Inclusive leadership has emerged as one of the growing trends among top business leaders. While several different styles of leadership exist, virtually anyone can adopt practices to be more inclusive. An inclusive leader does not simply make strides to involve people from different backgrounds on a team. Truly inclusive leaders become familiar with the individual strengths and weaknesses of their employees and ensure that the teams complement each other. Through inclusive leadership, differences are not only embraced, but leveraged to create the type of synergy that drives competitive advantage. Inclusive leadership involves proactive work and a lot of dedication. Following are some tips that leaders who want to be more inclusive should keep in mind.
1. Recognizing personal biases is critical.
Bias exists in every person and organization. This bias is usually unconscious and derives from a full range of past experiences. Business leaders have a duty to recognize their biases, as well as the larger organizational biases that drive an organization. By keeping these biases in mind, individuals can ensure that they make more objective decisions. When we are aware of the implicit biases that guide our decisions, we can examine each move we make to ensure that we are not overlooking anything or jumping to unfair and potentially unreasonable conclusions. Without this awareness, leaders often tend to self-clone and create teams that mimic their own thought processes. Inclusivity flourishes when people keep their personal biases in check and learn to check for institutional biases that could implicitly guide development.
2. Monitor the cultural norms that develop.
All companies necessarily develop a culture. That culture may be toxic for some employees, or it could encourage people from different points of view to collaborate. Sometimes, the culture of a specific team or department is different from that of the larger organization. Great leaders monitor the development of different cultures and check in with employees about what they expect out of the culture. With this information, leaders can push for larger cultural changes. True inclusion only happens when the overall culture of teams and organizations makes it a priority. Isolated and individual acts of inclusion represent not much more than good intentions if the larger culture is more inclusive. One of the great tools that leaders can use to assess toxicity in a culture are exit interviews, in which people will often speak candidly about their experience at the company and how they perceived the culture.
3. Evaluate the strengths of a team and its members.
An inclusive leader will take time to think critically about how a team performs, including what it does particularly well. Often, this analysis will also reveal some shortcomings. However, it is not enough to stop there. While it takes an investment of time, leaders also need to look at the individual strengths of team members, including how they operate within the larger context of the team. With this information, inclusive leaders can start figuring out how teams can be improved and what direction employees should receive in terms of personal growth and development. Even more importantly, inclusive leaders can only capitalize on the unique skills and perspectives of their employees when they have a full knowledge of what distinguishes the various employees.
4. Create individualized approaches to leadership.
Young leaders tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, which generally does not work for very long. Over time, great leaders learn how to shift and adjust their leadership approach according to how each employee responds. People may require different types of leadership approaches depending on their personality, age, position, and several other factors. Inclusivity means figuring out what inspires people and using it to reach their full potential. Changing leadership styles to match the person affirms that an organization values diversity and does not expect employees to fall in line with a single way of approaching their work. Inclusive leaders should think creatively about how they engage different employees and consistently reflect on what has and has not worked.
5. Strive for cultural intelligence in everyday life.
Inclusive leaders understand how to work with people from different cultures and, even more importantly, how not to comport themselves when outside of their comfort zone. Culturally intelligent individuals embrace modesty and humility. They understand that culture may mean something different to two people from similar backgrounds and strive to meet people where they are at without making assumptions. Great leaders approach people from different cultures with respect and curiosity. Cultural competence means shifting one’s speech patterns, tone, and even nonverbal language according to the situation and demonstrating self-awareness about one’s own culture and how it affects the way in which they view the world. Leaders who embrace cultural intelligence serve as excellent role models for other employees. Inclusive leaders may even take strides to increase cultural competence at the larger organizational level so that the curiosity and humility that define this approach become ingrained in the overall culture.