Neil speaks with business leader and author Omar Harris about J.E.D.I. Leadership and the opportunity for business leaders and Black and brown people in the new world of diversity and inclusion work. Omar L. Harris is an entrepreneur, 20-year veteran of the global pharmaceutical industry, speaker, coach, and author of 5 books, including last year’s “The Servant Leader’s Manifesto.”
Check out Omar’s website.
Learn more about (and order!) his books on Amazon.
Neil Edwards (00:00): I am Neil Edwards and this is The Leadership Range, where we elevate the voices of black and brown coaches, leaders, and allies, and have soulful conversations about all things at the intersections of leadership, relationships and teams, wellbeing, and inclusion. Here, I offer deep insights and practical tips for work and life. Today, you are going to hear about Jedi Leadership from Omar Harris, author of The Servant Leader’s Manifesto. Jedi Leadership is a new opportunity for black and brown leaders in the diversity space. The message here is compelling. It is a call to action for corporate decision-makers and black professionals, interested in a next-level leadership opportunity.
Omar, welcome to the show. Appreciate you being here on The Leadership Range. I can’t wait for this conversation. Your reputation and your name precede you. A couple of people have mentioned you to me. We haven’t had a lot of time to talk and to get to know each other, but we’ve been floating around in the emotional field around each other. So, I’m delighted to be here with you, and this is our first real conversation with the exception of the 10 or 15 minutes that we spoke before this recording. So, I’m delighted that the listeners are going to get a chance to hear what you have to say today. So, welcome.
Omar Harris (01:40): Thank you, Neil. Very happy to be here with you, man, and look forward to continuing our wonderful conversation.
Neil (01:46): Yes, indeed. So, I know you’re an author, you’re a speaker, you’re a coach, you’re a leader, you’re a thinker. Why don’t you go ahead and tell folks a little bit about who you are professionally? What is your work in the world and who are you?
Omar (02:02): Well, thank you very much for that opportunity. So, Omar L. Harris, originally from Pittsburgh. Had the opportunity to attend an HBCU Florida A&M for my university days in the school of Business and Industry, which set me up for a 20 plus year corporate career, mostly in the pharmaceutical industry, working for a lot of the big names. Pfizer’s in the news right now, but also Mark GlaxoSmithKline, Allegan, and Sharing Plow, which is a company that was purchased by Mark in 2009. And in addition to that, I’ve had periods of entrepreneurship. So, opening my own technology start-up in 2010, started my own publishing company, The Pantheon Collective back in 2009 with two other authors and continuing my matriculation globally. So I’ve had the opportunity to work on four continents, worked in the Middle East, worked in Southeast Asia, and worked in Latin America.
(03:01): So, I spent eight years from 2012 to 2020 abroad. Just came back to the US right before lockdown in the US last March and started my new entrepreneurial journey last July, with Intent Consulting, which is kind of an umbrella for everything that I’m passionate about and my life purpose, which is around helping people manifest their intentions. So not speaking at the knowledge of power, but also putting in the work, to actually make your intentions manifest. So, on a corporate level, when Intent Consulting helps companies align those beautiful purpose statements with what actually happens on the ground, it’s like the telephone game. Between the purpose statement and what people actually end up doing is a whole, a lot of nonsense. And so, we help kind of clear that up. Also, in Tip Books is the imprint where I’m put publishing a lot of my recent thoughts into the universe. Intent Productions, Intent Film, my sister and I are working on a pilot for my first novel One Blood, which we’re trying to take that to Netflix, on a screen near you very soon. And then you have the training, you have consulting, you have coaching, speaking, all under the same umbrella of Intent. So, very happy to be here with you and to share and discuss the things we have in common and the things we’re equally passionate about.
Neil (04:30): Yes. It’s through a modern-day Renaissance man. And I have a number of family members that had gone to Fam U, down in The Bahamas. So, a lot of proud folks down there. So, through that corporate purpose, sometimes, oftentimes most times there’s a difference between the external message and the internal reality. I love that you’re in that space doing that work. And there’s so much there. We could talk about all of those things, but we’re not going to talk about all of them today. Thank you for that introduction. What I noticed and I got some information on you, you didn’t mention this, but I want people to know it. Because I think it’s so cool. Because I don’t have this. I don’t have most of what you have in my back pocket, but you speak multiple languages.
Omar (05:25): Yes, yes. I speak five languages. So, in my journeys, I picked up languages. So Spanish was from school. Portuguese is from living over five and a half years of my life in Brazil. Turkish from living in Turkey for two and a half years. And Indonesian for three and a half years of living in that wonderful country. So, those are my five languages in the current state. But you know, we’ll see what we can add on later on.
