Jackie: Thanks for listening to Diversity Beyond the Checkbox. I'm Jackie Ferguson and my guest today is Omar Harris. Omar is a best-selling author, founder and managing partner at Intent Consulting, motivational speaker and leadership coach. Omar I like to start by asking my guests a bit about themselves, their background, their family, their identity, anything that you'd like to share.
Omar: So in terms of my background, I come from a solidly middle-class family, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My family is a bit unique in that I have three older brothers and a younger sister, but my three older brothers were all results of previous marriages of my parents. So, my mother had two children before she married my father and my father had a son before he married my mother. So from the beginning of my life, I kind of lived in a blended, kind of a blended family.
Jackie: A lot of us are living in those blended families these days.
Omar: Yeah, from that perspective. And so I grew up in Pittsburgh till I was five years of age, but I still call Pittsburgh home. I lived in West Virginia Charles Town, West Virginia from the age of five to 11, and then moved to Lake Charles Louisiana, which was a really big shift from the north to the south. And yeah, and I attended junior high school and high school in Louisiana before getting a full scholarship to Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Florida, which is an HBCU as you know, and really started off my, you know, my professional career in pharmaceuticals in 1998 as a sales rep in Detroit, Michigan.
I got another opportunity to go to Brazil. when I was 23 years old as an international marketing intern, and spent 16 months in Brazil where I learned the language. And then I graduated from, from FAMU with my MBA at 25, and really started my professional career all in a pharmaceutical industry, working for companies like Sharing Plow, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Allergan all around the world. So the career took me from the US back to Brazil a second time to Turkey, to Indonesia, and back to Brazil before moving back to the US last March. So I spent eight years out of the US directly from 2012 to 2020 living in Turkey and Indonesia and Brazil and then I came back to the U S last spring, smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, social justice protests, and a very crucial American election.
Jackie: Wow, I mean that amount of travel is really amazing and Omar, correct me if I'm wrong, but you speak five languages, that right?
Omar: Yes, not fluently. I know enough to be dangerous is what I would say. Yeah, I'm fluent in Portuguese. Portuguese is like my, you know, Brazil is like my second home and I'm, I'm truly fluent in Portuguese to the point where people don't even know where I'm from when I'm down there. But other languages, Spanish I'm fairly fluent, but other languages, like I said, I know enough to be dangerous.
Jackie: That's awesome. What was your reaction, right, coming back to the US with all of what was happening, right? And you just named it.
Omar: It's like a whole different world. I mean, I will come back to the US once or twice a year to visit my folks, so I was, you know, clearly aware of what's happening in the US but certain things like, you know, the social media impact that was happening over here and you know, all the division, you don't really feel it when you're living abroad, right. You don't really understand that until you come back.
And you're, you know, like I, I come back to the US and I'm told that, you know, in the south American flags are actually stand ins for Confederate flags, I'm like, oh my God. Like, so I started looking at all this American flags. I'm like, okay this means something different now and it's like a big-time culture shock and it just really was, was very challenging.
Plus I was dealing with my mother's health as well, which is why came back to the US at the time. Yeah, it was, it was just a lot to kind of take in the process. it took a while to kind of, you know, get back in the swing of things I would say. And it was hard because already the pandemic disrupted everything right. So it's not like you could come back to your regular routine. I came back to lockdown basically. So it's now spending all the time by myself and trying to figure stuff out. So it was very, very interesting.
Jackie: Wow. Thanks for sharing that more. So you talked about how this amazing travel that you were able to do in pharmaceuticals. How did you go from that and your early career to what you're doing now?
Omar: Well, I mean, I think the thing that was the thin red line connecting everything that I've done is, is my passion for leadership, and so, you know, when I was, before I ever, you know, became a people, a people manager, I wanted to be the best people manager possible.
So I was studying for the role. I was off, you know, basically reading every book I could absorb about, about the principles of leadership and how to be a modern leader and a good leader. Then when I became a leader in 2006 of a team of my own, my own organization for the first time, you know, I began practicing these principles and kind of like putting them into action and then, you know, customizing them to my style, right, and identify my own style.
You know, you get bigger and bigger organizations and you start to try to apply things at scale, right? You start scaling up, you know, from maybe 40 people to now 900 people with the same principles of trying to make a bigger impact. So for me, it's always been about making a bigger and bigger impact with the things that I really believe in from a leadership standpoint which are, you know, really seeing the person, not the role. So embracing the uniqueness and the talent of every person, regardless of their background, where they come from, what they look like, you know, doesn’t matter. I think when I look at people, I see, I see limitless potential. And so my job is to extract that potential and create the conditions for success for everyone that I worked with.
And so then, you know, naturally, my goal is to influence on a broader scale. So leaving pharma now the goal is to take everything that I've learned and kind of package it out and try to do it on a global scale now.
Jackie: That is amazing. And I love that you said that you have a passion for leadership. Omar, talk to us about some tips that we as leaders in general can take away with us from this conversation about being a better leader.
