At this year’s Academy of Management conference in Montreal, artist and scholar, Nancy Adler shared that she sees her role as “outing other people’s humanity” while speaking at one of several events in her honor. As she reflected on a few colleagues who were closet musicians, visual artists, and/or participated in their community in other generative ways, she challenged us by asking us why we, in business and scholarship, haven’t begun to think about the beautiful?
Adler followed this with three more provocative questions about beauty and leadership.
1. Can we reclaim our ability to see the beauty that’s there?
2. Can we reclaim our ability to imagine what’s beautiful?
3. Can we reclaim our role as leaders and human beings to make the world a more beautiful place?
If we truly take up Adler’s challenge and surrender to living these particular questions, I believe we cannot help but out our own and each others’ humanity. For as we reclaim our ability to see, imagine and create the beautiful, the artificial barriers that separate our playful self from our serious work self will fall away, as will barriers separating our goal-oriented self, from our process self; our indoor self from our outdoor self, our artist self from our management self, and all of our other dualistic selves.
As a gay person, I have long held the position that to “out someone” is a violation that could potentially put the outed person in serious harm’s way—emotionally, socially, and even physically—depending on the context. In this case, outing should, except in cases of extreme hypocrisy (a vocally anti-gay public figure) be the sole business of the individual.
Adler has gotten me thinking, though. Just as more people take the risk of coming out about their sexual orientation makes the climate safer and more accepting for all (research shows that people who have a close acquaintance or family member who is gay are far more likely to be accepting), should we not be encouraging others to come out around other aspects of their humanity? Will this not make it safer and more acceptable to be human—to bring our whole selves to work, and into all aspects of our lives?
What, then, is our role as leaders, facilitators, and participants in co-creating the space in which it is safe enough to come out?
What beauty might we discover and co-create together when we reclaim this responsibility?