Neil (05:51): At the current state, I love that. That’s phenomenal. So, major in the cultural competence, entrepreneur, leader, multiple times over. It sounds like you’re going to be some sort of a film producer or something.
Omar (06:12): Yes. Hopefully, the film showrunner, producer. I think now is the time to strike while the iron is hot. I think this is a moment for us. And my sister and I got, she’s an actress, who’s been on HBO and been doing some other things and she’s pretty fancy in her own right. But we had the time together during the COVID lockdown to just kind of sit down and map out a plan around some of the work we wanted to put into the world and we happened to put together this pilot screenplay. We already won a major Hollywood contest for our pilot screenplay and so we’re off to the races. We’re talking to some very fancy people right now and so we’ll see how that goes. But once again, that’s only one thing. I think that a lot of us out there understand that we need to manifest our purpose in as many ways as possible.
Neil (07:03): Definitely manifestation. So, let’s start with some story and this is how I want my guests here on The Leadership Range to know how you became you. So, I want to invite you to share at whatever point you want to start, whether it’s college years or high school or elementary school or whatever. Tell the story of Omar and your leadership. What are some things over the span of your life, some inflection points, that have really helped elevate and extend and expand your leadership range to bring you to the man that you are today?
Omar (07:42): Well, thanks a lot for that opportunity. I mean, growing up, we lived all over the place. We lived in Pennsylvania, we lived in West Virginia, we lived in Louisiana. We moved around a lot within the same cities and then Charleston, West Virginia. So, I learned to code-switch pretty early and mostly it was going to primarily all-white schools. Almost all of my elementary, junior high, high school was all-white schools. And so, learning how to navigate that space was important. While living in a primarily black neighborhood, in my Louisiana days and then moving on to go into an all-black school, it was kind of funny and Fam U. Because everybody who was at Fam U and SBI, where we were all the only black kid in our all-white schools and he put us all together. And all-black school, it’s a very interesting experience. But, you know, Florida NM was and is, a constant source of inspiration for me. It was the platform that gave me all the opportunities that I have had in my career. I went to Brazil as an intern, as a 23-year-old intern with Pfizer. When I was at Florida NM for 18 months, and Florida NM set me up, I graduated with my MBA at 25. I started my corporate career at 25. I think the first inflection point was I came into my corporate career in a privileged space because I was hired to this management associates’ program at Sharing Plough, which was one of these management development programs where you’re supposed to come in and do three rotations, and then immediately ascend to people management roles and accelerate. So really an accelerated leadership program. And so I came in kind of on this rocket ship and we ended up getting promoted five times in four years, became the company’s youngest marketing director ever. And the youngest senior marketing director ever in that organization, leading multi-billion dollar brands. Then the company got bought by another company and then I had to kind of figure out who I was without the corporate identity. I was 33 years old and I put everything I had into this corporate career and all of a sudden it was gone. And so, then I began to expand into some of my entrepreneurial pursuits, also looking at publishing. And because I had been working on a novel, the novel that the TV series was based off, I’ve been working on that since I was 23 years old, I didn’t publish it until I was 35.
(10:33): It took me 12 years to get that thing out into the world. But I published in 2011. The response was tremendous and gave me a really big confidence boost. But I ended up going back into corporate in 2012, but that’s when I moved to Turkey and thus began the next phase of my corporate career, which was okay. Now I’m a much more senior leader, but now I’m in this very foreign environment. I’m living in Istanbul. I’m managing, working with people from 20 plus different countries. On any given day, you’re talking to Egypt and Pakistan or Saudi and Russia, or Nigeria and South Africa and then also the travel. So basically, I get to travel around the world and see people, and it was phenomenal from just opening my eyes and really absorbing all of this culture and this experience in life. I’ll talk about living in Turkey. This is one of the oldest countries in the world. Constantinople, the seat of the Holy Roman empire, a place that’s thousands of years old. And comparing our relatively, adolescent American experience, right? So, I think that that was really, really interesting to kind of see the world from the European or a Turkish point of view, like we are these young kids running the world possibly. And then I had the opportunity to get into my first general management position, going to Indonesia, leading an organization of 900 people.
