Reaping the Benefits of Inclusive Leadership

Written by Anni Hollings, Executive Consultant.

Don’t just survive the madness of the changing workplace context, thrive in it. Let inclusive leaders guide your ship through the stormy seas of disruption, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

The prognosis for organisational health is gloomy, yet being culture cute and tapping into talent that can match and challenge the vagaries of the volatile economic and social environments in which we are operating, is a way to reduce the inhibitors to organisational success. Developing Inclusive Leadership and inclusive leader behaviours is a significant step forward to being able to challenge the potential demise of organisational security and well-being.

So, who is and what is Inclusive Leadership? Inclusive Leadership is something that has got the consulting world excited. Global players like Deloitte and Korn Ferry have done major research into leadership that impacts positively on contemporary organisational challenges, especially the consequences of greater diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and talent. Their research has underpinned the need for leaders who embrace, engage, and exalt difference, ensuring that those with differences feel enabled, energised, and empowered.

Inclusive Leadership is constructed on a framework of personal and interpersonal qualities and capabilities. To demonstrate inclusive leadership,  people need to understand who they are and how they impact others. Such self-awareness is not sought with the intention to dominate or manipulate but to nurture and grow the potential of active followers. Inclusive Leaders focus on creating strong connectivity and inclusion through continuously learning and challenging the status quo. Inclusive Leaders create cultures in which individuals, teams and whole workforces feel valued, respected, and heard.

The Deloitte model exemplifies six signature traits of Inclusive Leadership, often referred to as the 6 Cs:

  • Collaboration  – Successful diverse teams are those that appreciate the synergy of their differences and that the team is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Inclusive leaders model collaborative behaviours.
  • Cognisance of Bias – Inclusive leaders understand that bias is the basis of failure and that self-awareness and an authentic response to potential discrimination are essential for success.
  • Commitment – Inclusive leaders understand that success does not come easily and that hard work and resilience will pay off in the face of upset and disruption.
  • Curiosity – Making a success of the opportunities created by diverse teams requires constant questions being asked to discover how others interpret their workplace experiences.
  • Cultural Intelligence: – Inclusive Leaders understand that people from different backgrounds may make sense of the world through different cultural lenses. Being open to different ideas and views helps create tolerance and respect.
  • Courage: – Inclusive Leaders admit to their own weaknesses and mistakes, and this takes considerable strength to expose vulnerability.

Coming at Inclusive Leadership from a different perspective, Korn Ferry identifies five traits as the inner enablers of inclusive leadership:

  • Authenticity, which requires humility and the establishment of trust in the face of opposing beliefs, values, and perspectives.
  • Emotional Resilience requires the personal strength to remain in control and composed in the face of adversity and differences in ideas, values, and expectations.
  • Self-assurance requires the presentation of confidence and optimism, a demonstration of self-belief.
  • Inquisitiveness focuses on the ability to be open to differences, with curiosity and empathy.
  • Flexibility highlights the need for tolerance towards ambiguity and being able to adapt to diverse needs.

These inner enablers are supported by five competencies that Korn Ferry believes are essential for inclusive leadership:

  • The ability to build interpersonal trust.
  • Being able to integrate diverse perspectives and overcome conflict situations.
  • Having the sensitivity to optimise talent for collective success.
  • Being able to apply an adaptive mindset by leveraging differences to achieve innovation.
  • The ability to achieve transformation by bringing people of all backgrounds together to confront difficult topics.

Korn Ferry also places great strength on one other vital element of inclusive leadership, that of the leader’s biography. They support personal and professional experiences that enhance an individual’s capacity for inclusive leadership, especially the importance of having experienced first-hand cultural diversity.

An important feature of Inclusive Leadership is the focus on developing effective leader-follower relationships, highlighted in the expression of inclusive leadership being an interpersonal process that encourages mutual relationships with shared goals and a common vision for the future. Followership and active follower commitment by choice (not expectation) and inclusive leadership provide the magic for inclusive growth.

Fostering Inclusive Leadership at the top of organisations can inspire and encourage an inclusive mindset throughout the whole organisation. Adopting Inclusive Leadership as the template for leadership at all levels provides a framework for success.

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