Omar: Well, I think that what I always say is, you know, you have to begin to question your reason for wanting to be a leader in the first place, right? So you have to, you know, a lot of times we don't ever ask ourselves the question. We want the position, we want to move up in an organization, but we don't necessarily want the responsibility.
So a lot of times people move up for self-interest, for ego interests like basically it's more, it's all about me, but the moment you become a sort of like, imagine if you, if you became a parent and you became more selfish the more kids you've had. It doesn't make any sense. Right? It's the same thing with leadership, the more responsibility you have over people, the less selfish you should ultimately become.
And that's the idea, you know, the principle idea is that it's not about you. It's only about you when you're an individual contributor after that in your career, it's about everybody else. And that's the thing that most people don't understand about leadership. It's about the other, it's not about the self.
Jackie: That's such good advice. And you know, you talked about the responsibility of it, and very often what happens is people think of the responsibility to the tasks, but the responsibility to the people is what makes you a good leader.
Omar: Well, we're not, we, we don't live in a robotics society yet Jackie, so you, so who's, so who's going to do the task. It's going to be a person. At the end of the day, its people, it's all people. So the more people oriented you can become the better off you can become. And I understand that, you know, like the thing that you have to deal with the higher up you matriculate in an organization is you are going to be responsible at some point.
You are going to be asked to terminate people in mass, it's going to happen to you if you matriculate through any organization. And so I think that people develop a callousness towards it. They said, listen, okay, well, I'm going to make it about myself so that I don't have to think about the lives of others whenever I get, whenever it gets to this point of me having to make the termination decision or whatever it is.
And so they they're trying to distance themselves from the act, but you can't distance yourself from the act you are, you are fundamentally making decisions or taking actions that are impacting others' lives and you need to own it. You to own all of it. You don't own the good, the bad and the ugly of being a leader. You can't just take the parts you like; you have to take the whole.
Jackie: Absolutely. So Omar, we talked about you're having the opportunity to work all over the world. Tell us a bit about those places and how diversity and inclusion differs on a global scale from what we experienced here in the US.
Omar: W one thing, everything in America, we look at things through a black and white or male and female, or, you know, now with now gender lens, right? So we're very kind of binary in terms of how we look at everything in America, where it's, it's a lot more fluid in other places. And also, there’s a lot more history in other places in history is different and the context matters.
Right? So in America we have our history, we have a story of European settlers coming here and then, you know, ultimately the slave trade and then ultimately the industrial revolution and ultimately everything else, right. So we have, we have what we have this linear history. We can trace back 400, 500 years and other countries it's not, it's much more messy. Like Turkey is a country that's been around for thousands of years. They've seen and forgotten more than America's ever learned. So their frame of reference is very different.
So Turkey, as an example, had a leader called, Ataturk in the early twenties and thirties and he actually liberated women far earlier than most other countries in the world. So women in Turkey are far more independent, liberated, and sophisticated than women in a lot of other nations because Ataturk had daughters and he wanted to build a world where his daughters had the same freedoms as men.
And so you see. the role of, of females in Turkey is much more prevalent and that society it's not, it's not necessarily such a paternalistic society or male dominated. And you see the progress of women have made because the government are early on bet on women, make sure they get educated, make sure they had equal rights, make sure they were taken care of. And so from a diversity standpoint, you see a lot more, for example, in the Turkish organization of the company that I worked for, you saw a lot of female representation.
It was almost 50, 50, right? Senior leaders. You saw mixed, you know, a lot more mixing, even probably better than the. from that perspective, but there are marginalized identities in every society. So in a country like Turkey, the issue is, how do you help more poor individuals move up the economic ladder. Right. So there's a, there's a status thing in Turkey, that is really the, the glass ceiling is status, not gender or ethnicity necessarily, if that makes sense.
Brazil is a very mixed-up country. So you have a country that was founded by the Portuguese and the Portugal is a country, this tall, small and Brazil, the country this big.
And you ask yourself, how do the country, this small conquer a country, this big? Well, what they did was by, by design, they mixed with the natives. Basically there, they discovered natives there, they mixed with them, and now with the strategy of the Portuguese to maintain control over Brazil, but societally, they were basically, their whole mission was to take, take, take, take away from Brazil and give riches to the Portuguese government.
And so you have a, you have a country built on exploitation, basically. The foundation of exploitation, and that plays out in modern society today, where you basically poor people in Brazil, resources in Brazil are still being exploited for this very, very rich 1% in that country. And so that income gap, the poverty you see in Brazil is unlike anything you'll see in other nations. And so, it's complex, for example because of all the racial mixing, on a check box. It's not like black, African-American, African, you know, Caucasian, it's like 12 of those things.
So identity is very segmented in Brazil. And so it's much harder to kind of say, we need to, we need to get more of this group, because it's so it's so segmented, right. Even in their politics, they don't have one, two political parties. They have like 30 political parties. it's a very unique kind of a country from that, from that perspective.
