3 Actions That Set You Up as an Inclusive Leader

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Every time a team member ends up feelings left out and insignificant, a petal falls off the cursed rose, like in the story of The Beauty And The Beast. Each falling petal signifies that our leadership has been left wanting and that engagement is declining as each petal separates from its core that holds the flower together and makes it beautiful. Just like common goals and your leadership keep each team member connected to the core and makes a team effective and fun to be part of.

Our job is not easy as a leader, it becomes tougher if we aren't aware of what actions might be setting us up for failure or success. Awareness is key to being more effective as an Inclusive Leader, one that makes diversity meaningful and knows how to leverage it to become a smarter and more agile team.

*Through interviews and a review of national and international research, Diversity Council Australia, DCA’s study, Building Inclusion: An Evidence-Based Model of Inclusive Leadership released on 22 October 2015, sheds valuable light on the need for inclusive leadership and what it takes to build more inclusive leaders. It also shares the many benefits of being inclusive within organisations, such as:

  • Engagement & opportunity. Inclusive leadership is associated with greater team engagement, while individuals working in more inclusive team climates report higher levels of commitment and satisfaction, and demonstrate access to better job opportunities and career advancement.
  • Profit & performance. Inclusive environments are associated with improved job and/or team performance, as well as higher return on income and productivity.
  • Innovation. Teams with inclusive climates have higher levels of innovation and profit. Having a flexible rather than fixed view of one’s own and other’s identities – a key attribute of inclusive leadership – is associated with greater creativity and improved innovation.

*Source: Diversity Council Australia Report Synopsis

While much more goes into being an Inclusive Leader, here are 3 key actions that set you up for success and on your path to being an effective leader that not just values diversity, but harnesses its benefits for the team and the organisation.

Action #1 Practice Empathy

A leader who doesn't work with both heart and mind is likely being either overly transactional or too accommodating in their approach. Neither is helpful in being effective and balanced as a leader. Empathy, as we all likely know by now, is not about being soppy and emotional. It's about being able to see the humane side of policies and people challenges. It's about being able to see various aspects that affect people who may not be performing up to your expectations, for example. Using the carrot or the stick approach often alienates the team member, and we wonder why aren't they doing any better. Empathy helps to have conversations that are revealing, telling us more than even data does on performance, and what is needed to improve it. Empathy is a bedrock from where inclusion seems a more natural choice than if we depended only on objective logic to solve problems.

Action #2 Listen Actively

We either hear or we listen, we don't do both. When we listen, we are internalising what our team is saying to us. Are they hinting at a problem in our leadership or that there are systemic issues that are coming in their way? Are they asking for help and support or are they using us as a sounding board for something they have already worked out on their own? When we listen, we show respect. When we listen, we say, I value you and that your voice and your perspectives matter to me. When we don't listen, we violate the very foundation of being inclusive leaders. We are not likely to be inclusive if we don't know what our team really thinks. In many cultures, reading between the lines is a way for leaders to get to the heart of an issue. We can't read between the lines, if we missed the lines to begin with. Listening is inclusion.

Action #3 Be Curious

When our head is too full of what we think, we stop asking, we begin telling instead. Inclusive Leaders ask a lot of questions, they aren't afraid to probe and risk hearing something that may be critical of their own behaviour and decisions. When we ask, we pre-empt finding out about critical issues by the time it's already too late. Asking is about being proactive and curious. Curiosity propels our desire to find out more about the other person, who they are, where they come from and where do they want to go from here. What we don't want to know about, we exclude by default. What is not part of our process of discovery is likely to be rejected as something we don't like or want to know. Dislike is very subjective and highly prone to bias. Curiosity is an antidote to bias and bigotedness, because new knowledge opens up our thinking and helps us question what we thought was a given. This might be the last action in this list, but certainly not the least.

I will continue to go into the depths of what makes leaders inclusive, but for now, these are three actions you can practice perhaps. You will begin seeing the positive changes in your and other people's behaviour overnight, and an inclusive feel of your time in a week's time. These actions are not hard, but a function of our desire to be inclusive. When we stoke the fire of inclusivity and curiosity in ourselves, others catch it amazingly quickly. Try it out!

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