(12:08): Indonesia is a really interesting country because it has a colonial history. The Dutch were in charge of Indonesia for a lot of time. Indonesia is not really one country, either, it’s comprised of 18,000 islands, 319 different dialects, 719 different tribes, all of who come together under the banner of Indonesia. But there’s a lot of division and separation. And it’s also the world’s single largest Muslim nation. So, really interesting experience living and working there for three and a half years as general manager. And then, along the whole time, the whole journey, I’m adapting my leadership style, right? So, I’m putting into practice things that I believe many of us were always told we can’t be as good as our white counterparts, we have to be better. And I kind of took that to heart. As a leader, I have to be a better leader. I can’t get away with the toxic nonsense that my white peers get away with. I’m not that person.
(13:21): So, I have to find and carve a different path and that different path became rooted in actually positive psychology, strengths-based leadership, the team over individual talent, and ultimately evolve to servant leadership by the time I arrived in Indonesia and this is where it was really interesting. Because servant leadership is all about reinverting the hierarchy. So, you take an organization that’s pointed at you, you’re the boss, right? You flip it over on its head and then the people who will create value for the customer are the most important in the company. You are the chief server and supporter of the overall organization. You’re holding everything up, but you’re not the most important person in the organization. And Indonesia is a very hierarchical culture. So, they’re all about top-down. They’re all about command and control. They’re all about the buck stops with the boss. And so that was a real test of my principles as a leader because I had to really stick to my guns. Because the easiest thing for me to do would have been like, okay, well this is your culture. I’m going to adopt your culture and just do it your way. But I was like, no, that’s not the right thing for people. And I said, eventually they will see me as authentic because I’m going to be consistent. And eventually, I won them over. It took some time. It was not easy. The first two years in our job were very, very, very challenging. But, by sticking to my guns, ultimately we created the kind of organization that I was very proud of by the time that I left. And then I moved back to Brazil, for the last two years, from 2018 to 2020, leading a large country operation for Allergan in Brazil. And then Allergan was purchased by AbbVie, in June of 2019. And then the deal was closed in May of 2020. And I was like it’s my time and I’ve done my 20 years. Sort of like if you’re in the military, you’ve done your kind of assignment. I’ve done my 20, now I’m retired from that corporate career and I’m going to start a new career. So that’s a little bit about me, some stories and so on my journey.
Neil (15:22): Thank you for that. I so appreciate it. It’s from the time you entered college and trying to find your identity, as you said, everybody’s looking for their identity and you did the work you had to do when you got this privilege start coming out of academia and you took advantage of it. And I heard curiosity. You got into these spaces, you took advantage of what was given. You took responsibility for it. I heard the exploration, the curiosity, the wonder, the recognition that hey, wait a minute, there’s much more to this world. It’s really complex, you know? Through all of it, really taking advantage of the experience on the ground of different ways of living, different ways of thinking, different ways of leading, and all the while, holding on to your principles that you held as great leadership through all of that. And yes, you’re educated, you’ve gone to university, you got a graduate degree, but you’ve actually lived it out and you’ve put it through the test. You’ve put it to the test. And that’s what I love most about your story and to just sort of to maintain that identity, but also be curious and wonder and navigate and shift and recognize it on all cultures, but also know where your own boundaries are. And who you are and how you lead. I really appreciate that.
Omar (17:02): Thank you. Thank you. It’s been a tremendous journey, with a million lessons, but one of my calling cards is I’m the guy who’s tried it all out. So, basically, I’m not a theoretician. Any book you love in leadership in business, I’ve done it. I’ve actually put it to work on the ground, seeing the flaws in it, seeing the holes in it, and patched them up. So, follow me so you don’t have to have the same mistakes that I had when I was doing that. And the other one is, the realization that as a black and brown person, we can’t get away with the same stuff and trying to that new path. Because, the other thing that’s interesting about my experience was that when I began to live overseas from 23 when I was an intern in Brazil for the first time, and then in Turkey and Indonesia, these are the moments in my life where I was not a black person first. I was an American first. And it’s really a head trip to not be black anymore. And then I want you to hear me in the right way. They don’t relate to you as a black person. When I was in Brazil at 23, I was an American. They’re asking me questions about America. What’s it like to be an American? And when I’m in Turkey, what’s it like to be an American. In Indonesia, what’s it like? They’re not asking me about my racial identity and my racial experience. They’re relating to me in a whole different way that I’d never been related to for the majority of my life. And so I was able to drop the bags of my racial identity down and kind of just experience the world like everyone else like the white people do actually.
