on this, my local area now because there’s a company called who just yesterday fired 900 employees over a Zoom call.

Steve Rush: Wow.

Omar Harris: They invited 900 employees. And if you were on this call, you’re being terminated, being fired over Zoom by the CEO. Oh, that is horrible for a number a reason, and even worse. They eliminated their entire diversity equity and inclusion recruiting department.

Steve Rush: It sounds to me like a recipe for disaster.

Omar Harris: First of all, from an investment perspective, why would you invest in this company? Second of all, the managers who made the bad decisions that put the company in the position to have to downsize are never terminated. They made the calls, the bad investment, the bad forecast, the bad whatever that led to this moment. And they’re the ones who get protected time and time again. And it makes no sense. It’s fundamentally unfair and inequitable. And so, for me, I say, you know, employee termination, like the broad base employee, base your frontline employees should be the last resort. We should terminate everybody before we get rid of the frontline employees, because that’s your connection to the customer, that’s your connection to the market. That’s your connection to the actual productivity center of your organization. Your CEO is very far away from productivity of your organization. Get rid of the CEO, get rid of the leadership team. Once again, they’re the one who steered the ship into the iceberg. Why don’t they get terminated when things go bad?

Steve Rush: It’s often because they control, unfortunately rests with those people protecting their own positions, right?

Omar Harris: It’s fundamentally equitable, right? So, you’re getting paid more and you get to protect yourself. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say, when I was a general manager in Indonesia. I was making, let’s say 300 times more than a frontline sales rep in the marketplace, right. So, my salary could pay for a hundred reps, right. You should get rid of me if I do something wrong.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: You know, versus getting rid of these individuals who are at the frontline and, also not being compensated enough as it is for what they do.

Steve Rush: Really interesting spin on things. I’m glad we went there with that conversation. Thanks So much.

Omar Harris: No problem.

Steve Rush: So how is the future of work? The hybrid work that we find ourselves in now, following the pandemic, and as we come out of it, how do you think that’s helped or held back quality?

Omar Harris: I think companies that embrace it are actually going to create much more equality and equity. As long as you have managers who are equipped to properly manage this, right. So, you know, one of the biggest issues is that when you become a manager, there’s no training to become a manager. There is no guidebooks to becoming managers. You have, you know, some type of training programs that come into play, but largely it’s kind of like learn on the go, learn on the fly, right. And that’s just regular management when you’re going into an office together, think about the managerial skills and communication skills and abilities you have to have when half your team is working virtually. Some people work it hybrid. The skill set, the ability to manage and lead has to go up several notches.

And so, for me, this is only going to work to the degree that we have. We’re improving the quality of management and leadership, which is why I have a lot of work today. Because a lot of people are calling me saying, how do we do this? You know, how do we elevate the skill of our managers? People are recognizing that if the managers don’t improve, then this great resignation trend that we’re having, and all these types of things are going to continue and they’re going to continue losing talents. Everyone’s going to be saying, we have the same ability to let you work from anywhere, if I can work from anywhere, imagine now I can work for a Chinese company from North Carolina or I can work for anybody. So, the hiring pool is in the competition is greater than ever before. You’ve got to really have your standards up to par, to not only bring in, but to keep your talent and develop them and keep them happy. So, it’s going to be quite challenging.

Steve Rush: Yeah, it is. So, this part of the show, we typically turn the tables a little bit and I get to hack into your leadership brain.

Omar Harris: Sounds good.

Steve Rush: And having had the vast diverse experience you have; I’m really looking to get into your top three leadership hacks. What would they be, you think Omar?

Omar Harris: So, I mean, top three leadership hacks. I think that the first leadership hack is one that I call MHT, and this is for mindset habits and tracking. And the reason why MHT is important is because in order for you to evolve from a toxic boss to a servant leader to a modern leader, is you have to minimize your ego. And the way you minimize your ego is by making sure you’re taking care of yourself in other areas. So that basically you don’t require the ego boost that come from having power over other people. So, when you have that product mindset, meaning that you are focused on what you can control and influence and not focused on managing things like corporate politics, or who’s going to get promoted when that you have no power over, you have the habits, high performance habits.

