A topic that has been on my mind a lot lately is inclusive leadership. I know there’s a lot being said about diversity inclusion, but inclusive leadership goes way beyond that. It’s about treating all team members fairly and respectfully, and not only the people who may look like you or think like you or even the people that are only willing to say what you want to hear.
Inclusive leadership is about bringing people in and making them feel valued and giving them a safe space to express themselves and contribute. As a leader, it’s crucial that all team members feel welcome to do that. When it comes to inclusive leadership, there’s no box to check, there’s no quota to meet.
Some may believe that having different people from different races or nationalities makes your organization inclusive, but that’s a myth. If there’s no way for them to contribute, if there’s no path, then there’s no inclusion. As a leader, you must be intentional in your actions to create a sense of belonging among your team.
HOW CAN YOU PRACTICE INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP?
Inclusive leadership starts with humility—the ability to learn from criticism, accepting different viewpoints while seeking insights from others to overcome our own limitations—but it certainly doesn’t stop there.
It also requires courage to speak up and challenge the status quo, which sometimes means ruffling some feathers and making some people uncomfortable. Being an inclusive leader and a change agent sometimes will invite criticism from others, so it’s important to stick to your values, as change requires patience and perseverance.
It is essential to show your commitment. You need to tell people why it matters to you personally, and you also need to walk the walk. Inspirational talks are wonderful, but they’re not enough. It takes action, sometimes even at your own expense. You must give people on the fringes a chance to speak up even if it means at times giving up your own turn. Bring people from the outside into your inner circle or department, and look around to see if you’re in fact making a difference.
Transparency matters. Don’t miss the opportunity to not only share your successes but also your challenges, as you will probably have to tweak your approach along the way. Always invite feedback, as there is always room for improvement.
Cultivate curiosity and keep an open mind. Inclusive leaders understand that people are different and are able to treat them fairly as the unique individuals that they are, while recognizing they are also part of the group. Bringing in a wide array of perspectives from diverse groups will certainly contribute to smarter ideation and mitigate the risk of groupthink and poor decision-making.
As relationships in the workplace become increasingly more complex, you should always think about ways you can model inclusive leadership around the team and foster a better work environment. Invite them to sit at the table to co-create your next conference, your board meeting or even your magazine article. You can start small, but don’t forget to celebrate the small successes and the milestones along the journey.