Neil (18:52): Yes, Yes. I love that you’re saying that because I’ve said it on this show before, and I’ve shared it with a few people who’ve had the opportunity to ask me about it. Coming from The Bahamas, even though it’s very close to the United States, I knew there was something called black people, but that was not my identity. I didn’t know I was black until I came to the United States and I was told so. I was a Bahamian from the Caribbean. As close in proximity as the islands are the United States, there is a different narrative in this country around people who are black. And that’s been a real trip for me in my experience just in the United States, because my mindset in those formative years still, even though I’m Bahamian first.
Omar (19:55): It changes something about the way you think, in the way you approach the world when you’ve had those experiences. I noticed my brain changing a lot as it related to these questions.
Neil (20:08): Cool, awesome. We could go on forever. So, you all know that we’re speaking to an author and Omar wrote the book, The Servant Leader’s Manifesto, and he’s doing some work now called Jedi leadership. And that’s what we’re going to talk about a little bit today. Going from servant leader or servant leadership to Jedi leadership. And I’m probably as curious as you are listening to this. I want to know what they are, what the difference is and how do you get it? I assume Jedi leadership is something new and better and specific or at least focused. So, I want to understand what that is and what I can do with it.
Omar (20:54): Perfect. So, to go back to our definition of servant leadership, once again, this is in principle, the reorientation of the organizational hierarchy, back towards those who create value for the customer. And so, it’s putting the onus on leaders to be problem solvers, people who remove barriers for people, to be people, developers, to basically be people concerned. So, I think that it’s an important step. I call it like a detox between what I call the age of toxic leadership, which is ending now, and then the age of Jedi leadership, which is starting soon. I don’t think we’re there yet. But we’ve all experienced it.
Neil (21:42): You’re going to get us there.
Omar (21:42): Yes, yes, exactly. So, we’ve all experienced the age of toxic leadership, the boss era, where basically we all work for, and everyone has a boss they hate. Some people have a boss that they like, very few people have bosses who were great. Because to be a boss and actually our mutual friend, Liz Weigert told me this, that, you know, the word boss was created by the Dutch people, when it means master? And that it was purposefully utilized after slavery to get people to call white people master again, even though slavery had ended. And she blew my whole brain up when she told me that fact as I’m writing the book, because she was reading the book for me and then I was like, oh my goodness gracious. So, I’ve always hated the word boss and now I hate it even more.
Neil (22:35): Hate it even more.
Omar (22:35): [Inaudible] are you talking about cancelling things? Let’s cancel the word boss.
Neil (22:40): Yes. I’ve joked around with black people go into work and some people might be alarmed by me saying this. I say, oh, well, you’re just going from one slave master to the other.
Omar (22:55): It’s pretty much true. It’s pretty much true. And so basically, servant leadership is where you detox. You get rid of all those toxic boss ideas and you drop those things. You reorient yourself back towards people, but why does it matter? Are we reorienting ourselves back towards people just to increase profits and once again, to make more money in the capitalist notion? Well, no. Actually, I see the corporation as like and don’t take this the wrong way, but as the new clergy. Corporations are the space where regardless of our belief system, it’s the only place now where people come together, regardless of differences, and get something done together. So, you have MAGA people working with black and Latino people and whatever else and when they come into the company, their job is they all work at Amazon. And our job is to get packages to people. And there are all different types of people working for that corporation. That corporation is a space where a higher purpose can be achieved. Our politicians used to do that, our civic leaders, but now it’s the corporation. The corporation is the new place where these kinds of broader purposes can be born in. With that in mind, we begin to get to Jedi leadership. So, people have heard of DEI, DEI, and B all these acronym soup, alphabet soup acronyms. I like Jedi for one because I love Star Wars and two, because it’s just easy to think about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. So, when you do the detox of servant leadership, reorient yourself, now you can begin thinking about what corporate leadership is really about. And it’s really about creating positive outcomes for a broad base of stakeholders in society.
(24:46): So, the employee Is first, customers, the community, the environment, and shareholders. Why are we limiting ourselves to a definition of a corporation that only is about shareholders? And 200 American CEOs in 2019, recognized the need to transform the definition of the corporation, towards what I call stakeholder capitalism. So those five stakeholders I just mentioned. So, Jedi Leadership is not about turning a corporation into a mission-based firm, in terms of we’re going to be mission-based. It’s about leveraging justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion as to how you go about achieving better outcomes for the community, for customers, for employees, for the environment, and ultimately for shareholders. So very simplistically that’s the bridge. That’s what we’re talking about.
Neil (25:48): It sounds like you just made what most people call diversity and inclusion, the business imperative. That Is what it sounds like to me. Is that what you’re saying?