So, you are taking care of your mind, your spirit, your personal development, you’re learning, and your exercise, your fitness. That allows you to be able to power through and hold yourself accountable, but also hold other people accountable based on the way that you hold yourself accountable, right? So, I think that’s the tracking the T of the MHT. So, that’s three-leadership hack, the mindset, the habits, and the tracking are things that I advocate for every manager to upskill on today, in order for them to reduce their ego and show up as the brilliant leader that they actually can be.

Steve Rush: It follows a regular thing we see on the show actually, where the great leaders, the great entrepreneurs put themselves first, and there is this strange notion of some leaders don’t feel that’s a value investment, but actually if you don’t put yourself first and get you fit to lead, you can’t then be in service and be servant leader to others, can you?

Omar Harris: No, because you need their service to you for you to feel good about yourself.  

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Omar Harris: And then nobody gets anything done, because everyone’s worried about trying to meet, you know, take care of your ego needs and your ego needs have nothing to do what the customer wants.

Steve Rush: Next part of show, we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something hasn’t worked out in your past and your work, maybe you’ve been quite catastrophic in its outcome, but as a result, the experience you’ve learned from it and, you know, use it as a positive, what would be your Hack to Attack?

Omar Harris: So, I think that in this instance, it’s basically going back to what I said earlier, so basically coming up as the only whatever, only African American in my team in marketing, then becoming the only, you know, African American business director, general manager, and several different organizations, you know, this idea that I had to be perfect led me to have, you know, horrible panic attacks, be taken to the hospital, have nervous breakdowns, all these horrible things. And the key learning from it was just be yourself. Like, don’t put that pressure on yourself. You’re not responsible for everybody else who looks like you, even though you may think you are, do your best, be the best version of yourself and that’ll take care of itself and have healthy habits. I was working, you know, 20 hours a week.

I was not sleeping well, I was drinking too much, you know, I had all these horrible things that were happening because I was trying to show up as perfect for my organization. And I learned later on that I could be just as effective, more effective working half the time by being a lot more focused and taking the pressure off myself. The thing about it is that the perfection doesn’t exist, right.

Steve Rush: Right.

Omar Harris: And the thing that I’ve learned is that we get paid in organizations to increase our success rate when it comes to good decision making, right. And not right decision making, good decision making. And there’s a difference, right and wrong decision making is a function of time. You never know when you make a decision, whether it’s right or the wrong. Only time will tell you that, but you can definitely leverage process to make more good than bad decisions.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree.

Omar Harris: And so, I think that for me, it was, you know, focusing on making quality decisions for myself and for how I was going to work versus trying to control the right outcome, which I don’t have any control over ultimately.

Steve Rush: Yeah. Some very wise words. So, Omar, the last thing we want to do with you is do a bit of time travel. You can get to bump into yourself now at 21 and give yourself some advice. What would it be?

Omar Harris: I wrote an article about this actually a couple years ago about 42-year-old, me talking to 22-year-old me.

Steve Rush: Right.

Omar Harris: I think the advice would be the same. I think I would tell him, run your own race. Don’t worry about perfection. It’s going to be okay. As long as you run your own race and don’t compare yourself to other people, don’t worry about what people have that you don’t have. Don’t worry about these types of things. Those things fundamentally fade away over time and all that matters is becoming the best version of yourself. And I think that’s the advice that I would give myself at that age versus trying to achieve some unattainable standard. Just be the best version of yourself.

Steve Rush: Yeah. That’s great advice too. So, Omar, we are running to the end of our show now, but I don’t want this to be the end of our audience listening and working with you. So how can we best connect them when where done?

Omar Harris: So best place to reach me is my website, If you’re on LinkedIn, you can follow me, Omar L Harris. We can connect there. And that’s probably the two best places for you to reach me.

Steve Rush: And of course, they can get a copy of Be A J.E.D.I. Leader, Not A Boss, pretty much anywhere. And all your other books are available on Amazon. We’ll be make sure all of those are in our show notes as well.

Omar Harris: Wonderful. Thank you, Steve. It’s been a great conversation.

Steve Rush: I’ve loved the conversation. I love the fact that you bring such a lot of experience and diverse thought leadership on the subject, and you are making an amazing difference to the planet. So, I just want to say thank you for the work you do, but also thank you for being part of our community now, Omar, as well.

Omar Harris: I love it, Steve. Hopefully we can talk again soon.

Steve Rush: Yeah, thanks Omar.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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