What It Means to Be An Inclusive Leader

The challenges of inclusive leadership

Image credit of Pixabay

Leadership superpowers that nourish inclusion

  1. Emotional Intelligence. A leader must be self-aware enough to understand both her impact on others, as well as the triggers and vulnerabilities for those whose contributions may be underleveraged. While many of us purport a lack of overt bias, inclusive leaders are acutely aware of and attuned to potential areas of unconscious bias that can affect their teams.
  2. Curiosity. Leaders who actively seek input and listen to understand, will be exposed to possibilities not even on their radar. For example, they may gain new insights into customer empathy — important fuel for innovation.
  3. Humility. Humble leaders recognize the more they know, the more they don’t know. Conversely, arrogant leaders overestimate the value of their own ideas and contributions. A top sales executive we know often looks to those who joined his organization from segments outside his industry to challenge legacy assumptions around what will work. This has led to fresh new ideas.
  4. Fair play and devotion to inclusion. A Deloitte study, The Six Significant Traits of Inclusive Leadership highlights the bottom-line recognition leaders need both a strong sense of fair play and a true appreciation of the business case for inclusion to effectively foster a thriving culture. As a result, numerous successful organizations have added “workforce fairness” to their diversity and inclusion vision statements. The perception that leaders are fair, and policies and practices are also fair, is foundational for an inclusive environment.

Dysfunctional behaviors that feed exclusion

  1. Perceived favoritism. Increasing emphasis on workplace fairness underscores dysfunctional leadership behaviors that feed exclusion, such as perceived favoritism for select team members. While inclusion does not mean inviting everyone into everything, perceived preferential treatment or attention can undermine confidence for those who do not feel part of the ingroup. A painful, and not-so-subtle example of favoritism at work is the leader who kicks off conference calls with a lukewarm greeting to several team members while warmly and enthusiastically greeting others.
  2. Impulsivity and rush to judgment. Two other derailing leader behaviors that annihilate inclusion are impulsive judgment and perfectionism. Employees are not going to be willing to think out loud if they know the reaction from their leader may be discouragement, or a quick thumbs down.
  3. Perfectionism. People won’t share early concepts if the perfect solution is all that’s acceptable. What’s worse is perfectionism often leads to anxiety, procrastination, and, eventually, stagnation. Ideas won’t be shared and work won’t be done if the only acceptable outcome is perfection.
  4. Arrogance. Finally, for decades we have coached leaders about managing their “telling versus seeking” ratio. Common sense dictates that inclusion demands more seeking and listening and much less telling. Ultimately this conveys real curiosity and respect.

Bring in the Outliers: Identify, Engage, and Advocate for Diverse Voices



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DDI is a global leadership company that helps organizations transform the way they hire, promote and develop leaders at every level. www.ddiworld.com