Omar (26:01): That’s what I’m saying. I’m saying you will not be able to achieve these outcomes if you’re not a Jedi leader. So basically without Jedi leadership, you can’t get there.
Neil (26:08): We can’t get there. Okay. What’s important about this to black and brown people in the United States, in corporate America?
Omar (26:17): So, if you were looking for your niche or looking for your space, or looking for that opportunity to do a land grab? I mean, if you think about how. Because the corporate world is a bit like a game. You’re trying to navigate, you’re trying to see who’s doing what and whatever it is. There’s a bit of a gamification aspect to it. You got to keep your ear to the ground. to see what’s going on, to find your opportunities, and find an opportunity to pull yourself up. Well, this is the opportunity. If we lean into this space and we become the first Jedi leaders, this is our ticket to the C-suite. This is our ticket to running large fortune 500 companies. Because, the linkages from a data perspective, between Jedi and outcomes, are undeniable. But however, our peers who don’t have the background that we have are going to have difficulty making that journey, because their rationale for what they’re doing is really all about power and endless ambition. And the black and brown people that I know, that’s not what we’re in it for. We have different motivators for why we’re doing it. And that’s one of the reasons why a lot of us get to a certain level and we check out because we got what we wanted to get out of it and we’re on to the next thing. But I think that now’s the time to stay in corporate, leverage the Jedi opportunity. Go to LinkedIn right now, the hottest job position right now in the world, especially in the corporate world is DE and I&B leadership. Now, I have a bit of a disagreement with that, and we can talk about that a little bit in a second, but what I mean is creating opportunity. And with the opportunity comes a space to make something different happen. Even if today, corporations are going about it the wrong way, it still creates an opportunity for us to occupy a space that is what we can uniquely add value to corporations and begin to prove the link. Because the key thing is, we have to prove the link between the Jedi aspect and the financial outcomes that corporations run on. And the more we can make those linkages tight and the more we’re the ones who understand how to make it happen, that’s what I mean, that I got your ticket to the C-suite. That’s how we ride up the elevator and get to the top of the house.
Neil (28:51): Now, you said a couple of things. One, we have something to make it happen. So, I want to hold that for a second because I’m curious what that thing is and who is we? And this notion of occupying space in this time, and I’ve seen this on LinkedIn, and I just have to say what I have to say. I’ve seen so many new white DNI experts come out of nowhere, and I don’t know where they came from. And they’re getting jobs and occupying space. So, what I want to understand from your point of view, at least currently, because I think we’re all trying to figure this out, is what do corporations really need? You know, from a Jedi leadership perspective, in order to accomplish what it is they want, they need to accomplish, what is it that they need? One. Who can bring that?
Omar (29:55): Right.
Neil (29:57): Right. And are they taking the right steps in your mind right now to get there?
Omar (30:05): Right. Right. So, it’s hard to understand the need for justice if you’ve never been violated from a justice perspective. It’s hard to have the passion to really create an equitable environment if you’ve never been on the downside of equity. It’s hard to leverage diversity if you live in a modern environment and everyone around you is the same and thinks the same and does the same type of stuff. And it’s hard to understand the need to amplify voices if your voice has always been heard. So, when I say we and who we are, it’s not that the meek shall inherit the earth, but because of our experience, as in us and we, I’m talking about black and brown people in the African [inaudible] We understand the need for these things.
(31:00): We can articulate these things through an experiential perspective. If you hired a DEI expert, so-called expert, last year during the George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery situations, and you’re asking a white person to explain to you why the company should lean into the justice space. It’s going to be whitewashed. I mean, that person does not, he might intellectually understand it, but you don’t emotionally understand it. You haven’t actually experienced it. And so how can you actually activate without having the experience? Your influence and your trustworthiness and credibility go up because you have a basis of understanding in order to convince, and to influence, and to convey what it’s like to not be seen, what it’s like to really go through life and see the world through this messed up lens that so many of us see the world through. We’re always expecting the other shoe to drop. And it’s hard for people on the other side to understand that. What it’s like to feel that. And so that’s why I think this is uniquely a space that we should own, because, we have the passion, and this is an opportunity for us to really change the game for, once again, we’re talking about community. We’re talking about employees, we’re talking about customers. So, it’s time to make companies begin to reflect the community, reflect the customer, reflect their employees, amplify voices, support the causes that are important to those groups of people. Start doing right by the environment, because the government, politics are going to be mired in politics, but corporations can make big differences against environmental injustice and injustices as well.
Neil (33:05): And still, make money.
