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Dr. Steve “The Gay Leadership Dude®” Yacovelli

Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC

Dr. Steve Yacovelli (a.k.a. “The Gay Leadership Dude®”) is Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a leadership, change management, and diversity and inclusion consulting firm based in Orlando, Florida, USA but with affiliates (“TopDoggers”) throughout the globe. 

Steve and TopDog provide guidance and solutions in leadership and organizational development, change management, diversity and inclusion consulting, instructional design, and custom e-learning creation. Whether it be through providing keynotes and facilitating leadership development programs for Fortune 500 companies like The Walt Disney Company, Bayer AG, or accenture, to providing one-on-one coaching experiences for groups like IBM, Covestro, and The Public Library Association, or creating engaging, effective training solutions for various delivery formats for folks like Tupperware Brands Corporation, The Ohio State University, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Steve is passionate about helping others be their best selves, in and out of the workplace. 

Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.

… for the support of my amazing parents, Anthony and Joyce Yacovelli as well as my amazing husband of almost twenty-five years, Richard Egan. Aside from giving me life, my parents taught several lessons about leadership.

My Mom taught me, “Never underestimate the power of the admin.” As a school secretary, she ran that school; she was the gatekeeper. Smart leaders build relationships at all levels of the workplace.

As a tool and die maker, my Dad spent his career making new solutions to machine problems in the car industry, inventing new contraptions all the time. Smart leaders look at the problems they have and—leveraging their skills, resources, and that of their teams—brilliantly solve workplace problems creatively.

And Richard taught me the power that continued support can provide, even supporting me through working for others, pursuing my doctorate, writing books, and launching—and sustaining—my own consulting firm.

Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?

When I think about this question, I’d identify two accomplishments that I’d consider some of my biggest professional achievements. The first would be earning my doctorate in Instructional Technology and Distance Education in 2005. I had always wanted to achieve this academic milestone, and I did so while working full-time at Disney and attending my doctoral program also full-time. It was a challenge but a big achievement (and side note: who knew how big a focus distance education—especially in the workplace—would become?).

Second would be simply for my business to have survived not one but two near-bankrupt markets. I started TopDog Learning Group in 2008 when a fantastic recession was underway. Luckily, I was able to find some amazing client-partners to work with who are still part of our pack to this day. Then 2020, when we literally lost every on-site leadership training program we run for several Fortune 500s. Of course, we understand why (pandemic!), but through strong relationships with these same clients-partners and experience in creating programs via distance (Yay! Doctorate!) helped us create new solutions to turn these on-site leadership programs into engaging, exciting, and memorable multi-session virtual sessions.

What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?

Aside from the obvious experience in leadership development and facilitation (both onsite and virtual), those “TopDoggers” (what we call our consultants) joining our “pack” need to have a solid foundation in inclusiveness. As a gay-owned business that focuses on inclusive leadership, we all need to be able to “walk the walk and talk the talk” when presenting our training solutions to any client. Helping leaders see that being inclusive—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense—is at the core of what we do at TopDog and what I personally do as “The Gay Leadership Dude®”.

I find it very frustrating when organizations don’t follow the supporting of inclusivity with integrity. “Rainbow-washing” their logo for the month of June, only to limit their corporate policies that support, say, trans healthcare—or worse—who support political candidates that actively work against LGBTQ+ rights is insanely frustrating and truly negates the June support they give.”

Is there a time when you were told to change yourself, or hide some aspect of yourself to be accepted or successful in a situation? How did you react?

It’s funny: I can honestly say that in my whole career I’ve never hidden my authentic self as a gay man. With that said, as a “hidden minority” the constant coming out is a choice: the when and the context I choose to share who I am is constant over the past twenty-five-plus years of my career. I don’t think our straight siblings know how exhausting that can be: to have to explain your authenticity each time you meet someone or present at a meeting or just say hello and that, “Oh: you’re married?” question comes up when they see your ring. It’s hard and exhausting at times, but it is a great way to educate others that we are here and are co-workers and friends, and it is so important.

Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?

Two books that I refer to this day: (1) I adore “Brain Rules” by Dr. John Medina, as one of the many attributes the book shares is that we humans cannot multitask as we think we can. I use it in so many training sessions to help people keep focus on what we’re doing. And (2) Nancy Duarte’s “Slideology” book help me learn how to better visually tell stories to others and has impacted how I communicate in training programs, keynotes, and just client deliverables in a clear and engaging way.

Finally, I’d be remiss to not mention my latest book, “Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle.” “Pride Leadership” focuses on the six leadership competencies—being authentic, having courage, leveraging empathy, effective communication, fostering relationships, and shaping culture—that I’ve seen make-or-break leadership success, but positioned through the “rainbow lens” of queer leadership. But don’t worry allies have gained a lot of value out of the solid, practical leadership strategies presented with a good dose of Dad jokes!

Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?

Professionally, creating inclusive workplaces that foster a sense of belonging is the foundation for what we at TopDog Learning Group, LLC do! From training programs (online and in-person) to self-paced training programs to executive coaching sessions, we strive to create inclusive leaders in all the work that we do.

Personally, my not-so-hidden agenda is to create more effective LGBTQ+ and Ally Leaders through training programs, keynote and signature talks, and one-on-one coaching sessions to fan the flames of leadership to grow consciously inclusive leaders.

What do you find most frustrating about corporate DEI initiatives and what’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?

I find it very frustrating when organizations don’t follow the supporting of inclusivity with integrity. “Rainbow-washing” their logo for the month of June, only to limit their corporate policies that support, say, trans healthcare—or worse—who support political candidates that actively work against LGBTQ+ rights is insanely frustrating and truly negates the June support they give.

Workplaces can start to mitigate this by having a strong Employee Resource Group that supports a variety of employee demographics. But—in addition to supporting these groups—providing both the fiscal resources for them to function and grow as well as listening to their perspective on world events—is the first step to embracing true lasting belonging in the workplace.

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Steve Yacovelli
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