Only three months into his senior manager gig at a Fortune 500 company, Matthew Klein was in way over his head. “I finally walked into my boss’s office, threw my hands in the air, and said, I’m feeling totally overwhelmed and inadequate,’“ he explains. “I basically had a breakdown.“ Many managers would have reacted to such a display by telling him to get back out there and grow a pair. But Klein’s boss had the opposite reaction: First he reassured Klein he was doing a great job, then he helped him prioritize his workload so that it became manageable. “It’s not like he’s this fuzzy guy who would reach across the table and hug you in a meeting—he’s tough as nails,“ says Klein of Robert Ollander-Krane, who is director of learning and development for the company. “But he allowed me to be completely honest about my circumstances. Now we have this huge foundation of trust.“
Wouldn’t that be nice—a boss who actually gave a damn. And while it’s not conclusive, evidence suggests that one of the reasons Ollander-Krane is so effective is that he’s part of a new breed—gay managers—who could be becoming America’s most desirable bosses.
In The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives Are Excelling as Leaders . . . and What Every Manager Needs to Know, author and USC business-school professor Kirk Snyder argues that gay bosses embody a style of personalized attention that allows high-maintenance Gen Xers and Yers to maximize their performance. “Gay executives tend to look at how each individual brings unique abilities, and they see their job as figuring out how best to take advantage of those skills,“ he says.
In fact, during Snyder’s five-year study of American executives, he stumbled on some startling findings: Gay male bosses produce 35 to 60 percent higher levels of employee engagement, satisfaction, and morale than straight bosses. This is no small achievement: According to human-resources consulting firm Towers Perrin, only a measly 14 percent of the global corporate workforce are fully engaged by their jobs. And the Saratoga Institute, a group that measures the effectiveness of HR departments, found that in a study of 20,000 workers who had quit their jobs, the primary motivator for jumping ship was their supervisors’ behavior.
So what makes gay bosses different? It may have to do with the way they survived high school. “Gay people are constantly having to dodge and weave and assess how and where they’re going as they grow up,“ says Snyder. “And that manifests itself as three huge skills: adaptability, intuitive communications, and creative problem-solving.“ In other words, your boss is cool with your leaving a little early one day a week to pick up your kid from school, or happy to offer a learning experience that helps you close a crucial deal.
Gay executives note that the reflection and candidness required for coming out mean that by the time they get to the workplace, gay men are often secure in their identity and don’t feel the need to abuse people in order to boost their ego. “It makes you really honest with yourself and everyone around you,“ says Chris McCarthy, a vice president at MTV Networks who came out 10 years ago. He believes the experience has allowed him to tap into the individual needs of his seven team members, including two discontented employees whom he recently helped find new positions within the company. “I think it’s really important that you give people the opportunity to have self-respect, even if that means helping them leave a job in the way they want to,“ he explains.
And this kind of empathetic management style is both gay and straight benefiting employees. When Brian Wachur, 23, wasn’t getting the promotion he’d been waiting for at his D.C. PR firm, he approached his gay manager, Jason Smith. “I was nervous about what he was going to say, but he was able to tell me where I could improve in a really constructive way,“ he says. “It was a big contrast to other managers I had had in the past.“ Wachur soon got the new title, and he now considers Smith his professional mentor. “It’s definitely surprising to me that I have a 38-year-old gay male in my life who is such a huge influence.“
Matthew Klein says that working for a gay boss has taught him that emotionally honest doesn’t equate to weak in the workplace. “Your typical hetero male is programmed as a boy that there are two emotions: angry and tired,“ he says. “These are gross limitations that restrict our ability to be great managers.“
But being gay doesn’t give you a monopoly on management skills. “The only managers that succeed are ones that have energy and are outgoing and interested,“ says Richard Laermer, the gay CEO of a New York–based PR firm and co-author of Punk Marketing: Get Off Your Ass and Join the Revolution. “If that’s a gay thing, then mazel tov, but I know the same number of straight managers who are emotional and caring.“ And one gay vice president at a financial firm says his leadership traits come from his life history, not from anything related to his sexual orientation. “I was in the military, in a fraternity, and played a varsity sport,“ he says. “I feel like I spend my life explaining that what I’m saying or doing has nothing to do with the fact that I’m gay.“
That said, if your new boss happens to be gay, chances are you’ll be happier and more fulfilled in your job. And even if you’re not, the consolation is that there’s still one area in which he’s likely to excel. Says Smith, “We throw the fiercest holiday parties.“