And so, but the one thing we can, we do know is that women are underrepresented in leadership positions in Brazil and in Latin America in general. And the Afro-Brazilians are definitely marginalized in that population. So there's a lot of work to be done. So the Afro-Brazilians have a better shot at wealth.
Like when I was the general manager for a large pharma company in Brazil, I was only the second president of a company that was of African origin in the entire business world. So, you know, me as me and one other guy and I wasn't Brazilian. So there's only one Brazilian of African descent, who leads a conglomerate corporation in that country.
So they're farther behind than, or further behind than even the US is on a lot of their diversity inclusion initiatives. So, that's an issue that Brazil is going to have to reconcile as they move forward. Even though they had a female president before the US a few years ago, it doesn't mean they're more progressive than we are in terms of diversity and inclusion.
Then you go to Indonesia, which is a really interesting nation because Indonesia is not one country. Like I say, Indonesia has 718 different tribes and 319 different dialects. It's 18,000 different islands. And the country is only been around since 1946. So it's a very young nation. It's a group of people who came together. They had create a language for each other, so they can speak with each other, and you have a lot and have a lot of tribalism. In Indonesia, what I experienced was you have religious diversity issues. So you have basically a large Muslim population and you have Christians being more prosperous and privileged in the society because most of them come from a Chinese background.
So you have this colorism thing, basically, when you look at the top of companies in Indonesia, it's mostly light-skinned Indonesians or Chinese descendant in the new agents who lead those companies. So there's this whole, just like India and a lot of brown led nations where you have the fairer your skin, the more privileged you are in society that, that exists in Indonesia very prevalently because of their colonial background being colonized by the Dutch for many years. And so you have, you have that issue as well.
And Indonesian society also, it's very hierarchical. So basically with age, you receive accolades. So basically you, if you're a young person, you can't speak up against someone who's older than you. And so, you know, you have this kind of oppression of, of ageism. On people where they basically are just sitting around playing the game, waiting to get old enough, they could, they could kind of live their lives. So it's an interesting dynamic from, from an inclusion standpoint because younger people don't feel they can speak up and have a voice in society.
So it's, it's very, you know, you know, I could go on for days about this, but it's very interesting, you know, and you have to understand what I'm trying to convey is that you have to understand the history to understand the present of what's driving diversity and inclusion in these markets today.
Jackie: That's exactly right. You know, and Omar, I totally agree. Even here in the US you have to understand the history to understand what's happening, but it's really interesting because you know, here in the US, we think about diversity and inclusion from our own lens, right. But, you know, we're recording this in global diversity month.
So I wanted to definitely have this conversation too, because there's just so many dynamics that are occurring all around the world, right. And when we think of DEI, it's not just US-based right. It's, it's a global issue and something that we need to be addressing one step at a time.
Omar: It's not a monolith. It's not a monolith. I mean, it's different in every single market and you have to dig in, to understand and that, and also understand the privileges and the society, the injustices in the society, what diversity means that society and what inclusion means and that society some things are universal, but a lot isn’t.
Jackie: Absolutely. And Omar on a more personal note, let's talk about some of the differences in how you were treated right here in the US versus some of the other countries that you lived in. What was that experience like?
Omar: Yeah, I mean, I had a few, you know, kind of foundational racist things happen in, in the US but not as many as other people. I would consider myself privileged in that sense that I didn't really go through a lot of racial hatred or anything like that coming up in my youth. If I come across as more optimistic than other people, maybe it's because of that. But in other nations, one thing you realize as a, as an African-American person, as a Black person is that, you know, I was American before I was Black for the first time in my life, what I lived overseas.
When I was in Brazil, no one, no one treated me like a Black person. They treated me like I was an American first and who happened to be Black. And so I received privileges that if you, that people who look just like me in Brazil, couldn't get, because I, I could say I was American. I spoke English and that was my calling card in that society. I can remember being 23 years old and walking to the front of clubs and speaking English and being led in front of thousands of people because I spoke English. That was my, that was it. I'm an American. Therefore I must be important. Therefore you're letting me in the club. Can you imagine? Wow, something like that. It's crazy.
But Turkey, it was very different. Turkey, I felt like an alien. I would take the, I guess they, they, they're not used to seeing professional, like suited and booted, you know, Black people. There's a lot of Africans and in Turkey, like Nigerians, but they're like panhandling and doing the hustling on the, on the street corner. You don't see a lot of people wearing suits and ties and going to work.
So whenever I would take the subway to work, people would just stare at me, and it was really uncomfortable. Like I don't like being the center of attention and I don't like being stared at like open mouth people looking at you, like, are you an alien? So I really kind of felt my otherness in Turkey. I really felt like an exotic animal of some sort in society, not at work. At work, everything was cool, but, but outside of work, I really felt quite, judged by identity. so I didn't enjoy that so much.
And then in Indonesia, you get treated in accordance with your station, right. So, because I was the general manager, I get treated like the 1%. So I don't have any issues. Like, I mean, everything is beautiful and grand and you know, I have my own elevator access. I had, you know, a bathroom in my office. I had, you know, I had all, I had a driver for the first time. I had, you know, I lived in a gated compound that was super secure. So I had all the, I experienced all the privilege that the top of society can experience.
