Dr Rob Sayers-Brown February 6 2024

Why does leadership development matter for LGBTQ+ leaders?

As someone deeply entrenched in leadership development for over 15 years, my journey has been deeply personal, fuelled by questions about my own identity as a gay man and its impact on my leadership journey. Despite attending numerous leadership programmes, I found a critical perspective missing – one that acknowledges and integrates the nuances of my LGBTQ+ identity into leadership development. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more research surrounding these themes and digging deeper into the results of my studies.

Reflecting on my role in creating leadership programmes, I realised my own shortcomings. While clients often prioritise immediate returns on their investment, I had neglected the inclusion of content exploring participants' LGBTQ+ identity formation and leadership aspirations. This realisation prompted a personal reckoning and a commitment to do better. This is particularly important given that the LGBTQ+ population in the UK is on the rise (Office for National Statistics, 2021), particularly among Millennials and Gen Z entering the workforce (Stonewall, 2022). Organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of supporting and representing LGBTQ+ individuals, yet the evidence informing these efforts, and particularly leadership development programmes aimed at this population of leaders, remains weak. 

Research on LGBTQ+ leadership experiences is still in its infancy compared to other underrepresented groups. While studies highlight challenges and biases faced by LGBTQ+ leaders, there's a notable gap in understanding their unique experiences in the workplace. LGBTQ+ individuals often navigate complex personal and professional fronts, contending with anxiety and pressure to conform to heteronormative standards to advance in their careers (Gray et al., 2016; Reimers, 2020). Transgender individuals face additional hurdles, grappling with societal attitudes and navigating workplace dynamics post-transition (Hennekam & Dumazert, 2023). The voluntary withholding of perspectives and self-protective actions are common coping mechanisms, limiting their ability to build meaningful leadership identities. 

Much of these aspects have a societal influence, and this isn’t easily changed.  Of course, if an organisation wants to make this a priority, then that’s great news! But, being an inclusive workplace isn't a destination, it's a journey of moving parts. 

What can organisations do to support LGBTQ+ individuals on their path to leadership and in leadership development programmes in particular? 


My research into this path explored the ‘collision’ of an individual’s LGBTQ+ identity and their leadership. This ‘collision’ produced three themes that may support LGBTQ+ leaders in their development, and help in confronting and navigating complex environments with enhanced levels of ease and resilience. Together, these practical implications are likely to advance the LGBTQ+ leader in improving their self-knowledge, enhance their awareness and deepen their confidence in their authentic self. In turn, these elements may support the LGBTQ+ leader in navigating and confronting the structures and norms which put them at a disadvantage with an enhanced level of ease. 

Reconciliation of the Collision 
To support LGBTQ+ leaders, organisations need to recognise the significance of an individual’s LGBTQ+ identity. Traditional leadership programmes often ignore this, assuming everyone's experience is the same. But it's important to acknowledge the unique struggles LGBTQ+ leaders may encounter. Programmes should include discussions and activities that help LGBTQ+ leaders explore their identity and how it relates to their leadership style. This shows that the organisation values diversity and wants all leaders to feel supported and included.

Strengths resulting from the Collision 
Organisations can leverage Positive Psychology and Strengths-based Leadership approaches to support LGBTQ+ leaders in recognising and capitalising on their unique strengths. By utilising psychometric tools and assessments, organisations can facilitate self-discovery and exploration of strengths stemming from the intersection of personal and professional identities.

Workplace roles formed from the Collision 
Discovering how personal and professional identities mix can help LGBTQ+ leaders shape their approach to leading. By understanding their unique strengths and experiences, leaders can develop strategies that work for them in their workplace. For instance, LGBTQ+ leaders often excel in advocating for others and creating opportunities (Polavarapu et al., 2021). Embracing these strengths doesn't just make them better leaders—it also helps them make a bigger impact in their organisation. 

How do your leadership programmes 'stack up' against these observations?  Do they incorporate the significance of an individual's identity? If not, in our next blog, we'll dig deeper into how programmes can bring these areas to life!


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