Stop Assuming- Black people and Brown people and LGBT+ people are not simply skin colors, sexual orientations, or gender identities. They are full whole people. Do not assume that every person with this identity wants to speak on behalf of everyone. Do not assume that everyone in a marginalized community wants to talk about their identity. Don’t assume that a person’s professional expertise is in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Get to know a person as a whole person, not as a walking talking representation of just one facet of who they are or as a poster child for one aspect of how they identify.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kryss Shane.
Kryss Shane MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW is the author of the Amazon #1 New Release Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace. Kryss has over 25 years of experience guiding the world’s top leaders in business, education and community via individual, small group and full-staff trainings. She is also the author of The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion, the first book of its kind to guide educators, administrators, and school staff to become able and empowered to make their schools more LGBT+ inclusive.
Kryss has been featured as America’s go-to Leading LGBT+ Expert in The New York Times, ABC News, Yahoo!, and CNN. Her writing has also appeared in the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, Huffington Post, International Council of Professors of Educational Leadership, The New Social Worker Magazine, and many more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
It seems that most people who work in mental healthcare have a personal story or experience that draws them to this field. Growing up in small town Ohio, I was someone who was always the support person and the go-to person for my friends, but I never considered making a career of it until much later. I was always a believer in equality, and this led me to begin to become mindful of ways in which minority groups weren’t represented in my middle school and high school textbooks and in the media, I was enjoying. This led me to speak up a lot in class, asking questions that many teachers had no answers to because their education also lacked inclusion. I never saw myself as any sort of ally or activist or educator, I thought those were people who were much older and fancier than I was because those titles seemed reserved for these storied activists like Malcolm X or Marsha P. Johnson, larger than life individuals, not someone from small town Ohio!
Anyway, as I became increasingly more aware of the discrimination against LGBT+ people and people within the intersectionality (since any person of any background or identity can also be LGBT+ identified), I began to realize this problem in my community and in families. This led me to earn my bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Simultaneously, I was volunteering a ton with LGBT+ organizations. Over time, my volunteer work grew, and many began asking why I didn’t do this as my profession. It hadn’t dawned on me before then that I could. This realization sent me into my first master’s degree program, where I graduated from Barry University in Social Work, where I focused my studies on LGBT+ issues. As years passed though, I was always bothered by how often textbooks in schools still lack representation of marginalized groups. This led me to go back to school, where I earned my 2nd master’s degree, from Western Governors University in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction. I am currently working toward my doctorate in Educational Leadership from University of the Cumberlands, where I get to bring my LGBT+ work through the lens of leaders in our world, thus making me better at educating others and teaching them how to improve their allyship and activism. I am also working in undergraduate and graduate social work departments Columbia University and Brandman University, and writing articles, book chapters, and books that focus on the minority populations that have been too long left out. That includes Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace
I still don’t see myself as ever being able to be at the likes of some of those incredible leaders but now I get the privilege of being surrounded by people like Andrea Shorter, Dimitri Moise, and Jazz Jennings, which only further inspires me every day.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Though I have 25+ years of experience and am the author of a #1 Amazon book in an area of leadership and many call me an authority, I hesitate to ever call myself THE authority, as there is always more to learn and more to do better!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I always hope that the most interesting story is the one yet to come! That said, I’ve been told more than once that something I wrote helped someone heal and I’ve been told that something I said was repeated or posted to social media to help spread the message. Those two compliments are pretty much EVERYTHING to an author/educator!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I used to make is that I used to be really afraid of other speakers! I would read the bios and academic backgrounds of other speakers at events or of the C-suite at companies I was speaking to and I would become completely intimidated. It made me question myself and it made me become smaller both in my posture and in my literal and figurative voice. I had to learn to overcome that by getting to know others and to recognize that my work and my experience also held value.