And so I also lived that identity, which was interesting, to just be purely privileged based on position and economic factors that have nothing to do with what you look like. So that society, money talks, everything else walks. And so that was really what I experienced and I never, you know, that was, that was kind of like my, my experience. Although I had some fun experiences in Indonesia went to, to Bali. And I went to a I went to a temple to visit one of his famous symbols on a kind of a reef or coastline. It was like this old 75-year-old man sitting there when we pulled up and he,
I got out of the car and he was like, what's up my brother. And I thought that was the funniest thing that ever happened to me in my entire life. Two things, one thing that happened to me, and then I went to a coffee shop in Indonesia once, its Jakarta. And I gave him my name when I got the cup back and said Obama on it. And I thought that was hilarious. So, so I don't know if that's racist or not. I don't know. I don't know how you want to determine that. I thought it was funny, but that's just me.
Jackie: Wow. That is so interesting. Omar, thanks for sharing that. It's interesting how you didn't change, right? You are still the same person, but depending on the environment, how other people changed and how they approached you or how they viewed you.
And, you know, that certainly plays into thinking about the way that we think about people, right? The bias that we have, or the judgements that we make about who people are, right. And it's really interesting to see how that differs based on your environment, even though you are one person, right?
Omar: Yeah. But I, I definitely did change. I mean, you have to change. I think that, I think that, especially when you live overseas, if you come in saying I'm not going to change, then you're not going to be able to participate in the society, which is why I understand inclusion in a different way than maybe other DEI practitioners understand inclusion because you know, in society you're forced to kind of conform to the norms of, of these countries in order to get around.
And it's the same thing to do to people in companies. We don't embrace their otherness, we forced you to conform to be one of us, right. To get along, you have to be one of us. And that's, I know what it feels like to have parts of yourself that you just can't show anymore in order for you to survive in this society.
Yeah. You know, I know, I know what that feels like, and so that's the lens I treat inclusion with when I talk to, talk to leaders about it and try to do the work in the inclusion space, specifically is that we have a bad habit of making people conform and that, and the fact of conforming squeezes the uniqueness out of individuals.
Jackie: That is so true. Well, Omar, let's talk about Jedi leadership. What Is Jedi leadership? Let's start there.
Omar: So let's start with Jedi. Right? So Jedi is an acronym for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. It's not my acronym. As far as I've been able to divine, it was credited by a gentleman named Marsala Bonta who works in the environmental advocacy space, but, you know, really what it means is a different way to lead. So if we lived in a world where shareholder basically profits for shareholders was going to be our ultimate objective, and we lived in that world for a long time, right.
Then there's no need for, for anyone to change at the top of the house, because basically, you know, we're going to, we're what, what we achieve matters more than how we achieve it. But what's happened over the last 20 years, is that. Underneath the top of the house, the demographics have dramatically shifted, right? So you have, you know, the most diverse workforce in history, working for the least diverse leadership people in history.
And so this this conflict is leading to us to needing a new style of leadership. These non-diverse leaders have to start leading into principles, uncomfortable spaces that they never had to deal with before. And those are uncomfortable spaces are try to, understand and eradicate injustices, eliminate inequities, expand diversity and enhance inclusion.
And so they get data that says, oh, okay. So I've got to get rid of these things in my system. And I've got to try to work these things out. I've got to kind of embrace people's diversity and I have to make them feel belonging. We never cared about that stuff 30 years ago, but now we have to care about it today.
So if we cared about it today that we need to embrace a new form of leadership yeah, which means basically at every level of a corporation, if you're, if you're responsible for people, your new job, the new rules of leadership are to basically lean into and understand the identities of everybody who works for you and try to see the, your corporate world through their eyes.
And understand what are things they might perceive as injustices? What are things that are definitely inequities that they're experiencing? How is their diversity being valued or not, and how safe and secure and included that they feel in the overall goings on of the organization? And so by leaning into those spaces as a manager and as a senior leader, you begin to create a process and a cycle where you can get rid of the negative things, do more of the positive things and also achieve more things for more stakeholders.
Jackie: That sounds incredible. And Omar, I know that you also wrote a book. You've actually got a few books out. I think you've got three leadership books. Let's talk about the first two, but I want to really lean into your new book. "Be a Jedi Leader, not a Boss" and I love that. So let's talk just for a minute about the first two and then we'll get into this one.
Omar: Okay. Well, I mean the first book I wrote kind of out of a necessity because I was trying to kind of crystallize for myself all the things that I had learned in my career about leadership, about team leadership and apply them to an organization at scale. So I was leading an Indonesian organization of 900 people and I really had to enhance my acumen. And so what I began doing was identifying several principles that I could utilize as a leader to move my team through the stages of forming storming, norming and performing. And as I did this, I began to identify tools that I could utilize to speed myself through these stages.