Omar (33:06): And still, make plenty of money. But how to make money when the whole thing switches and CEOs begin being measured by Jedi measurements? A lot of CEOs are going to get fired. That’s why we have to be in the space. We have to be ready.
Neil (33:21): Yes. So, you got one and two. There’s one more and that is from your point of view, are companies making the right choices right now? Or is there still a need for a big shift or for this Jedi leadership to really take hold?
Omar (33:39): Well, what happens is corporate America or fortune 500, they trend chase. Deloitte or McKinsey or PWC puts out a, oh, I’ll think paper. This is the trend of the moment. CEOs talk about it amongst themselves and they jump on this bandwagon. The same thing happened with digital transformation in 2010. The same thing happened with the sustainability movement in the late nineties, moving into now. And things become popular and faddish and we’d jump on them. And CEOs seem to think that the fastest way to solve a problem is just to throw money at it, put a person there, give them a title and the no-go go fix it. But Jedi is more systemic than that. Jedi is not a trend to be capitalized on. Jedi is a reckoning, for how corporations should have been operating for years. We’re so late and so unevolved when it comes to these issues. We didn’t just get to this space, where these things mattered. The things have mattered. We could have done Jedi back in 95, after the OJ trial, we could have done Jedi at any moment. And so many moments throughout history where…
Neil (34:55): Rodney King. Even before OJ.
Omar (34:55): Rodney King, before OJ. I mean, there was plenty of moments. I mean the crack epidemic in the eighties, we could’ve been doing Jedi. Instead of affirmative action, do Jedi. So, this is an idea. This is a moment that’s been a long time in the making. You don’t solve these problems by pointing ahead and saying, okay, now that I’ve pointed ahead, I’ve given this person some resources. And now I can forget about it and get back to managing my institutional shareholders and activist shareholders and hedge fund guys, who are messing with my stock price. No, this is fundamentally, the leadership challenge of our time to deconstruct and reconstruct the basis for a corporation to eliminate racist, sexist, any unequal policy, gender, ageist, able-bodied versus disabled. To dismantle all of the systems that have led to all of this inequity over all this time. That is what we’re talking about. And it’s not something that’s going to be done by a DEI officer. It’s going to take every leader, every manager, HR, everybody working in a concerted effort and going through a significant amount of pain organizationally to deconstruct and reconstruct.
Neil (36:32): Yes. So, you started to answer the question that was bubbling up in me, which is around justice as the first letter. How do companies serve justice internally?
Omar (36:47): Yes.
Neil (36:47): Because what I’m seeing with most companies is an external-facing message.
Omar (36:55): Right.
Neil (36:55): About what they’re going to do out there. Who they’re going to recruit. Who they’re going to retain. But not really a message that says we’re going to look internally and we’re coming in with the gavel because there is injustice in our systems.
Omar (37:11): Right.
Neil (37:12): There are injustices in our structures. So, how do companies get there? Especially companies will say, hey, if we say we have a racism problem, now they might be in legal jeopardy. So how do they do this?
Omar (37:31): It is tricky. It’s tricky because it becomes discoverable. Things can be used against you in a court of law. So, it is from a legal jeopardy perspective, I understand admitting certain things could put them on the wrong side of where they don’t want to be. But you can’t look at each of these letters and words in isolation, you combine them together to get the alchemy you want. If you want to improve justice, you need to have diversity of thought and you need to include those voices. The first thing that I would do if I were a CEO of any corporation, I would go to my disenfranchised populations and we know who those are. Females, minorities, different ethnicities, disabled. I would go to these friend groups in my organization, and I would ask them about the injustices that are happening in our own company. I would create a forum to discuss the injustices and the inequities. And they would tell me, if I did a poll, a straw poll of these things within 15 minutes, I’ll probably have 75 items and areas to work on. So, let’s start with that. Just go to the people. The people will tell you. Once again, this is reorientation, servant leadership. What are the challenges? What are your challenges? What’s preventing you from being your best every day? What’s preventing you from being your most productive and most engaged? Well, these practices, these policies, these things.
Neil (39:03): What’s preventing you that is unjust?
Omar (39:07): Exactly.
Neil (39:09): So companies are not asking themselves the right questions?
Omar (39:12): No. They’re not starting from the right point. The assumption is wrong that we don’t have the information inside of ourselves. That’s the first assumption. And this happens every time you have one of these trends, where companies assume the answer is on the outside, not on the inside. They don’t mind the inside. There’s plenty of stuff. These are large companies, with hundreds of thousands of employees. People are interested in all types of subjects. You have no idea what you have in your own human capital basis point until you ask and try to activate it. So, you start with what you’ve got, not try to go outside. Once again, it’s showing that we don’t value, fundamentally, we’re saying we don’t value any of the voices inside of our company. We need someone from the outside to tell us what we’re doing wrong. So I think that that’s fundamentally a wrong answer.