In terms of funniest mistake, I’ve had a few situations where I’ve completely “fan girled” out when meeting someone whose work really inspires me. Admittedly though, this isn’t something I’ve outgrown. I still find it really exciting to meet someone whose work is pretty incredible. It most recently happened with Sally Hogshead. She’s a huge well-known speaker and I’d considered her to be someone whose events I would attend “someday.” Not as in an actual time on a calendar but in that big metaphoric *makes a rainbow gesture with her hands* someday. Someday when I was wealthy enough or someday when I was big enough in my career or someday when I was… something enough. Anyway, when my first book “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion” came out, a dear friend, Jeanette Jennings (from TLC’s “I Am Jazz”) posted about it on her social media. Not long after, Jeanette emailed me and asked if she could give my info to a friend who wanted to get in touch. I agreed because any friend of hers is a friend of mine. It turns out, the friend was Sally! She suggested a phone call. Here I was, after years of admiring her, getting to have a one-on-one call. A week later, there I was, totally wasting the professional opportunity because my personal self was so totally geeking out over meeting her. (Luckily, Sally is actually a seriously awesome person and she was quite polite about my fan girling, so much so that she is included as an interviewee in my latest book, Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders,!)
What it made me realize though is that this isn’t so much about having to learn to outgrow or make up for funny mistakes, it’s about owning them! I’ve actually had some people get a little extra animated when talking with me and I never find it funny or embarrassing, I find it incredibly flattering and I am so grateful to know that my work impacts them. As a result, I have stopped trying to pretend not to be incredibly excited when meeting others!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
I am currently working on my doctorate in Educational Leadership, so this feels a bit to me like a paper I could write! I hope my professors won’t be too upset with me for combining their lessons and merging them with my own beliefs here… to me, leadership is the recognition of one’s own privileges and the realization of one’s own power paired with a goal or mission, explained using clear language in a way that encourages and inspires others to participate in working together toward success.
Are some Thought Leaders also Influencers? Absolutely, Jazz Jennings is a great example of what happens when someone whose organic leadership guides them to share their thoughts with others in order to improve the world… which encourages people to follow her and to want to copy or mimic her style, her fashion, and her actions, all because they want to have their own version of her inspirational vibe!
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Thought Leadership is not about who can get their name in the papers, it’s not about who can sucker others into following blindly. It’s not about manipulation. Thought Leadership is what happens when a person inspires others to recognize their own power, which results in a collective movement toward change. We see this in the Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter movement. It isn’t about one person and millions of followers, it’s about many people who are amplifying one another, who are demanding justice, and who are letting every Black and Brown person know that there is safety in numbers, that they are not alone if they want to take to the streets to fight to change a systemic problem that puts their lives in jeopardy. This movement is not successful because one person uses threats or harm to force others to do their bidding, it is successful because it supports many and it allows participants to feel their importance and to use their voices and their power to join a collective demand that all people be treated appropriately and that all systems that undermine this be dismantled. What could possibly be more important to invest in than this?!
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
(laughs) I’d love to dive deep into this, but my publisher would be quite upset with me for giving the book away for free in an interview! What I CAN say is that my entire new book answers this, with a lot of affordable approachable examples that can be easily implemented into a variety of businesses!
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
1. Get Educated and Keep Getting Educated- You can’t help if you are ignorant. Seek out authors and speakers and activists and listen. If it hurts you to hear it, dig deep into whether this is hitting a truth you haven’t yet examined. Be brave and examine it. When you know better, you can do better. When you know yourself better, you can be better. [author’s note: Kryss’ books, “Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders” and “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion” offer guides for anyone who is or wants to become a business leader or for anyone working in education or working with/raising children.]
2. Shut Up- When people in a marginalized community are kind enough to share their experiences and their stories with you, listen. Do not turn it into a story about you or try to be “devil’s advocate.” It’s a gift they are giving to you, be grateful and be quiet so you can take it in.
3. Make a Payment- We have to stop expecting people in marginalized communities to offer guidance or quotes or work for free. Stop telling people that it will be “great exposure” and pay them. Showing that you value them and their work is vital to being a part of ending systemic racism in the workplace, in academia, and in society.