And I realized every team leader is going to have to go through this. So I might as well document it and a book which I call it Leaderboard the DNA of High-Performance Teams. So if you read that book, what you'll get is the most up to the minute modern toolkit for helping you get, take a team from formation to high-performance and keep them there. The first half of the book is a fictional narrative about a leader, trying to do this with a team he's got, and then the second half of the book is the discussion section where I would talk about the learnings from the first half of the book.
So it's a very entertaining leadership book. It's easy to read, easy to digest and jam packed full of tools and info.
The second book I published in 2020 was called The Servant Leader's Manifesto. And this is really kind of my, you know, my line in the sand saying this is what I stand for as a leader.
So if you want to know what I'm all about, and what I think leadership ultimately should be about to the, in this day and age, The Servant Leader's Manifesto is a documentation of those principles. And so there are seven key principles in The Servant Leader's Manifesto that I take you through to go from wherever you are, wherever you are to becoming a servant leader by the end of the book. And I'm also have a, an on-demand training course linked to the book, that you can also kind of get more detail and take further steps to really modernize your leadership approach.
Jackie: Omar, before we jump into Jedi. I, I want to talk about Servant Leader, right, what does that mean?
Omar: So leadership today is hierarchical, power base leadership. What it means is that the higher up you go through an organization, the more people are working for you, right. So you have control and power over other people, the hierarchy move up the pyramid in an organization.
And so ultimately what matters to people are what you care about, what you want to get done, what your strategies are, what your, you know, basically it's the classic Steve Jobs, Apple model. Basically, you know, everything in this company is colored by my personality. Okay, that's standard. You know, I will say ego driven leadership, right?
Servant leadership is when you take this hierarchy and you flip it on its head and he pointed not at the senior leader, but he pointed at the stakeholders. You point it at the customer, you point it at the community, you pointed at employees, you pointed at the environment. And so you, the senior leaders, are the bottom of the pyramid serving the organization. They're like Atlas holding up the world. So your job is very different when you orient yourself towards serving, serving and supporting, and reorients the entire way the company and the way you as an individual lead through your organization, because your role becomes not to command and dictate.
Your role becomes the serve and support. And serving and supporting gets just as much done as commanding and dictating. Maybe not as fast, but the feeling of it is far better and it will allow you to connect with the new generations of employees coming in today who are not going to tolerate command and control because that's not the way they were raised and that's not the way they were educated.
And so you have to modernize or else these young people are not going to stand for it. And what we're seeing now in 2021 is this great resignation trend where currently around 20 million people have resigned as of August from the workforce. And it's mostly, it's a lot of young people because of these issues that I've been highlighting for years.
Jackie: Yeah. You know, it's, we've got to really understand the way the world is shifting right and that's part of being a good leader because the way you lead in one decade is going to be very different from the way you have to lead in another decade. And you're right with this great resignation, we have to really evaluate how we're leading, because the reason that people are leaving their positions as not necessarily for more money or for a bigger job title, it's they want to make sure that they feel valued and respected and supported and understand their career path, right. And that has to do more with leadership than it does anything else.
Omar: Well, there's data from the predictive index, they did a study of other great resignation that came out like last month. And they found out that 64% of people who are considering leaving their port in the next 12 months are doing so because of a bad manager and only 26% of people with a good manager are thinking about leaving their employer. So the manager really matters and how we lead really matters, and the more you make it about yourself, the less you're going to be able to lead others
Jackie: That's such good advice. All right, let's talk about be a Jedi Leader, not a Boss. Tell me about that book.
Omar: To make a full circle, I come back to the US 2020, and I'm like smack dab in a pandemic, and I have social justice protests, and I'm seeing corporations stand up in a way I've never seen before in my entire life. And I'm very inspired by these statements of, you know, Nike and Apple and everybody making these huge, you know, monetary commitments to the cause.
And I'm like, wow, we're living in a really cool moment. Then I sit back and I'm like, but who's holding them accountable. Like, it's really easy to make a statement, but it's a lot harder to do the work. And I'm also like, well, once again, it's very easy to write a check. It's a lot harder to do the internal work to eradicate injustices, eliminate inequities, expand diversity and enhance inclusion. So I was like, these leaders need a blueprint for how to go from, to really hold themselves accountable to the standards that they're stating in these public statements. And I didn't see anything out there for corporate leaders that fit that niche.
You know, we had books on anti-racism and books on how to talk about white fragility and books about, but nothing about leadership in the era of social justice and equity, diversity, inclusion. And so I felt that I had a unique niche because I'm a leader of a diverse background of a marginalized identity who's led, you know, people who didn't look like me all over the world, and been able to do so without, you know, doing anything toxic to anybody. And so I wanted to kind of document this, this blueprint for, organizations and for leaders, and kind of write down kind of my approach for how I would tackle these problems if I were working with you, it's not of your company.
Well, what would I do? And what, what, what, what is the best thinking of the moment on this issue, because my book happens to be the most well-researched book on this topic that's out right now, over 270 references. And so it's up to the moment, very current, very well-researched and also very broad in scope in terms of the impact that a Jedi leader can have.