Neil (40:00): I had a conversation with a colleague, who was having a rough time, some frustration [inaudible]. One of the things we talked about and I mentioned was these companies promote a lot of stuff, promote diversity, promote equity, promote belonging, promote inclusion, and all those things are good, but what’s killing this person and I see it because I experience it, is when black and brown people go to work and they observe, and they see what’s being permitted. What the company is permitting white people to do and get away with. That news editor earlier in the show that, black and brown people can’t do that and get away with it. So, that’s an injustice.
Omar (41:02): It is.
Neil (41:02): It’s like, you may not even experience a microaggression, but you’re sitting in the pool, looking at all of these injustices around you because the organization is permitting bad behavior, no accountability.
Omar (41:23): One hidden injustice we don’t talk about is the cronyism that exists in corporate America. And this old boys club and the whole sourcing, the hidden bias of pedigree. So, if you’re not from this community, didn’t go to these schools. No matter who you are, you’re not going to make it. And we know disproportionately that we don’t come from those places and go to those schools. And so, there’s already an inherent injustice in the bias for senior leadership. Because, no matter what HR says in their policy book, the hiring manager is like, okay, you better have like three or four people from Harvard on this list right? You know, you better. I don’t care if they’re men or women, but they need to have that background. So, it’s already a limiting factor. And you’re already not casting as wide a net as possible when it comes to recruiting people for these senior roles. Because senior leaders really believe that their experience, what made them, who they are is the only way to be successful in a world which is so far away from where it was when they started and will be so far away from where they are now, by the next 20 years, that they’re looking at the wrong things and asking all the wrong questions. And that’s the reason why 89% of the fortune 500 CEOs are still white men.
Neil (42:52): Let me ask you this. Most organizations, I’ll say good and good in a relative sense, doing some work, they do a lot better with recruiting. But they’re still terrible with retention. And I have a point of view, and I want your reaction to this. Is that people leave because they sit around and they can see those injustices of just permitting sort of this, cronyism. And even if you’re not getting directly harmed, you could look at that and say, well, this place isn’t for me. I’m only going to be able to go so far. So, I’m going to quit at X point. And you start seeing people leave. That to me, that is the damage of what you permit does to all of the DEI efforts. You can spend all this money, recruit all these people, but the injustice that’s happening on the inside, just because of the ocean that you swim in, you’re never going to keep the diversity that you spent money recruiting.
Omar (43:56): Yes. So, I, once again, and I really think Ebro max candy has this whole how to be an anti-racist and that it’s not racist to flip the scales in the other way to undo an injustice. So, I would apply that thinking to your question, which is they’re going to need to do some things that are very uncomfortable from a hiring and promoting standpoint, that are maybe not going to make sense from the way that things have been done in the past to right the wrongs that have already been done. I was saying this on an earlier podcast today, but until 51% of the CEOs of fortune 500 or at least American-based companies are female, black, or any other race, we’re not representing society. And so, you’re going to need to fire a bunch of white dudes and hire a bunch of female CEOs. On purpose. And make no bones about it. Purposefully saying, we are for the next three cycles, we are not hiring. No white man will have a chance to be CEO of this corporation. And putting it out there and declaring it.
Neil (45:07): Be clear about it.
Omar (45:09): Be clear about it and that is not racism, that’s anti-racism because you are righting the scales. You are basically flipping the script back into the other way. You could do the same thing with any other underrepresented group. You can say, listen, we’re literally going to only hire black and brown people for the next three years.
Neil (45:28): Yes. You don’t correct inequity with equality.
Omar (45:31): No.
Neil (45:31): You correct it with inequity.
Omar (45:35): Exactly. It takes an inequity to write it in equity.
Neil (45:38): Yes. Yes.
Omar (45:39): And so, yes people are going to bitch and they’re going to complain and they’re going to be mad because, they’re going to experience what we’ve experienced our entire lives, since we’ve had relative freedom, right? But that’s what I’m saying. This is why DEI work is really hard because they’re not ready to do that. And so until they’re ready to do that, because that’s really what, if you’re the officer listening to this call, go to your CEO and tell them that’s what they need to be doing.
