Inclusive Leadership 101
What do we specifically mean by inclusive leadership?
Inclusive leadership seems to be a popular topic in the last few years, recognizing that the commanding style isn’t always the most effective.
Inclusive leaders are people-oriented, great listeners, able to tap into the talents and motivations of their teams.
Inclusive leaders are patient, understanding, soft-spoken, and genuinely interested in others.
Diversity by itself is not enough: executives must move beyond diversity alone to capture the potential that comes from inclusion.
ImportantInclusive leaders not only promote diversity on their teams, but also improve their capacity to innovate and deal with uncertainty.
Inclusion is not only about diversity. It’s about competitive advantage. And it’s a choice.
With inclusion, we can capture a competitive advantage from changing demographics across the workplace and in the marketplace.
An organization with a reputation for inclusiveness becomes a magnet, attracting top diverse talent.
Inclusive leadership is about fully accepting others as they are and for what they are in their authentic essence by looking at them on an eye-to-eye level.
Embracing the uniqueness of individuals is the solution to keeping up with our today shifting environment.
ImportantA diverse talent mix can spark greater creativity and propel innovation that can help organizations distance themselves from their competition.
But inclusion is a challenge in itself.
WarningEven leaders who fully embrace diversity — understanding that homogeneous teams are more likely to result in ‘groupthink’ — often feel unprepared to be inclusive.
So, what can you do today to be a more inclusive leader?
Here are six core attributes of inclusive leaders who display the ability to not only embrace individual differences, but to potentially leverage them for competitive advantage.
Commitment Is an Act
Inclusive leaders are driven by their values, including a deep-seated sense of fairness that, for some, is rooted in personal experience.
Inclusive leaders believe creating a welcoming culture begins with them, and they possess a strong sense of personal responsibility for change.
When executives devote time, energy, and resources to nurturing inclusive workforces — by investing in people and inspiring others to share their passion and goals — their actions signal a true commitment.
Inclusive leaders trust their people. They are totally committed to ‘we’ before ‘me’.
ImportantIf your people have to trust you as a leader you have to trust them to bring their expertise to work. Fostering trust will enable your people to feel safe and willing to contribute their unique perspectives.
Inclusive leadership simply means listening to everyone. Every leader can use eloquent words to please others, but great leaders take into account everyone’s perspectives before taking action. Give employees the opportunity to showcase their unique skills.
Diversity is reality but inclusion is a choice.
WarningDiversity is all around us but we decide as leaders whether or not to make full use of diversity around us. Listen, observe and learn from people.
Inclusive leaders know how to harness the team’s diversity to meet the business need.
ImportantInclusive leaders bring in the right mix of thinkers, along with the necessary tools and training, to make sure the team progresses from idea to implementation and business impact.
Boldness Be My Friend
The courage to speak up — to challenge others and the status quo — is a central behavior of an inclusive leader, and it occurs at three levels: with others, with the system, and with themselves.
Inclusive leaders demonstrate courage in two ways.
First, they aren’t afraid to challenge entrenched organizational practices that yield homogeneity, even if their recommendations are politically or culturally unpopular.
Second, inclusive leaders have the courage to speak out about themselves and to reveal, in a very personal way, their own limitations.
ImportantInstead of shying away from the challenge of imperfection, highly inclusive leaders adopt an attitude of humility.
Humility encompasses learning from criticism and different points of view, as well as seeking contributions from others to overcome one’s limitations.
Leaders who lack the self-awareness and humility to learn and admit they don’t know everything — these would be leaders who miss an opportunity to learn, and who will be blindsided if they are not careful.
Keep in mind that a leader’s emotions, gestures, and words are scrutinized for meaning from his or her followers.
WarningA leader who displays negative emotions will cause additional stress among his colleagues and staff. People except a certain level of diplomacy from their leaders even when speaking the hard truth.
People respond positively to the authentic expression of positive emotions.
A leader who shows passion for the projects, for the organization and for the people involved can rally others.
Know Your Bias
Inclusive leaders understand that personal and organizational biases narrow their field of vision and preclude them from making objective decisions.
They exert considerable effort to identify their own biases and learn ways to prevent them from influencing talent decisions.
ImportantThey also seek to implement policies, processes, and structures to prevent organizational biases from stifling diversity and inclusion.
Biases are a leader’s Achilles’ heel, potentially resulting in decisions that are unfair and irrational.
WarningInclusive leaders understand that their natural inclination can lead them toward self-cloning, and that operating in today’s business environment requires a different approach.
Having assumptions isn’t wrong or bad: It’s part of how all people fast track understanding. The problem arises when you’re not even aware that you’re making assumptions.
Inclusive leaders are aware of conscious and unconscious biases but are also realistic.
