Inclusive Leadership – Creating Value Through Diversitycahide
Written By: Cahide Akkuzu
Reading time: approximately 6 minutes
In my previous article, I wrote about “Implicit Bias” providing several examples, research findings and clues about how to become more aware of our own biases. You can read the previous article from this link:
Today, I will continue to write about the topic of diversity and inclusion, specifically focusing on inclusive leadership.
The concept of inclusive leadership has emerged out of global mega trends that have shaped the work environment. Developing countries have played a major role in diversifying the markets that global companies are targeting. This means customer diversity, various different consumption styles and competition with various sizes and types of different companies. To address all of these needs, to stay competitive, to build a strong foundation for sustainable success, companies have started to recruit a diverse set of employees. By now, we know that diversity is not just about gender, it is covering many aspects of a person like age, culture, ethnicity, origin, values, beliefs, thinking style, and physical attributes. Our topic today is not to question whether the level of diversity, that is being recruited, is adequate or not. I want to focus on inclusive leadership, which is one of the most important characteristics of leaders that are going to lead these companies in a successful way. The leaders that I am referring to may be at any level in the company, whether they be the top of the company or just manage a department in a local region, the main expectation from them is to sustainably increase the competitive power of the company.
So, how can leaders become successful in the work environment that I have just described above? This is exactly where being inclusive becomes very critical for a leader.
ENEI (Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion) is the UK’s leading employer network covering all aspects of equality and inclusion issues in the workplace. ENEI defines inclusive leadership as follows:
“Leaders who are aware of their own biases and preferences, actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making. They see diverse talent as a source of competitive advantage and inspire diverse people to drive organizational and individual performance towards a shared vision.”
Based on this definition, let’s look at what makes a leader ‘inclusive’. Right at this point, “Implicit Bias”, about which I wrote in my previous article, comes into play. An inclusive leader knows about the existence of their own judgments, preferences, and implicit biases. An absolute self-awareness about these biases may not be necessary, the important thing is that the inclusive leader manages to avoid making ineffective decisions based on these implicit beliefs that are sometimes unrealized. We know that we all have implicit biases. So, one of the most important and distinguishable characteristics of an inclusive leader is their ability not to get caught by their own blind spots.
To accomplish this, an inclusive leader consciously forms teams that are diverse. Global mega trends, that I mentioned before, call for diversity anyway. So, they do employ diverse people. Inclusive leaders possess the ability to transform this diversity into value for strengthening the competitiveness of their organization. The prerequisite is of course that the organization has already set and communicated its goals to the whole organization.
So, what does the inclusive leader do to transform this diversity into value? Firstly, they create and support an environment that encourages different ideas, opinions, and perspectives to be articulated. They encourage people to participate and contribute. They evaluate opinions objectively, keeping their neutrality consciously in the foreground. One of the most important tools that we can use for encouraging different opinions is “Deep Democracy”. Deep Democracy is a cutting edge method for effective decision making. It offers a set of simple yet powerful tools and skills that are pragmatic, easily acquired and can be applied to a wide range of different situations. The method is “democratic” because it emphasizes that every voice matters and that decisions are wisest when majority and minority voices are both valued. It is “deep” because it goes far beyond conventional methods of exchanging ideas and instead surfaces emotions, values, beliefs, and personalities to inform and enrich the capacity of a team. Deep Democracy enables the inclusive leader to tap into the full potential of all of the diversity that’s present in their team and transform that into value.
One of the other important characteristics of an inclusive leader is that they consciously make an effort to understand different approaches with great interest and curiosity. They try to understand how these different approaches may contribute in new ways for the company to reach its goals. Here, two important features of an inclusive leader come into play: neutrality and curiosity. For a leader to be neutral, it is very important that the leader is aware of their judgments, preferences and biases. The leaders’ conscious intention and effort to be neutral will enable the leader to question their own opinion and will naturally develop the leaders’ urge to be curious and get a better understanding about other peoples opinions. Curiosity is a powerful approach for inclusive leaders to see the world from other peoples’ perspectives. It helps the leader to get new insights and to benefit from the diversity that’s present in the team.
Fostering an environment of collaboration and engagement in the workplace has tremendous impact on transforming diversity into value. Peter Senge is the director of The Center for Organizational Learning at MIT Sloan School of Management and the author of the famous book “The Fifth Discipline”. Based on his observations, Peter Senge posed a very fundamental question: “How can a team of committed managers with individual IQ’s above 120 have a collective IQ of 63?” One reason is that team members have fundamental differences in their way of working, seeing and meaning making. The collective IQ of the team suffers when the leader of the team doesn’t recognize these differences and doesn’t channel these differences into value for the organization. The inclusive leader helps the team to work together, helps the team to benefit from their diversity, finds out about bottlenecks and removes their obstacles on their way. Long story short, the inclusive leader knows that their mission is to keep the collective IQ of the team at its well-deserved place, up high!
Another important feature of an inclusive leader is that they pay attention to the development and growth of other people. They encourage others to become stronger through using their strength and talents. They consciously create an environment where others can develop their experience and can develop new skills. They make sure others feel empowered to innovate, to take more responsibility and to feel accountable.
All the features of the inclusive leader listed above show us that the focus of the inclusive leader is on others, on their team, and on individuals, rather than on themselves. Their focus is to build a diverse team and to be very effective in transforming this diversity towards improving the competitiveness and sustainability of the organization. Their focus is to create space for people so they can use all their potential and to make sure that people collaborate to achieve the common goal.
Now, let’s look at the situation from the perspective of employees. Catalyst is a global NGO working with some of the world’s most powerful CEO’s and leading companies to build workplaces that work for women. Catalyst did a study on how employees characterize inclusion and about leadership behaviors that help to foster inclusion. The countries studied were Australia, China (Shanghai), Germany, India, Mexico, and the United States.
Findings in all six countries include:
- The more included employees felt, the more innovative they reported being in their jobs.
- The more included employees felt, the more they reported engaging in team citizenship behaviors—going above and beyond the “call of duty” to help other team members and meet workgroup objectives.
- Perceiving similarities with coworkers engendered a feeling of belongingness while perceiving differences led to feelings of uniqueness.
You can take a look at the details of this research by clicking the link that I am providing at the end of this article.
The same research confirmed four behaviors that are attributed to the inclusive leader and are summarized with the acronym EACH (Empowerment – Accountability – Courage – Humility). A brief explanation of these four behaviors:
- Empowerment – Inclusive leaders enable direct reports to develop and excel. They make sure individuals on their teams are continuously improving themselves and exceeding themselves.
- Accountability – Inclusive leaders demonstrate confidence in direct reports by holding them responsible for performance they can control.
- Courage – Inclusive leaders put personal interests aside to achieve what needs to be done. They act on convictions and principles even when it requires personal risk-taking.
- Humility – Inclusive leaders admit mistakes. They accept and learn from criticism and different points of view. Inclusive leaders seek contributions of others to overcome limitations.
To sum up, an inclusive leader embraces the differences that people have and makes them feel special and unique. While doing so, their feature that really stands out are their humility and courage. At the same time, they become a role model for the organizations with their behavior. Furthermore, they help to shape the company culture. They become a symbol of unification instead of separation. They create a sustainable competitive organization. And most importantly, they make their employees feel happy and motivated.
Links for research and sources that I used in this article:
Inclusive Leadership – The View from Six Countries (Catalyst):
The Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (ENEI) website:
Context Professionals Corporate Coaching and Consulting