In depth

Inclusive leadership: what does it actually look like?

Kiddy & Partners

Article by

In our previous article on why inclusive leadership is important in the current context , we defined inclusive leadership as:

“A style of leadership that ensures followers feel valued, empowered, psychologically safe and that they belong." 
 

Leaders who practice it provide less powerful individuals within their teams with access to information and resources, and enable them to participate in decision making, creating a collaborative environment in which multiple perspectives are heard [1,2,3,4.]

This interpersonal style of leadership places emphasis on introspection, self-awareness and a drive for the leader to continually learn and develop. So, what does this mean in terms of how leaders operate? What does it actually look like? [5,6,7,8]
 

Internal attributes: How an inclusive leader self-manages, including:

  • Self-awareness: of natural biases and preconceived views; of the way one looks at the world and how that differs to others
  • Curiosity: towards others’ perspectives and experiences and towards how one makes others feel
  • Humility: being humble, admitting vulnerability and when one doesn’t have the answers
  • Courage: in disrupting and challenging the status quo, and advocating others’ views
  • Respect: for others and genuinely caring about the wellbeing of their employees

External behaviours: How an inclusive leader manages others and creates an inclusive culture, such as:

  • Being open to and encouraging others’ opinions/experiences
  • Truly listening to others’ viewpoints
  • Creating safe spaces within which it is natural to experiment and offer perspectives
  • Skilfully negotiating and encouraging positive conflict arising from diverse views/perspectives
  • Being available for questions or support
  • Regularly contacting others and maintaining relationships
  • Being open about own limitations of skillset or knowledge and or about decisions made
  • Challenging inequity and unethical behaviour

Below are several examples of how this applies and resonates, in relation to key leadership challenges in the current C-19 climate: 

Making decisions quickly

In the current climate, decisions need to be made quickly and under uncertainty so that organisations can continue to operate. Unfortunately, the stress and time pressure involved means an increased likelihood that leaders will fall back on biases and mental shortcuts, or reach out to people they talk to regularly, or who are similar to them, to make those decisions. It’s a natural response when on ‘high-alert’. Common biases include:

  • In-group bias: associating more with people who we perceive to be ‘similar to us’. 
  • Confirmation bias: Only considering information that aligns with our viewpoint.

These conditions are ripe for ‘groupthink’, automatically disadvantage the minority ‘out-group’ members from being able to contribute and fail to encourage innovation, rich decision making or diversity of thought. 

We recommend:

  • Reflecting on whether the same people are always speaking or dominating virtual meetings, or whether you are always contacting the same people to ask for their opinion. This behaviour is magnified when meetings are virtual and only one person can talk at a time, when there is a less physical presence, and when the same people are instant messaged by default. 
  • Openly encouraging and welcoming input from a more diverse group and focus on drawing out contributions of quieter members in a safe way. For example:
    • Share information prior to a meeting so that everyone can reflect on it before joining;
    • Ask for anonymous comments, thoughts or feedback by survey; 
    • Ask for follow up thoughts over email/teams/separate calls after the meeting;
    • Openly praise someone who provides a different perspective in a meeting;
    • Contact quieter individuals 1:1 to ask what their thoughts are. 
  • Ensure everyone has equal access to contribute; for example, does everyone have the technology needed to contribute virtually? Has everyone been invited to the meeting who should be there?

We need leaders who are consciously aware of, and challenge, difference in access to resources or decision-making, and who value difference in opinion. 

Encouraging innovation

Psychologically safe environments provide fertile soil for innovation, progressive thinking and good decisions[9].

We recommend:

  • Reflecting on how you react to people who share a different opinion and whether they would be likely to do so again; is it openly encouraged? Is it warmly received? Is it valued and built on or addressed in some way? Or is it ignored, or criticised, or the subject of amusement?
  • Asking questions to understand what others think and broaden perspectives. One of the best elements of inclusive leadership is not feeling under pressure to have all the answers. 
  • Being open and available. It is hard to say ‘my office door is always open’ in a remote working world. Think about how you can encourage people to talk to you if they have thoughts, ideas, questions, concerns. Build time into team meetings for it, host virtual drop in sessions, provide an anonymous forum.

Supporting employees’ well-being and connecting authentically

At a time when everyone feels a little uneasy, a little uncertain, worried about their health (mental or physical), or struggling with not seeing their friends and family, being human is paramount. As is explicit and transparent communication. 

