What is inclusive leadership? In today’s work environment, inclusive leadership is the ability to effectively lead a team of people who come from different backgrounds. Inclusive leadership does not favor anyone based on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religious beliefs, or any other characteristics. People who work under an inclusive leader feel comfortable being who they are when they do their jobs.
Put simply, inclusive leadership matters for businesses. Inclusive leaders aim to manage teams that represent and benefit their customers in the best possible way. Any company that wants to excel will need to promote inclusivity in the workplace. According to a recent study from Harvard Business Review, the most successful teams had cognitive diversity. These team members engaged in different ways of thinking and decision making, coming up with creative solutions. Companies that don’t adopt this level of diversity rob themselves of significant benefits and place themselves at a disadvantage with their competitors.
Read on to learn more about inclusive leadership, the qualities of an inclusive leader, and how to become a more inclusive leader.
The Difference Between Inclusivity and Diversity
Companies in recent years have made strides in encouraging workplace diversity by hiring people of different backgrounds to ensure the office is more diverse. However, there’s a difference between diversity and inclusion that might not be evident at first. Diversity initiatives can bring people into the company, but it’s up to inclusive leadership to help those people feel welcome. Too often, companies will hire someone and then leave them to fend for themselves in an environment that, while not openly hostile, might be resistant to change. Inclusivity, on the other hand, helps them feel comfortable and provides them with the resources they need to succeed. Anything less than that, and the individual will feel frustrated and may eventually suffer from work stress. With that in mind, it’s up to leadership to show the qualities of inclusive behavior.
Qualities of Inclusive Leadership
1. Good Communication
An inclusive leader is someone who knows how to communicate well. They speak clearly and make sure all their instructions are understood. They also choose their words carefully so they don’t say anything that might be construed as offensive or inappropriate. To do this, inclusive leaders practice and elevate their communication skills, which include non-verbal communication.
A leader who displays empathy shows an understanding of where people come from and what they’ve gone through. This is the classic case of putting themselves in other people’s shoes. Inclusive leadership promotes empathy and realizes that everyone has different experiences which have formed their personalities, beliefs, and opinions. They don’t judge others based on appearance and seek to include them in important tasks and decisions.
3. Cultural Understanding
A more diverse and inclusive workplace leads to a lot of different cultures in one spot. Leaders must have a knowledge of different cultures and display high cultural intelligence to understand so many different backgrounds. Inclusive leaders also practice cross-cultural communication to better communicate with the people on their team. They know how to resolve issues regarding workplace conflict, transforming into a mediator when needed.
4. Team Player
Inclusive leaders get along with everyone. They keep their eyes on the final goal for the team and make sure all team members understand what they’re working toward. In other words, inclusive leaders are the ultimate team players. They promote cohesion and unity for their team, and in return, they get improved cooperation and collaboration. Inclusive leadership results in a team acting as one, even though they may have different ideas, viewpoints, and beliefs.
An effective inclusive leader is someone who keeps an open mind about new ideas and concepts. They don’t automatically dismiss ideas from their team members just because they’re new. Leaders consider the pros and cons of everything before making a final decision. Inclusive leadership also means becoming aware of unconscious bias and where they might have blind spots. Many people might feel frightened or intimidated by change, but when you’re open-minded, you embrace the new and realize that change can bring exciting new outcomes. Having an open mind shows an inclusive behavior that will help other people feel comfortable voicing their opinions.
All leaders need to take a moment to stop talking and listen to their team members. This becomes especially important when promoting inclusivity. If a leader solely tells others what to do, team members won’t feel like they have any part in the conversation. Listening goes hand in hand with demonstrating empathy. The only way for inclusive leaders to understand what others are going through is by listening to them. Note their concerns and listen to their ideas. Otherwise, team members may not want to speak up at all.
7. Emotional Intelligence
Inclusive leaders also show emotional intelligence in the workplace. Research from Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer found that those who have high emotional intelligence are better able to identify emotions in others and solve emotional problems. For this reason, inclusive leaders make it a point to work on developing their emotional intelligence. Not only does this lead to more success in the workplace, but it fosters an environment where people don’t have to walk on eggshells around each other. A leader with emotional intelligence becomes a problem solver, someone who can tell what others are feeling even if they don’t say it out loud.
One of the key attributes of inclusive leaders is their humility. They’re not afraid to show vulnerability in front of others and admit that they don’t always get things right. Interacting with a diverse group of people won’t always be smooth sailing. People will likely have a negative reaction or say the wrong thing from time to time. Because of this, inclusive leaders should be open about their mistakes, admit when they happen, and pledge to do better. They’re not above everyone else, and their humble attitude makes them more approachable. Without humility, a leader may turn into a toxic boss—something to avoid at all costs.
How to Improve Inclusive Leadership
In the course of leadership development, companies must look for ways to improve inclusive leadership in their organizations. Such efforts should be ongoing as new challenges may arise over time. The following are some tips that can help leaders practice more inclusivity.
Training is most often the first step toward creating a more inclusive workplace. Inclusivity training can identify common problems people in the organization encounter. Leaders who undergo this level of training will become more prepared to handle sensitive situations and resolve conflicts. They’ll also become aware of where their shortcomings may lie, giving them the information and resources needed to improve their inclusive behavior.
Leaders should also seek feedback for their efforts from their superiors and members of their teams. Constructive feedback is one of the best ways to improve, as it usually involves specific examples for problems to fix. As long as leaders promote honesty and a welcoming atmosphere, team members will feel like they can come to you with their feedback. One of the easiest ways to receive feedback is through one on one meetings that promote open discussion. The better the feedback, the more you’ll be able to improve.
Participate in a Mentorship
Another excellent way to improve inclusive behavior is through mentorship. Finding a mentor means working with someone more experienced who can guide you to become a more inclusive leader. They can give you pointers on what to correct and steer you in a productive direction toward making the workplace more diverse and inclusive. The more success someone has had leading inclusive teams, the better their advice will be. Pick someone you know who can be honest with you but not too overbearing. Meet with them often and show a real willingness to follow their guidance.
Broaden Your Connections
Another way to practice more inclusivity is to meet more people. Don’t limit yourself to only working with your team. Inclusive leaders create connections outside their department and immediate communities. They get to know others who usually would not be part of their social circles. They expose themselves to more perspectives. As a consequence, they become more well-rounded individuals.
Inclusive Leadership Means Welcoming Everybody
Inclusive leadership looks beyond the surface and finds understanding on a deeper level. Working with people from diverse backgrounds can be helpful, but make sure you still promote cognitive diversity in the process. Referring back to the Harvard Business Review study, cognitive diversity leads to big benefits for companies. That study found that like-minded teams with a healthy mix of different ages, ethnicities, and genders performed worse than teams of siblings who showcased cognitive diversity. So make sure your team brings new perspectives and different opinions no matter who they are. Help them feel comfortable sharing their ideas. As you do so, you’ll create a workplace where everyone can be themselves and help the company reach new levels of success.
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