Why This CEO Uses Stereotypes as a “Superpower”

Rene Jones is one of four black Fortune 500 CEOs, and the chairman and chief executive of M&T Bank has said he’s no stranger to stereotyping.

Growing up as the son of an African-American father and a Belgian mother, Jones says his siblings spanned the spectrum of skin tones and he often faced stereotypes in every community he joined.

Eventually, he learned to use this stereotype as a “superpower,” a skill that guides his leadership and how he sees others.

“We often see stereotypes as negative things, but I think there’s an opportunity to turn them into a really positive opportunity,” Jones said, during an interview with the Equity and Opportunity Forum. CNBC Thursday. “A lot of times when people don’t expect you to do something, that’s the best time to step in and deliver.”

Jones spoke with Pinnacle Group Founder and CEO Nina Vaca, and the duo discussed how their personal experiences have shaped their leadership mindset. Their main takeaway: Listening to employees and modeling their behavior can create fairness and opportunity in any work environment.

The question of how to build community becomes all the more complicated as companies grapple with ways to integrate hybrid and fully remote workers into the ever-changing work landscape fractured by Covid-19.

Vaca, whose parents emigrated from Ecuador to the United States, built Pinnacle, a workforce support services provider, from a one-woman IT recruitment company to one of the fastest growing women-owned businesses.

Vaca said good leadership comes from talking to people with different opinions and role-modeling vulnerability when you don’t know the answer.

“Creating and having an open mindset to learn and reinvent yourself and be the leader you need to be…that’s where it starts because the business won’t change until the CEO at the top changes not,” she said.

When they need advice, both CEOs say they look for people with different perspectives who are willing to take on challenges and offer honest feedback. Like Vaca, Jones agrees that modeling behavior — like calmness — is key to building community.

“Ultimately, the more we can include people and create environments where people are encouraged and encouraged to speak up and share their ideas, the more competitive we will be,” he said.

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