Neil (46:08): Yes. So, companies aren’t doing this. So for black and brown folks who are out there, that want to start leading in this way, Jedi, from the seat that they’re in, what are a couple of things that they can begin to do or reflect on so that they can move in this direction and take advantage of this opportunity?
Omar (46:28): So, I think the first thing is to gain credibility. Because behind credibility, you gain trust as the internal expert. So, basically, get up to speed on these topics. I think that begin to reading my book will be one way, but also reading. There’s a lot of literature out there right now about the statistics and the connections between Jedi principles and performance and outcomes for organizations. Have those soundbites and those statistics. We should own those soundbites and those statistics and that data. And if we don’t have it, we should be trying to create studies and opportunities within our organizations to create the data, that will prove out these concepts. Because with credibility comes trust and with trust comes influence. So, we need influence to do this. Now, the other thing I would say is to adopt certain leadership principles, because that’s another way you build an army of supporters and advocates and followers when you are a servant leader versus being a boss and trying to do it the way that it’s been done in the past. So, I think that that’s the other thing that I would state, is to lean into servant leadership principles and it will once again, help you. All this is to gain credibility, to gain followership, gain trust, and ultimately gain influence so that when we need to make certain moves, we can make those moves. And so that would be the approach that I would recommend and it starts with informing ourselves and arming ourselves with data and information. We have to have the facts that are at our fingertips. We have to be able to simplify relatively complex topics like justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. We have to simplify those things for people who this is as foreign as speaking Mandarin. We have to be able to translate Mandarin to English so that people can begin to understand. And we have to be resilient and willing to ready to just repeat ourselves a million times. Don’t get frustrated if people don’t get it the first time you said it.
Neil (48:25): Yes.
Omar (48:25): Just keep saying it over and over and again, until you have people start listening and leaning in and begin more ready to act.
Neil (48:33): Yes. And I’m going to add to that. Resilience is key. They can get over themselves along the way because it’s going to take some work. It’s going to take some work to do it. So, your book is the Servant Leader’s Manifesto by Omar L. Harris. And you’re recommending that folks get a hold of that as a starting point.
Omar (48:53): Definitely.
Neil (48:53): Along with familiarizing themselves with the data. Where can people get information on Jedi?
Omar (49:01): So, I’ve published a few articles. All the articles that I’m going to be writing, moving forward, are going to be on that. So, you can follow me on LinkedIn. You’ll begin to see those publications coming out. The book, Be A Jedi Leader, Not A Boss is coming in May of 2021. So, that will be a space. And if you follow go to my website, www.omarlharris.com, you’ll get all the updates around when new articles come out or when pre-orders go on live for the book. I would also recommend if you’re not following the B Lab if you’re not following The Jedi Collaborative online, if you’re looking to follow Just Capital online, these are some resources where some organizations doing good work in this space. So, I would recommend those three for sure as resources that have a lot of information and data and statistics and facts, that you can utilize and begin to familiarize yourself with. The work that’s already been done in the space. There’s a lot of work that’s been done in the space. So, I think that it’s incumbent upon us to go get the information, get the data, and then massage it for our purposes.
Neil (50:08): Yes. Do you have your LinkedIn address memorized that you can say on air?
Omar (50:13): It’s Omar L Harris. So LinkedIn//omarlharris.
Neil (50:18): All right. Thank you. Appreciate you being on the show. I’m sure this is a treat for our listeners and I’m going to make sure myself that I started following, digging into some of these resources. Really appreciate your time today, Omar.
Omar (50:31): Thank you, Neil. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
Neil (50:38): Omar laid it out. Jedi leadership. An approach to corporate diversity and inclusion that leads with a justice lens, focused on internal efforts and requiring people to have lived experience with the types of injustices black and brown people have faced in the workplace for a long, long time. The opportunity is both for business leaders who need to make courageous decisions to stop doing what they’ve been doing and failing at and then taking new action. And also, for black and brown folks. Black and brown folks who want to be leaders to prepare themselves for the opportunity, by getting smart on data and information, and being able to define justice, equity, and inclusion in simple terms for people, so that they better understand and adopting servant leadership principles to build credibility and influence. I love this episode and what Omar is saying. There’s an opportunity for black and brown people who want to lead and an opportunity for companies that truly want to stop losing on the DNI front and start winning. Thank you for listening to this episode of The Leadership Range. If you enjoy the episode, I invite you to peruse the others for more great conversations. If you know someone you think ought to be on the podcast, please send me an email at email@example.com. To connect with me, you can find me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/n/nedwards07. I look forward to you joining in for more conversations each Monday, on The Leadership Range.