The Road to Inclusive Leadership

inclusive leadership

At the core of effective leadership has always been the ability to ensure workers feel valued, respected, and safe. However, given the unprecedented disruptions to the workplace over the past few years, traditional approaches to effective leadership have also been upended and forever changed. In today’s global landscape, diligent business planning, efficient management, delegating tasks and hard work is no longer enough to meet the challenges of continuous disruption. 

Adapting and leading in the workplace in 2022 requires more inclusive leadership. In essence, a kind of leadership that shifts away from traditional mindsets of command and control, closed doors, and limited worldviews to emerging ideas of inclusion, collaboration, transparency, authenticity, and diversity.

The Business Case for Inclusive Leadership.

A recent survey of talent leaders by Korn Ferry finds full or near consensus about the positive impact of inclusive leadership, with most respondents strongly agreeing that inclusive leaders empower team members to take risks and bring their authentic selves to work while also helping organizations to innovate and capitalize on new business opportunities. 

In addition, several quantitative research studies have demonstrated a range of financial and performance outcomes of businesses with inclusive cultures and leadership. Diverse and inclusive organizations outperform their peers by being:

The bottom line is that we have never needed inclusive leaders more than we do today. Being an inclusive leader doesn’t just make you a great leader of inclusion and diversity – it makes you a great leader overall. XBInsight has found many of the same competencies that define inclusive leaders are also found among the most disruptive, innovative, and influential leaders as well. 

What Makes an Inclusive Leader?

Inclusive leaders are exceptionally good at connecting with people, influencing change, establishing trust, listening, collaborating, and partnering with diverse people across internal and external ecosystems. By harnessing inclusive leadership, companies can better drive success and performance. 

While several traits and competencies contribute to inclusive leadership, we’ve identified the 5 most critical that can be assessed, coached, and implemented to drive a culture of inclusion and inspire an inclusive mindset in others.

  1. Self-Awareness.  The road to becoming an inclusive leader begins with self-awareness. Self-awareness can be defined as the ability to recognize what you are feeling, understand your habitual emotional responses to events, and recognize how your emotions affect your behavior and performance. In other words, when you are self-aware, you can recognize and address your own biases, value diverse thinking, and celebrate different perspectives. 

Inclusive leaders have a keen understanding that personal and organizational biases narrow their field of vision and preclude them from making objective decisions. By truly identifying biases, leaders can learn strategies to prevent them from influencing talent and business decisions or stifling diversity and inclusion. 

  1. Builds Trust & Collaboration. Inclusive leaders understand that in order for collaboration to succeed, team members must operate in an environment of trust and comfort to share their perspectives. At the core of inclusive leadership is the belief that diversity of thinking is critical to effective collaboration and innovation. 

Build effective collaboration by inviting ideas and contributions of others, promoting cohesive teamwork, and building multi-disciplinary teams to foster collaboration across different departments. Inclusive leaders also establish a sense of unity among teams by creating group values and shared goals, reinforcing the value of each person’s knowledge and capabilities. 

For example, effective team assessments and reports are able to capture the preferred behavioral styles of an entire team and deliver an all-encompassing representation of the team. By understanding everyone’s unique working styles, differences in decision-making, and problem-solving approaches, business leaders are better equipped to build diverse and inclusive teams. 

  1. Drives Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Contributing to an inclusive environment for diverse people, demonstrating fairness, respect for other perspectives, and a commitment to felt belongingness on the team are key behaviors and competencies required of an inclusive leader. 

Strength in these areas is demonstrated by support of creativity and collaboration across groups, recognizing and acknowledging individual differences with empathy, and challenging assumptions of self and others with an open mind for progress. 

An often overlooked but core competency of inclusive leaders is being attentive and adaptive to other cultures. Knowledge of other cultures, beyond “book” knowledge, is essential for today’s leaders to adapt their styles in response to different cultural norms – modifying both verbal and nonverbal behaviors such as gestures, facial expressions, body language, and physical interactions. 

  1. Demonstrates Flexibility/Resilience. Open-mindedness, a desire for exposure to different ideas, and a passion for learning and adapting have become crucial to inclusive leadership success. Hallmarks of inclusive leaders include adapting to and working effectively across a variety of situations, individuals, or groups, as well as modifying approaches as the requirements of a situation change. 

Inclusive leaders seek out other perspectives to help minimize their blind spots, learn and adapt based on others’ experiences, incorporate suggestions from others, and improve their decision-making.

Additionally, inclusive leaders demonstrate resiliency through challenging entrenched organizational attitudes and practices that run counter to diversity and homogenous practices, even if their suggestions are politically or culturally unpopular. They are also unafraid to display humility by admitting they don’t have all the answers and acknowledging their limitations. 

  1. Energy & Drive. Being an inclusive leader and cultivating a diverse, inclusive culture takes time and energy. Strong competencies in focusing energy and attention on driving success and commitment to inclusive leadership and believing in the business case are essential. 

Many inclusive leaders are highly driven by their values, including a deeply entrenched sense of fairness often rooted in personal experience. This drives a refusal to give up when faced with obstacles, always striving for success and focused energy on creating wins. 

When leaders devote the time, energy, and resources to building and nurturing inclusive workforces, investing in people, and inspiring others to share their passion and goals, their actions signal a true commitment and drive. 

Now is the Time to Develop Inclusive Leadership Competencies.

In assessing, coaching, and developing hundreds of executives about leading inclusively, we’ve found that often leaders believe they are acting inclusively but may be inadvertently doing the opposite. Meanwhile, there is little argument as to the importance of inclusive leadership in shaping organizations’ people strategies, innovation, globalization, brand and reputation, and growth. 

By addressing the challenges inherent in leading heterogeneous, inclusive teams and committing to a plan based on the assessment and development of key leadership competencies, executives can better lead their organizations and their leadership to the next level in an increasingly complex, competitive, and diverse global marketplace.