Cause Jedi leaders don't just have positive impact on employees. Jedi leaders have the ability to improve conditions for the community, for customers and the environment. And so the point is we need to do the internal work so that we can then externalize outputs of these very important stakeholders who can't.
We can't keep, you know leaving communities in the dust. We can't keep denigrating the environment. We can't keep treating the customer as you know, an afterthought. And so we have to do better. And in order for us to do better for these stakeholders, we have to first do better by our employees. And that's kind of the statement of grand statement of purpose of the book.
Jackie: So many of us want to do the right thing, right. But we don't have that blueprint. We don't know where to start. We don't know what the steps are. So having a guide, right, is so helpful to us being able to match as leaders, our intent with our actual. So that's awesome. And then where Omar, can people find your books?
Omar: Well, if you go to amazon.com, Omar L Harris, you'll find it. If you Google me Omar L Harris, will find all of my stuff. My website is if you want to autograph copies personally, autographed by me you get it from my website. www.omarlharris.com. And I love to connect with everybody on LinkedIn and Twitter.
So if you want to have a conversation, let's be on Twitter, @strengthsleader or on LinkedIn, Omar L Harris. because you know, once again, I exist to serve and support your journey as a leader and manager. And so that's my internal statement of a purpose. And I'm happy to inspire, motivate you through a public podcast, but there's a lot more we can do together.
Jackie: That's awesome. Thank you for sharing that, Omar, let's talk a little about Intent Consulting. Tell us about that organization, and then I want to get into your new inclusion app.
Omar: Yes. So I have the idea for Intent Consulting like back in 2000 and I think 18. This word, like I was like, if I was, you know, I was already preparing myself to kind of be out of the corporate realm at some point. I didn't know when I was going to be, but I knew it was going to be some point.
And really, I was like, what would I call such an entity? And for me, this word intent kept coming up intent, intent, you know, because what you intend is really important that what you ultimately we're trying to accomplish is so important.
And how do you align your intentions with your actions to achieve your goals and your purpose? I was like, that's what I stand for, that's what I'm all about. I want to help align intentions. I think a lot of people, like you said, every, most people have positive intentions, right. They just don't, they just don't know how to do what they're trying to do right. And so if I was going to have a consulting organization is going to be about helping people connect the dots between their intention, their positive intent and the action that needs to take to make that intention live in the world. And that's why I came up with a company and basically Intent Consulting is an umbrella for everything that, that I am passionate about and I want to do.
So publishing consulting team and executive coaching, training and facilitation, and ultimately production. So television and movie productions and finally technology. So everything that, you know, it's, it's a way to max out my capacity and my capabilities and an organizational design.
And so it's been very fun over the last year and a half kind of building out each of these verticals and seeing the reaction from the public about these verticals and the excitement about what we're doing.
Jackie: I love that. And you know, when I think about the word intent, one of the words that I use almost daily is intentional because when you're doing this work in diversity, equity and inclusion, when you're trying to create the culture that you want when you're trying to make sure that you're respecting someone that you're interacting with, you need to be intentional.
And so that word is so important. So I love the name of your organization because in order to do things well, in order to do things right, you have to have the right intent and you have to be intentional about being mindful about it as well.
Omar: A good recent example of that, Jackie, is this all the hubbub about Dave Chappelle's last comedy special The Closer, right?
And for me, my whole problem with, with this special, and a lot of his recent specials has been, what is this ultimate intent? So I think that, you know what, you're going to agree or disagree with whatever the comedy da, da, da. I think his intention was off. He's pitting marginalized identities against each other and we need to be, we need to be working together, not battling each other. And I think, I think he needs to take a look at his intent. He's a very brilliant person.
He's one of the most educated well-educated people in the world. He knows his history, but it needs to check his intent for certain. If he does that, then I think that we would see better, better results. And I hope he does. I love Dave Chapelle.
Jackie: I totally agree with that, Omar and I love how you phrase that actually, because I've been trying to figure out like what's been missing for me. Right. Because back in the day, like I was the biggest Dave Chappelle fan, and these last few specials have just missed the mark for me. And I'm like, what is this about? Right, and not loving all of the, you know, pitting the marginalized identities against each other. And I'm like, what is he trying to accomplish?
But I couldn't put my finger on it until you just said that. And I've been having this conversation and not being able to get there. So thank you for like, what is his intent and that's, that's exactly right. So, thanks for that. You've helped me.
Omar: Yeah. It's important. It's an important conversation to have, but I think at the end of the day, I kind of go back to Stephen Covey's principles begin with the end in mind, what are you trying to achieve and why are you trying to achieve this? First of all why? You know, and if it's, if it's more for your own self edification or to protect yourself or to defend your ego, it's always going to come out wrong. And that's, you know, what I've perceived as people getting lost in the ego and that tanks their intent and therefore corrupts the message.
Jackie: Wow. That's really good advice. You know, and as leaders, we all have those moments where we have to make a decision. Like, are you thinking about people? Is your ego involved in how you're reacting? So that's such good advice. So Omar, let's talk about your new inclusion app.
