How to adopt an inclusive leadership style

Marlo Oster
October 13, 2021
5
Minutes

Inclusive leadership is a term that’s gaining a lot of popularity in forward-thinking business circles. But what is it? Learn about the importance of inclusive leadership, including what makes an inclusive leader and how you can become a more inclusive leader yourself. 


What is inclusive leadership and why is it important?

The world is changing rapidly. Business technology, customer demand, the workforce, and the overall state of the world looks quite a bit different than it did even ten years ago, so what will the world look like ten years from now? Well, even more diverse than it does today. Diversity of talent, ideas, customers, and markets are highlighting a vital need in our leaders—their ability to think inclusively. 


If leaders do not adapt, the businesses and organizations they run will be left behind. That’s why inclusive leadership is fast becoming essential to the success of any business that wants to work within diverse markets, appeal to diverse customers and employees, and work with new and emerging technologies.  


What makes an inclusive leader?

Putting principles over personal interests

A leader needs to stand for something more than their own personal interests and bottom line. They must have the courage to challenge the status quo, whether that’s challenging clients or staff, challenging systematic and ingrained organizational attitudes, or challenging their own preconceived notions. 


It takes courage to challenge people and systems, but for leaders, it takes the most courage to admit your own mistakes, weaknesses, and biases. 

Commitment to diversity

It’s not enough to acknowledge biases; leaders must commit to being inclusive of diversity. This takes being able to recognize that it’s in your business’s interest to commit to diversity in order to remain financially viable and competitive in the years to come, and it also takes believing in your heart that creating a more inclusive environment is the right thing to do. 


An individual’s cultural or religious background or sexual or gender orientation should never limit what they’re able to accomplish in life. Leaders must commit to this belief by taking concrete actions that enable change. 


For example, when the CEO of FX, John Landgraf, learned that his television network had the smallest number of minority and women directors in 2015, he wrote to all of the FX showrunners and asked for their help to change things. He not only said he wanted to change things but that he would support his showrunners in any way they needed in order to truly make a difference. As of 2021, FX now has a majority of diverse and female directors. White male directors are now directing 37% of the shows in 2021, whereas white men previously made up 85% of FX’s directors in 2015. 

Having an open mind and being curious 

Inclusive leaders understand their own limitations and knowledge gaps, which is why they’re endlessly curious. With culture and technology evolving so rapidly, a leader must be curious in order to keep up. Inclusive leaders have an open mind and a desire to see things from multiple perspectives because they understand they don’t have all of the information. And if you don’t have all of the information, how can you be an effective decision maker? 


In order to deepen our understanding of diverse individuals, we need to ask curious but respectful questions, actively listen, refrain from making snap judgments, and integrate a range of different ideas from our team’s diverse perspectives. Curiosity enables continued learning, which improves our empathy and our ability to see things from multiple perspectives. It also strengthens the connections we’re able to make with others, making them feel more included. 

Understanding potential biases

Self-awareness is essential to inclusive leadership. A leader must put considerable effort into uncovering their own biases as well as the unconscious biases or blind spots within their organization. Of course, what’s even more essential is taking action to mitigate and overcome those biases. Inclusive leaders endeavor to create policies and processes that keep organizational biases from influencing talent decisions or impeding inclusion. 


Inclusive leaders put these processes in place so that they don’t slip back into the old way of doing things. Times are changing. Putting structures in place to prevent the stifling of diversity in the business environment is essential to ensuring the workplace achieves better inclusivity and continues to be inclusive.  

Exhibiting cultural intelligence

A thorough knowledge of other cultures is vital to a business’s success on the global stage. For example, the way a business meeting is conducted in China or Japan is quite a bit different than the way it’s done in the United States. 


Inclusive leaders understand these cultural differences inside and outside of their own workplace and are able to modify their behavior to adapt to cultural norms. 


📚 Effective leaders need to continually adapt. Learn how to improve your Adaptability Quotient (AQ).


How to become a more inclusive leader

Build trust with inclusive meetings

Inclusive meetings mean every person involved gets a chance to contribute, and all voices are weighed equally, whether that’s a one on one meeting or an all hands meeting with everyone in the organization. 


To ensure the meeting is inclusive, share the meeting agenda with all participants in advance and ask for feedback. Are there any talking points you missed or that another participant would like included? 


📚 Learn how to build an effective meeting agenda.


During the meeting, take special care to minimize interruptions. Empower all voices, no matter how loud or quiet. If team members are remaining silent, try asking them a direct question and allow them the time and space to answer it. After the meeting, ask for feedback. Did everyone feel as though their voice was heard? 


Building trust and rapport with your team members is most effectively done through one on one meetings, where each of you has a safe space to offer continuous feedback, track progress on goals, and address any gaps in one another’s knowledge. Make a sincere and serious effort to ask respectful questions, actively listen, and keep an open mind. Your employees want to feel included. Take the time to engage, encourage, and seek their opinions. 


📚 Read our 5 simple steps for improving team trust

Question assumptions and ask for feedback

Never settle for the status quo. This isn’t just for your team, but for you as well. How can you be a better leader? How can you be more knowledgeable, more approachable, and more present? How can you exhibit the characteristics of an inclusive and transformational leader


Feedback is essential to improvement, so make feedback a continuous process across your team, and ask for constructive feedback on your own leadership style. Take any feedback you receive to heart and work to implement it. Cultivating a culture of continuous improvement begins with you. 

Ensure team members feel safe (even in failure)

Everyone should feel safe to express ideas good and bad. Without this safety, people don’t feel comfortable speaking up or expressing an idea that could fail. This fear stifles creativity, collaboration, and innovation. 


A study performed by Google on their own staff found that the #1 factor for team success is psychological safety, which is defined as the “belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”


Do whatever you can to ensure your team feels safe to speak up, voice concerns, and experiment with bold ideas. Empower your employees to try new things and treat mistakes as a learning opportunity. It’s okay to make a mistake so long as you learn from it. None of us are perfect, and the more you can lead with humility, the more comfortable and safe your team will feel. 

Lead with humility

The traditional idea of a leader is someone infallible who has all of the answers and always knows the best way forward. Many leaders want to maintain this image to appear strong, whether to relieve their own insecurity or because they believe that their projection of all-knowing strength will inspire the team.


But no one has all the answers all the time—and your employees know it. Allowing a little humility to shine through takes courage, and it’s courage that will be rewarded. Admitting your own weak spots or potential biases and asking for help makes your team feel included in your decision making, which, in turn, helps you become a more inclusive leader. 


Become an Inclusive Leader With WorkPatterns

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