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In an ever-changing, diverse world, organisations require leaders to look beyond traditional ideas and frameworks to shape leadership expectations. Leaders, without consideration and reflection, can often gravitate toward people that reflect their own personality, values and opinions. With diversity becoming a developing trend, organisations are now looking for teams with people from varied backgrounds, personal experiences, personalities, and ideas. With diverse teams comes the need for diverse and inclusive leaders.

But what does it mean to be inclusive? And how do you foster inclusivity in an organisation? Inclusion requires people to feel respected by and connected to the organisation and their colleagues, feel able to contribute to wider discussions, and feel able to progress within the organisation. Diversity refers to the mixture of different people and identities coming together in an organisation. 

A report published by Deloitte outlines “The six signature traits of inclusive leadership: Thriving in a diverse new world”. From 2011, they recorded and interviewed over a thousand global leaders, consulted experts and researchers in the field of inclusive leadership, and interviewed over 1500 employees about inclusion in the workplace around the world.

So what are the key traits you need to be an inclusive leader? 

They are:

  1. Commitment
  2. Courage
  3. Cognisance of bias
  4. Curiosity
  5. Cultural Intelligence
  6. Collaboration

Let’s explore those further.

1. Commitment – Are you dedicated to diversity?

Being a more inclusive leader requires you to be committed to diversity. This is not only in the interest of the organisation you work for, but because it aligns with your personal values. Fostering diversity doesn’t happen overnight; it requires a lot of time, energy, and hard work.
The combination of your own personal experiences with diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the rational argument from a business perspective shows your commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion in your workplace.

So how can you show your commitment to diversity as a leader?

  • Put yourself in situations where you are working with people with different backgrounds to you.
  • Take the time to read and listen to diverse information sources
  • Highlight that fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a top business and personal priority and encourage everyone to join the learning journey
  • Talk about what inclusivity and diversity look like within your organisation and invite different opinions.
  • Ensure your workplace practices and processes are improving diversity and inclusivity in your workplace.

2. Courage – Are you ready to speak up?

Being an inclusive leader requires you to challenge your organisation, its practices, others, and yourself. It takes bravery to challenge entrenched organisational practices and frameworks, but doing so will mean your organisation has the chance to become more diverse. Being able to challenge others and recognise your own limitations also takes courage. This humility will help you listen to different perspectives and overcome your own limitations.
Have you got the courage to be an inclusive leader?

How can you be a more courageous leader?

  • Reflect often on the biases and weaknesses that arise in your own behaviour and be willing to call them out.
  • Seek the advice and help of others to rise above your limitations, and acknowledge when you have made an error.
  • Encourage your team to respectfully identify when biases may be occurring in the team. Emphasize this is a learning journey for all. Make it safe for everyone to make mistakes and learn.
  • Question and dispute normative organisational values, processes and frameworks that encourage non-inclusive practices.

3. Cognisance of Bias – Are you aware of your blind spots?

Being an inclusive leader requires you to be aware of your organisation’s biases and of your own personal biases. These biases can range from unconscious bias, favouritism, confirmation bias, group-think, and attribution error. In order to improve the diversity within your organisation, you must develop your self-awareness and be prepared to act.

So how do you overcome personal and organisational biases?

  • Identify when you are most prone to your personal biases and organisational biases.
  • Take note of when organisational biases take over your better judgement during stressful situations or processes, e.g. recruitment processes.
  • Ask for feedback or more opinions when making or reflecting on key decisions.
  • Adapt processes to ensure that personal biases do not influence decisions about others.
  • Ensure transparency in decision-making processes, such as recruitment practices, and provide clear explanations to those affected by these decisions.

4. Curiosity – Do you have a thirst for knowledge?

To be an inclusive leader, you must constantly desire to learn and keep improving! To improve the organisation’s diversity, you must be open to different perspectives and to areas of knowledge that you are not personally familiar with. Asking questions and attentively listening to colleagues can help you understand multiple perspectives on issues that your organisation must deal with. This also means you have to be prepared for perspectives that can be vague and indefinite.

So how can you be more curious?

  • Do not be quick to judge those who hold different perspectives to you. Listen to what they have to say, and dig into understanding their perspectives.
  • Express your desire and openness to learning about new perspectives and ideas.
  • Ask for multiple perspectives from diverse people about choices or decisions to be made.
  • Anticipate change and actively encourage different ways of thinking. This can lead to opportunities to connect with diverse others.

5. Cultural Intelligence – how do you communicate with people from other cultures?

What exactly is cultural intelligence? This particular quality of an inclusive leader requires you to recognise how your personal experiences affect your perspective of the world. You must learn to look past stereotypes and be confident in your cross-cultural communications.
Cultural intelligence (CQ) is divided into four categories; motivational CQ, cognitive CQ, metacognitive CQ, and behavioural CQ.

  • Motivational CQ concerns how interested and enthusiastic a leader is in learning and developing cross-cultural communications.
  • Cognitive CQ concerns how much a leader knows about traditional norms, values, and stereotypes surrounding another culture.
  • Metacognitive CQ concerns how consciously aware of culture a leader is during communications with people from another culture.
  • Behavioural CQ concerns how appropriately a leader uses verbal and non-verbal cues when communicating with another culture.

So how can you become more culturally-intelligent?

  • Take the time to learn about other cultures, and create opportunities to do so.
  • Be prepared when leading a culturally-diverse team. This will include learning about individual members and their backgrounds, and changing how you approach certain situations or decisions.
  • Be open in your body language and succinct in your word use when communicating with
    people from different cultures and backgrounds.
  • Recognise your personal flaws and biases towards cultural stereotypes and differences.
  • Actively reflect and question your predisposed ideas about different cultures.

6. Collaborative – how well do you work with others?

Contemporary organisations require you to harness your team’s total intelligence to get to work, rather than individually strive to complete projects. In a team, you are more likely to meet and work with people who have completely different backgrounds, and maybe even opposing ideas to your own. The challenge here is to listen, be solutions-focused, and encourage independent, self-directed thought and debate.

How can you be a more collaborative leader?

  • Create an environment where team members will take responsibility and hold themselves accountable for mistakes they have made.
  • Ensure no one is left out of conversations or group discussions and activities. You should cultivate a safe and respectful environment so that your team members feel safe to speak up and discuss ideas.
  • Ask for feedback and questions about project progress from other team members.

In summary

Being inclusive is a non-negotiable. This gives us all a great opportunity to be learners and take our leadership skills to the next level.

Check out this link for the full Deloitte report.

Where do you think you need to improve as a leader? Can you see yourself developing and implementing the ideas we have discussed? I would love your feedback!


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