I am excited to bring you the fourth story in our “Leaders Who Inspire Us” series. In these candid one-on-one interviews, we feature senior leaders who have had a lasting impact on their teams and their organizations. We share stories that are about more than doing a job or building a career. They are about fulfilling a personal mission to drive change and creating a better future for the talent in today’s workforce.
Today, we share Elliot Jaffee’s story. Elliot is the EVP and Head of Commercial Banking at US Bank. In a recent interview, he shared his insights with us following his participation in our first-ever Men Leading Inclusively program, co-located at our Women in Leadership Institute™. This unique offering is designed for senior executives interested in exploring the conversation around women in leadership and advancing this important work in organizations through inclusive leadership. —Ed
“One of the most valuable things that we can do as leaders is to create an environment that brings out the best in our talent and reduces bias,” says Elliot. Last fall, Elliot and 45 other senior executives had the opportunity to participate in an open dialogue around topics including unconscious bias and how to create and sustain an inclusive culture.
“This experience gave me the opportunity to surface and process some important themes and to have really candid, open conversations about topics that are not commonly discussed over the normal course of business,” says Elliot. “For example, one big theme was unconscious bias. We all have it—and we have to think about it or we risk making the wrong decision. There are some biases that I am aware of and some that I am not as aware of as I want to be. If you don’t test your own bias and become conscious of it, you won’t discover it. This can have a big impact on how you show up as a leader.”
In addition to exploring unconscious bias, Elliot and the other participants completed practical exercises designed to help them better understand and appreciate their own privilege—and to raise awareness about the complexity of the issues that women face in the workforce.
“I left the program believing that it is very relevant to coach women on how to manage through bias; it’s not just the men who need to adjust. If you are a victim of bias, take the opportunity to figure out how to manage through it,” says Elliot. “Find the appropriate way to get your point across and seek the right balance to deal with the instances that need to be addressed.”
If you find yourself in an uncomfortable setting, have the difficult conversation later in a respectful and helpful way. For example, if you are approaching someone who had a negative impact in a meeting, try initiating the conversation with: “May I offer a thought: the way that you referenced X in the meeting earlier today could have been misinterpreted by others as X.”
Elliot’s heightened sense of self-awareness and willingness to reflect has helped him develop an even greater appreciation for recruiting, hiring and coaching a diverse team that he knows will help equip the organization for future success. He also believes that it’s paramount to create an inclusive environment that reduces bias and to help people better manage themselves through others.
When asked to reflect on who has had the greatest impact on him as a leader, he is quick to mention his wife. Her willingness to give him honest feedback and to process important topics has helped him learn new things about himself and gain additional perspective.
“As leaders, we can make changes, but we can’t become someone new,” says Elliot. “Do not be unrealistic about what to expect in your career.” Instead, open your perspective and try adopting the mindset that we will all work through our differences together and manage expectations carefully.
“At the end of the day, we can learn from each other—and every leader needs a trusted advisor.” We need the people that will give us the truth. Ask for feedback, be open to receiving it, and decide which parts you want to change. “Some of my style, I will not change. I am open with my team about this so that they are not surprised by my approach and they know what to expect from me.”
Look for examples of leadership in the world around you—even if it means learning lessons from unexpected places, whether it’s extracurricular activities or through church, sports, or the nonprofit world. Pay attention to these examples and select the pieces that work for you. Pick a behavior that you want to emulate—something that will help you show up as the leader that you want to become—and you will gradually begin to see the change that you want to create.