4. Use Your Privilege- Figure out what aspects of your life give you a break in life and use them to support others without that access. Maybe this means mentoring someone, maybe it means donating money, maybe you show up to protest, maybe you write letters or emails to politicians in support of inclusive laws. Whether it’s financial, time, passion, writing skills, knowledge, or anything else in your wheelhouse of awesome or in your categories of privilege, participate in supporting those who are working toward change.
5. Stop Assuming- Black people and Brown people and LGBT+ people are not simply skin colors, sexual orientations, or gender identities. They are full whole people. Do not assume that every person with this identity wants to speak on behalf of everyone. Do not assume that everyone in a marginalized community wants to talk about their identity. Don’t assume that a person’s professional expertise is in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Get to know a person as a whole person, not as a walking talking representation of just one facet of who they are or as a poster child for one aspect of how they identify.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
The first name that comes to mind is Fred Joseph. Not only is he the author of an incredible book, “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person,” he is consistently using his social media platform to spotlight others. He is a classically handsome guy with a gorgeous fiancee who could be promoting his own work only or just posting happy relationship photos. Instead, he uses his space to share his thoughts on systemic oppression of women, of transphobia, and of so many topics! He not only leads us through his work on his topics of expertise, he leads us through his thoughts on (and encourages us to give thought to) the bigger picture, the bigger world, and our own positions of privilege.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I think words are just words until they hold meaning. It’s why “I love pizza” feels different than “I love you.” The term of thought leader is the same; without meaning, it IS trite and overused. But when it carries gravitas because the person described is changing the world, well, nothing is avoidable about that!
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I find that the stress and risk of burnout dissipates when I am prepared, so I always recommend preparation to others. What I mean is that, before an event or talk, I gather the information from reputable sources. If it is a decision being made, I may have meetings or conversations with others to gain a fuller perspective. I also celebrate journaling, which helps me to process my thoughts and helps to hold strong to my sense of self. I am definitely also a big believer in self-bribes! I also like to find something to plan ahead in what I will get to do or have once the stressful situation has ended. Sometimes it’s a slice of pizza, sometimes it’s a break with a few episodes of Golden Girls, other times it’s a phone date with a friend or putting all technology on silent and just snuggling with the dog for 20 minutes. Knowing what I get to earn and being able to plan for the enjoyment of it can also help to remind me that my whole life is not forever tied to this upcoming big stressful moment. After the big event or moment, I then get to reward myself immediately, which lets the stress and anxiety dissipate before taking on the next task at hand, inevitably protecting me from burnout!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I hope that those of us who are writing these “movement books” continue to grow in support of one another. Rising tides raise all boats. For example, the aforementioned Fred Joseph posted his excitement about my book to his social media channels. He is also released his first book, “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person.” It doesn’t at all need my praise to join the chorus but good heavens is it good! We all have different ways but we all have the same goal of improving the world through education and acceptance of one another. When we come together to celebrate and boost each other, everyone is safer, everyone is better, and everyone wins!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. -Audre Lorde
For me, this reminds me to use every position of privilege I have (whether by luck or having been earned) as a way to reach my goals or the goals of those I am leading. It reminds me that, though I may sometimes struggle or fear getting leadership exactly right or hitting every goal exactly perfect, I cannot and should not be rooted in fear. It reminds me that my fear cannot be the reason why I lose vision or why I do not act.
Being a leader is really difficult and sometimes it is scary to know how many are depending on you to know what you are doing and to know how to reach the goal. By acknowledging the reality of the fear and understanding why the fear is not the priority or the most important part of the work, I can be a more successful leader, which means those I am leading can be more successful too.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
(Note: Ever the activist, before answering, Kryss reminds us that not everyone is a “he” or a “she.”) There are so many in the activism world whom I’d love to have that time with. I think it would be unfair of me to name a Black person, as right now they are so busy in the movement along with still having to deal with the grief and the stress and the fear of existing while Black in America and then any down time isn’t my place to ask for. For me then, I think it’d be very cool to sit down with Matt McGorry. He’s been incredibly vocal in his support of so many communities and he always does an excellent job balancing when to use his platform and privilege to speak and when to use it to amplify the voices of others.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My website: ThisIsKryss.com
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.