WE RECOMMEND:

  • Providing regular updates (even if there is no update): What is the organisation doing to keep people safe? How is the organisation doing? What are the current thoughts on strategy?
  • Checking in and asking people how they are, with no other agenda.
  • Being more open to admitting you don’t know, make mistakes or fear. 
  • Sharing messages over video or video-message rather than in writing. 
  • Asking for feedback on how messaging and behaviour is being received.

Ensuring a sense of community in a remote working world

Working remotely can feel isolating and lonely – people are more likely to reach out to those who they have good existing relationships with over instant messenger. It is easier for people in the out-group or on the outskirts to be forgotten. It is also easier for leaders to think employees are engaged when they aren’t reading their facial expressions in the same room.

WE RECOMMEND:

  • Checking in with people often and messaging regularly – in a similar way as you might when you pass them on their way to their desk to make a coffee. An EY study showed that people felt the greatest sense of belonging at work when colleagues checked in with them individually10. 
  • Scheduling virtual ‘coffee breaks’ but keep numbers small or allocate people into ‘virtual breakout rooms’ so everyone can have the opportunity to chat – hopefully with someone they haven’t spoken to much recently.
  • Switching video on – at least at the start of calls.
  • Thinking tactfully about who you assign to projects to encourage different people to interact.  

More information

This pandemic has provoked loss, discomfort and pain for so many, but it has also provided the stimulus needed for leaders to grow, to accept that change is needed, to pursue change, and to create a better future for all employees and all organisations. 

Contact our expert listed below if you would like help defining inclusive leadership in your context or developing your leaders to act more inclusively. 
 

References

[1] 1Nembhard, I. M., & Edmondson, A. C. (2006). Making it safe: The effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(7), 941–966.

[2] Roberson, Q. M. (2006). Disentangling the meanings of diversity and inclusion in organisations. Group & Organization Management, 31(2), 212-236.

[3] Ryan, J. (2006). Inclusive leadership and social justice for schools. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 5(1), 3-17. 

[4] Hollander, E. (2008). Inclusive Leadership: The essential leader-follower relationship. Abingdon: Routledge Academic.

[5] Ferdman, B. M., Prime, F., & Riggio, R. E. (Eds). (2020). Inclusive Leadership: Transforming Diverse Lives, Workplaces, and Societies (Leadership Research and Practice). New York, NY: Routledge

[6] ENEI, (2016). Inclusive Leadership…driving performance through diversity. Retrieved from: https://www.enei.org.uk/resources/reports/inclusive-leadership-driving-performance-through-diversity/

[7] Deloitte University Press, (2014). The six signature traits of inclusive leadership: Thriving in a diverse world. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/topics/talent/six-signature-traits-of-inclusive-leadership.html 

[8] Catalyst, (2014). Inclusive Leadership: The view from six countries. Retrieved from: https://www.catalyst.org/research/inclusive-leadership-the-view-from-six-countries-methodology/ 

[9] Edmondson, A. C., & Mogelof, J. P. (2006). Explaining Psychological Safety in Innovation Teams: Organizational Culture, Team Dynamics or Personality? In L. L. Thompson, & H-S. Choi. Creativity and Innovation in Organizational Teams (pp. 109-136). London, England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

[10] Twaronite, K. (2019). Five findings on the importance of belonging. Retrieved from: https://www.ey.com/en_us/diversity-inclusiveness/ey-belonging-barometer-workplace-study

[11] Nembhard, I. M., & Edmondson, A. C. (2006). Making it safe: The effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(7), 941–966.

[12] Roberson, Q. M. (2006). Disentangling the meanings of diversity and inclusion in organisations. Group & Organization Management, 31(2), 212-236.

[13] Ryan, J. (2006). Inclusive leadership and social justice for schools. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 5(1), 3-17. 

[14] Hollander, E. (2008). Inclusive Leadership: The essential leader-follower relationship. Abingdon: Routledge Academic.

[15] Shapiro, G., Wells, H., & Saunders, R. (2011). Inclusive Leadership – from pioneering to mainstream: Maximising the potential of your people. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/294887776_Inclusive_Leadership_From_Pioneer_to_Mainstream

[16] Wittenberg-Cox, A. (2020). What do countries with the best coronavirus responses have in common? Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivahwittenbergcox/2020/04/13/what-do-countries-with-the-best-coronavirus-reponses-have-in-common-women-leaders/#27be04e83dec

[17] McKinsey. (March 16th, 2020). Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/leadership-in-a-crisis-responding-to-the-coronavirus-outbreak-and-future-challenges

SubscribeHide

Forward thinking insight

Direct to your email inbox

Subscribe now