Inclusive leadership might sound like a hastily thrown-together cliche, but in reality, it’s a proven-successful approach to leadership that companies are quickly adopting. But what is it? According to diversity expert T. Hudson Jordan, director of global diversity and talent strategies at Pitney Bowes, inclusiveness is “creating an environment of involvement, respect and connections where the richness of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are harnessed to create business value.” Inclusive leadership is not “diversity” of people. It’s diversity of people, thought and attitudes. Research has shown that teams with inclusive leaders can positively impact a company’s bottom line. These leaders are more likely to be high performing, make high-quality decisions and report behaving collaboratively. Research also found that inclusion increases work attendance, which reduces the cost of absenteeism. (Bourke and Espedido, HBR, March 2019).
Inclusive leadership works, but it’s not easy to achieve. With the right approach and a good deal of patience, though, companies can create inclusive cultures that lead to happier employees and more financial success. The following six steps are a framework for how to create truly inclusive cultures:
Self-assessment: Perform a self-assessment on the five essential qualities of an inclusive leader — authenticity, self-awareness, committed learner, collaborative and patience — to learn where you stand and what you need to change or adjust.
Learn about each individual: Employees won’t come out and tell you everything about themselves, what they believe, how they think, how they learn and how they work. Take time with each employee to learn about them. Ask thoughtful and curious questions to dig deep and get a true feel for their personalities and preferences.
Create a learning culture: A learning culture is one in which your employees are encouraged to learn about one another on a deeper level. When employees understand one another’s viewpoints and are aware of one another’s work and learning styles, the organization can begin to operate more fluidly, and with unique contributions from every employee.
Provide “answers to the test”: Employees won’t guess at what leaders want. Communicate to employees what is expected of them not only in performance but also in the way they approach their jobs and one another.
Create rules for managing conflict: Creating a clear set of rules on how to manage conflict will help diffuse tense situations and help employees and management become more inclusive through a measured and empathetic approach to conflict.
Develop a plan: For both leadership and employees, creating a clear plan to become an inclusive organization is imperative. Set goals and objectives. Put a series of reviews and temperature checks in place. Adjust tactics when necessary. Most importantly, follow through.
Becoming an inclusive leader will result in significant, positive growth at every level. Inclusive leaders aren’t made, though; they’re grown. To become an inclusive leader requires an emotional journey to growth that happens over time with honesty, humility and hard work. If you put in the effort, you and your organization will see results.