Omar: So, one of the things is, is as I'm writing, you know, be a Jedi Leader, not a Boss, I'm thinking about different solutions for different issues in the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion space.
And so for me, when you think about eradicating injustices, I have a system and tools for that was basically more about how I consult and I use, my consulting is designed to really eradicate injustices and inequities, but on an equity scale, I wanted to create a tool which I had just launched as well called equitypulse.IO and equity pulse is really an accountability tracker for people who worked for fortune 500 companies and want to anonymously be able to comment on their company's progress against diversity equity and inclusion initiatives. So if you go to equitypulse.io/survey, you can take the survey and anonymously, let us know how your company is doing against these initiatives. And we're going to create profiles of companies like glass door and basically publicly. Began showing company progress against these initiatives.
On diversity, I'm a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. So I believe that one of the best ways of embracing diversity is to embrace, the positive psychology and strengths movement, basically seeing what's right with people, not what's wrong with people.
So that's a tool that I advocate in the diversity space, but inclusion, I was like, what do we have for inclusion? Like to quantify, like, you know, so how do you quantify belonging How do you quantify psychological safety? Right, other than surveying people to death, like how do you actually do it? So, I began thinking about my own experience and there's a moment in large companies where inclusion should happen, but doesn't happen.
And that moment is the all hands meeting or the town hall meeting or the whatever you call it. you know, ask me anything, meeting where the senior management comes and stands before the corporation and talks about progress against initiatives, financial performance, strategies, expectations for that quarter moving forward. That that happens in almost every fortune 500 company in the world, right on a regular basis.
But these moments tend to end up being about what the leader wants to say versus what the employees want to hear, right, and what the employees need to feel more included. So I was like, what if I could design a technology solution that would bridge the gap between what the leader wants to say and what the employee understands, agrees with, and is aligned with. And just by asking these questions for the first time, it will transform the dynamic between the senior managers and their employees, and hopefully bring trust together because we're going to identify a whole bunch of issues and concerns that have to be worked out.
And you, you put the leadership team in service of their employees when you do this. So the technology tempo.io is a technology designed to facilitate this kind of inclusive interaction during these town hall meetings. I finished the minimum viable product for the tool, the MVP is ready. So if you're listening to this podcast and you want to talk to me about beta testing the app, please contact me offline. But this is really about creating a more than a two-way exchange, creating more than just engagement but in creating inclusion because you're forcing senior leaders to listen to different identities in the organization, lean into, hear them, and then act. Because one of the cool things about the application is after the town hall, there's an issue management matrix.
So employees can go back to the app and see the leadership team works through the issues and concerns that will raise during the meeting. And so in a very simple traffic light traffic light system, red means we haven't taken action yet, amber means we're working on it, green means we've done it. And so now it's like an accountability for the internal leadership towards the employees.
And, there's a Jedi idea box is always on its basically employees at any moment when they get an idea around how to improve the company's efforts on justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, it crowdsources those ideas from your employees. So I happen to think it's a very valuable product and we're trying to get it out and get investment behind it and get it out to the world.
Jackie: Love it. I can't wait to try it. That sounds amazing. When we think about some of these concepts, all right, diversity, equity, and inclusion, measurement is so important, but a lot of times we don't know how to measure. And we're a little afraid to measure, right. There's that, but it's so important to understand where you really are, honestly.
And then what kind of progress you're making and then where are the gaps? Like what's still not right. And you need the measurements to be able to see that. So I think that's great.
Omar: I think we're over-engineering DEI work. I think it's being over-engineered. I think it's being an over-complicate. We started off kind of in the kumbaya space, which, well, let's get everybody together and let's just talk. This is not something that people want to talk about, right in corporations. They want to do their job. They want to get things done. They want to go home to their wives or their kids and their spouses and, and live their lives. They don't want to, nobody wants to feel like there being a spotless, being pointed at them, like you're the bad guy, you're the bad actor in this system. I try to think about like what, you know, straight white men feel about this moment. And they, it's very, it's massively uncomfortable, which is why you see such a revolt from the other side in terms of, you know, antiwoke culture and anti-woke-ism and all this, you know, Fox news type stuff from, because they need a safe place to go.
And so we're actually pushing, potentially good people into a negative space because of how we're attacking the problem, right? For, for me to simplify this whole thing, Jedi issues are business risks, just like fraud and compliance and ethics and values are, it's no different and have to be treated the same way.
And companies are very good at managing business risk. So they should be very good at managing DEI risk because it's not, it's not different. And so I think we're, over-engineering it to a certain extent. We're not taking baby steps. We want, we want people to have these aha epiphany moments in these round table discussions.
And very few times that's going to actually happen. But if we've changed, the incentives, we've changed, the structures we've changed, the processes we've changed the priorities, the people will adapt.
Jackie: That's exactly right. And I think you're right about how we're talking about it, right, and because very often practitioners will talk about it in a, you need to include us but you're not in that group kind of conversation. And really these are just business imperatives.
