What is an inclusive leader? And why you need more of them

Written by Amie Lawrence, Ph.D., Director of Global Innovation
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

Recent world events are shining a light on the importance of empathy and understanding for everyone inside and outside the workplace. All parts of society are experiencing extra stressors and working to control emotions that vary from grief and sadness to worry and anger.

Covid-19 has presented challenges to many workers whether they are on the front lines, working remotely, or finding themselves unemployed. Protests have broken out to fight for justice, equality, and respect. Regardless of the situation, there are common threads that can aid in healing and recovery – compassion and inclusion. Individuals who are processing feelings and adjusting to new ways of doing things need a psychologically safe and accepting place to be able to emerge from these crises in a healthy state.  

Right now, employees are looking to their company’s leaders for messages and actions that express socially responsible organizational values and concern for workers. This is an opportunity for you to blend together your leadership and inclusion strategies to ensure you have the right leaders in place for the current crisis state and future recovery – inclusive leaders. 

Inclusive leaders are focused on achieving results through people with a specific emphasis on creating teams with a diversity of experience and thought. They also aim to ensure that all individuals actively contribute to the team. This idea of inclusive leadership is not new; PSI has been following the research for several years. From this, we have created an Inclusive Leadership Competency Model that organizations can use to evaluate their leaders’ commitment to diversity and inclusion, thereby allowing them to identify areas of strength and opportunities for development among their leadership and inclusion efforts.  

What Is an Inclusive Leader? 

Inclusive leaders inspire and motivate their employees by creating a climate of respect, trust, and empowerment. Because they believe diversity is an asset, they seek out and appreciate differences among those with whom they work. The term diversity is often assumed to be related to race or ethnicity. However, when we talk about inclusion, it applies to all types of diversity including, but not limited to, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and neurodiversity. Inclusive leaders act in ways that show respect for all, while also demonstrating curiosity and courage. Next, we’ll discuss each category of characteristics in more detail. 

Inclusive leaders are respectful

Showing respect for others is central to the concept of inclusive leadership. Every team member or colleague is treated as an individual who deserves to be valued and understood. Inclusive leaders believe that every person’s background and experience provide a unique perspective that can be of great value to the team and organization. They endeavor to show compassion and empathy toward everyone.   

For inclusive leaders to develop trusting relationships with their direct reports, they cannot just demonstrate consideration, they must also share their true selves. Being authentic and open allows these leaders to build trust and create a psychologically safe environment for their team to thrive. Additionally, inclusive leaders show humility. They are willing to admit when they have made a mistake and take accountability for setbacks. Demonstrating compassion, authenticity, and humility are three key ways that inclusive leaders show respect for their team, thus creating a climate that encourages collaboration and sharing.  

Inclusive leaders are curious  

Curiosity is an important characteristic for inclusive leaders, as it is a key driver of their leadership behavior. Their curiosity is fueled by their open-mindedness and desire to learn. Inclusive leaders seek out diversity within their teams because they are interested in hearing different ideas and perspectives. They enjoy learning about different people, backgrounds, and experiences. Inclusive leaders see diversity as a strength and it goes beyond physical characteristics; it’s diversity in thinking, ideas, and perceptions. The continuous learning and openness to new ideas possessed by these leaders means that they are consistently assimilating new information into their thinking, requiring them to be adaptable. Inclusive leaders are prepared to adapt their behavior and methods when the situation calls for it. These leadership behaviors send a message to their team that all ideas are accepted, they should seek out new options, and things are not set in stone.  

Inclusive leaders are courageous

Courage, as demonstrated by inclusive leaders, comes in several forms. First and foremost, they have the courage to model inclusive behavior and speak out against non-inclusive behavior when they witness it. It can be difficult to address bias with colleagues or even leaders, but inclusive leaders are active allies and champions for diversity. Related to this, inclusive leaders also have the courage to demonstrate integrity and choose to “do the right thing” even when it is unpopular. Leaders are often making decisions that can impact certain groups or people differently, and inclusive leaders keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront of their minds when assessing the pros and cons of different decisions.  

As you can imagine, inclusive leaders who have the courage to act in these ways are likely to experience conflict. As such, inclusive leaders do not shy away from conflict. They have the skills to manage conflict and maintain relationships within the organization. Inclusive leaders are also effective change agents. Leaders who are devoted to hearing new ideas and pushing for diversity are likely to be consistently identifying and advocating for changes. Because of this, inclusive leaders tend to be effective at communicating and implementing change. These displays of courage reinforce the climate that these leaders have created among their team but also communicate their commitment to diversity and inclusion to the organization. 

Why Is It Important To Be an Inclusive Leader?

As previously discussed, inclusive leaders demonstrate the compassion and understanding that many employees desire right now. But, the benefits of improving and supporting diversity within your organization go well beyond that.   

Organizational psychologists have been studying diversity in organizations for decades. Research findings have been consistently supportive of the benefits of diversity. Organizations with greater diversity see  some or all of the following benefits:  

  • Higher employee satisfaction 
  • Decreased turnover intentions 
  • Increased productivity 
  • Better reputation 
  • Higher customer satisfaction 
  • Greater innovation and creativity
  • More effective problem solving

Additionally, some research focusing specifically on gender diversity found that organizations with more women in leadership had greater financial performance, reduced conflict, lower corporate fraud, and more focus on social sensitivity.   

What Can You Do Now?

The current economic crisis is providing organizations a unique opportunity to reimagine their workforce during recovery and reassess how they approach leadership and inclusion. Leaders create the climate and values of an organization – think about the values you want your organization to convey. Diversity and inclusion have been a topic of great interest for a long time. Candidates are likely to be paying attention to how companies treat their employees as they review organizations and job postings. Be prepared to meet the needs of your new hires and create a climate of inclusion by hiring the right leaders and developing your current ones into inclusive leaders. As a result, your employee well-being, and that of your company, will thrive. 

Building better organizations through inclusive leadership

The topic of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is an area of emphasis for many organizations right now.

Organizations that have been successful at creating sustainable change in D&I have had strong commitment, and action, among their leadership.

In this whitepaper, you will learn about the role that leaders play in creating an inclusive culture, one that strives to create allies, or champions for diversity, as well as the leadership competencies and characteristics that contribute to inclusive behavior and climate.

Download Now
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