ImportantThey realize that teams and organizations have unconscious biases built in and will put processes and structures in place to mitigate these.
Inclusive leaders treat people equally in terms of opportunity and fairly according to ability.
One way to check how to be fair is by substitution. Substitute one group for another when you are looking at questions for an interview or the language you are using.
Curious Is Delicious
Open-mindedness, a passion for learning, and a desire for exposure to different ideas have fast become leadership traits crucial to success, especially in challenging times.
Curiosity and openness are hallmarks of inclusive leaders, who hunger for other perspectives to improve their decision-making.
ImportantInclusive leaders also refrain from making fast judgments, knowing snap decisions can stifle the flow of ideas on their teams and are frequently tinged with bias.
This thirst for continual learning helps drive attributes associated with curiosity — inquiry and empathy.
WarningSuch behaviors do not come easily. Time and effort are required to engage with diverse others, as is the skill of synthesizing a broader range of perspectives.
People spend a lot of time consuming information, but not actually learning it. Dedicate time to getting curious and educating yourself on new topics — and don’t forget to connect the dots to your business life.
The openness to different ideas is a defining characteristic of inclusive leaders.
ImportantIn a virtuous circle, curiosity encourages connections with diverse others, which in turn promotes empathy and perspective-taking.
When accounting for the diverse thinking of your employees, you are able to gain multiple perspectives and opinions.
This is important because whole teams are much more successful than a fragmented group, and the decisions your team makes are not solely based on only a few people’s ways of thinking.
Knowledge of other cultures is essential for inclusive leaders whose work takes them, for example, to offshore development and operations centers.
Inclusive leaders are motivated to deepen their cultural understanding and to learn from the experience of working in an unfamiliar environment.
WarningBeyond “book” knowledge, cultural intelligence connotes leaders’ ability to change their styles in response to different cultural norms.
This curiosity leads them to value cultural differences, enabling them to build stronger connections with people from different backgrounds.
ImportantInclusive leaders are tolerant of ambiguity, which enables them to manage the stress imposed by situations where familiar environmental or behavioral cues are lacking.
In addition to understanding other cultures, inclusive leaders also demonstrate self-awareness of their own culture, recognizing how it shapes their worldview and how cultural stereotypes can influence their expectations of others.
Inclusive leaders recognize that members of their team have different considerations.
For example, women traditionally take more care in booking travel than men do, because they’ve learned to be more cautious about their personal safety.
Inclusive leaders are also adept at changing their verbal and nonverbal behaviors according to cultural demands.
ImportantInclusive leaders know when to adapt without necessarily need ing to change who they are fundamentally. This is about being more specific and more deliberate.
You’re not the only person who has great ideas and works hard. Inclusive leaders know this and know the importance of recognizing the contributions of others.
Inclusive leaders understand the importance of the team member in team work.
ImportantThey care more about their team succeeding then their own ego needs. They acknowledge even the poorly-conceived idea in an effort to encourage better ones.
Inclusive leaders also realize that diversity of thinking is critical to effective collaboration; thus, they pay close attention to team composition.
WarningFor example, they prevent teams from breaking into subgroups, which can weaken relationships and create conflict. They also engender a sense of “one team” by creating a group identity and shared goals.
If leaders do not master collaborative relationships, both inside and outside the company, it can limit production of the outcomes needed to win your customers’ business.
Inclusive leaders understand that people are most collaborative when they feel safe to contribute without fear of embarrassment or punishment.
ImportantThey understand that power dynamics, dominating styles, and low tolerance of differences can stop team members from speaking up.
It’s not enough to make sure everyone has a seat at the table — inclusive leaders make sure everyone gets airtime, too.
WarningExtroverted folks and members of dominant identity groups often get their perspectives heard more than others. Leaders need to pay attention to these dynamics.
Demand is shifting to emerging markets. Customer demographics and attitudes are changing. These simultaneous shifts form a brand new context.
Diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and talent is driving the need for inclusion as a new leadership capability.
WarningFor leaders who have perfected their craft in a more homogenous environment, rapid adjustment is in order.
The aim of inclusive leadership is to create, change and innovate whilst balancing everybody’s needs.
ImportantInclusive leaders embody a leadership approach that appreciates diversity, invites and welcomes everyone’s individual contribution.
Diversity is important in innovation, but it’s not enough.
ImportantIf you want a more innovative culture, where great solutions rise to the top and become a reality, start with your leaders.
Either way, inclusion’s the skill that makes diversity work, and diversity is proven to make companies more successful.
So therefore, embracing inclusivity isn’t only the right thing to do as a human, but the smart thing to do as a leader.
It’s time to give employees the opportunity to showcase their unique skills.
As a leader, why would you want to stand by yourself at the top if you knew you could take your team to even greater heights together? Share your thoughts in the comments below!