Omar: Right, it goes back to the golden rule, treat others how you want to be treated. So like, how would you react to a microaggression? You know? But there's all those new terminologies, right?
Like microaggressions and people were just like, what, what is all this stuff? I'm trying to wrap my head around it and do my job. And they don't understand that doing your, this is your job. It's not a diff it's no different than your job because your job is people that's right. So embracing people is all you have to do.
Embrace people, love people for their difference, try to help them out and you are a jedi leader, that's it. And you, and you're going to make a big difference. Like don't, it's not more complicated than that in my opinion,
Jackie: Now Omar, one thing that is a question that I have regarding that is that a lot, you know, you certainly have experience and moving through different cultures and being comfortable, finding the ways to acclimate and to also, you know, be yourself.
Right, but some people and a lot of people, especially in the US, I have surrounded themselves with same in like and moving out of that circle now in the workplace is, is complicated for them and a little bit scary, right? What are some of the ways that, that they can feel that sense of, you know, let's jump in and, and try something new and, and how people that fuel that apprehension, you know, embrace people and treat others the way that they should.
Omar: I think we're trying; we're just trying to get people to admit that they don't know, and that makes them uncomfortable. I think it's as simple as that is to say, listen, I don't know how to deal with all this difference. You know, it makes me uncomfortable. And so I'm going to double down on what got me here, even if that is, is going to basically be toxic to the few people that I work with.
Yeah, and that's really what we're trying to get leaders to do is basically say, listen, just get to a place of vulnerability where you're willing to say, I don't know. And I think if you say, I don't know, then you're open to, okay, we're learning something new and all we're trying to do is basically, and the great thing about this is you have a great resource of information, which is the people who are working for you.
They have the keys to the kingdom. They'll tell you if you start leaning in and asking them. They'll start telling you things going to be like, oh, I wasn't aware that you perceived this situation that way. Wow, I need to take that on board and think differently about how I behave in certain situations so that I don't, cause that's not the environment or that's not my attention.
I was not trying to do that. So the more, once again, we go back to intentions. I think that once again, these leaders, their intention is positive, but they have no idea how it's landing on others, which is why with tempo, we will begin to see and understand how, what leaders are saying and how they're showing up, lands on their people and quantify and quantify it for the first time.
And I think that's the power of that. And so I think it's really beginning to just be comfortable asking the questions of waiting in the spaces that you're uncomfortable and not having the, the racism conversation or the anti-racism conversation necessarily, but having a conversation about what are some injustices you've experienced with your identity throughout your career?
And do you experiencing are experiencing those kinds of things here at our company? And what do you think we can do about it? That's it, that's all you have to do. Ask those questions and commit to action, whatever you here, commit to act on it, to the best of your ability. That's all. That's all anybody can ask of you.
Jackie: That's great advice. Great advice. Well, Omar, as we begin to wrap up, I just want to say I've learned so much. I appreciate the conversation it's been so great. I always like to end with asking a question about, you personally, right? So Omar, tell us something about you that not a lot of people know.
Omar: So because, I did this on purpose I wrote my first book, a novel under a pseudonym, Qwantu Amaru. So that a lot of people know that I have a novel out, and that it's the best-selling, award-winning novel actually called One blood and even less people know that it's being developed into a TV show. My sister and I wrote the pilot and we're working on the series together and we have a representation in Hollywood and we're actively shopping it to different studios at the moment.
So wish just luck, hopefully we'll see that thing come through. And One Blood is kind of the great American novel, and it does deal with all these topics of racism and identity and, you know, but it also has hoodoo, voodoo, all this exciting, compelling stuff, because I grew up in Louisiana. So you get all of that, get all that in the book.
So yeah, something that people don't really know though about me because I separated the identities a bit.
Jackie: Yeah, that is awesome. Well, good luck with that. Keep us posted.
Omar: I will Jackie.
Jackie: And then Omar, just finally, what's the message that you'd like to leave our listeners with today?
Omar: So I think the message primarily is diversity equity and inclusion starts with each of us. So rather than looking outside of ourselves and see that person is not, you know, let's check in with our own, I call the three B's, beliefs, biases, and behaviors. So we didn't start inspecting our own beliefs that create biases, that lead to how we act in the world. And I think if everybody can just start with themselves, and do the three B's exercises and do the three B's work. Then we will begin to manifest the kind of outcomes we want to see in others by starting with ourselves first.
Jackie: That's awesome. Thank you Omar so much for spending some time with us today. I, again, I've just learned so much and I really enjoy talking to you. So thanks Omar.
Omar L. Harris has worked and lived all over the world – Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, and the United States. So he’s experienced a variety of cultures and has the experiences to know what works in business and what doesn’t – especially in leadership. In this episode, he covers his 3 B’s of DEI: beliefs, biases, and behaviors. Plus, he shares his insights on leadership styles, and how you can determine if you’re an ego-driven leader or a servant leader.
Listen to this episode on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.