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How to Cultivate Inclusive Leadership

Diversity & Inclusion is trending. But why is it trending, you may wonder? I can answer that for you: it's because it's one of the intrinsic signature traits defining organisational success in the modern world. Currently, it’s also among the top-ranking topics in ongoing leadership studies by renowned research frameworks and organisations such as, the Havard Business Review, Journal of Leadership Education, Forbes, SAGE Publications, Center for Creative Leadership, Emerald Publishing, Global Journals, Deloitte etc, just to name a few. Besides, in this age of digitisation, where innovation and collaboration are paramount, ignoring inclusivity would directly impact business performance and success.

Let’s all agree that inclusion has increasingly become a distinct and unique puzzle piece that undeniably contributes to the bigger picture of every organisation's success. It’s hence, now more than ever, critical that organisations cultivate and achieve inclusivity. To do this, the drum must start beating the loudest from right at the top – THE LEADERS – they must intently exercise inclusive leadership.

Inclusive leadership ensures that everybody in the organisation has a sense of belonging. Every single member of the team can say: "I am part of this", "I belong here", "I can completely be myself here", "I feel valued and appreciated here". Let everyone feel part of the circle!

Inclusive leadership doesn't just happen! So, let's get a little practical here. How can inclusive leadership be cultivated, and what traits and behaviours should or can leaders cultivate to attain an inclusive leadership culture? Well, let's delve right in on the how. At the top of the list is creating a safe environment where everyone can speak up openly and freely. To achieve this kind of environment, leaders need to show appreciation to people who speak up, especially when they can and do voice opinions and perspectives they have even if they are different from everybody else's. Part of ensuring a safe environment is also to keep a keen ear and open mind to take diverse ideas and viewpoints from others and be willing to act on them or provide rational explanations for why they cannot be acted upon.

Inclusive leadership also means that a leader can nurture their emotional intelligence and self-awareness. As an inclusive leader, one must identify, appreciate, and correct innate unconscious biases. Otherwise, these biases narrow one's vision and make it detrimental to fair, rational, and objective judgement and decisions. Inclusive leaders acknowledge and stay sensitive to how they respond to other people's norms, values, contributions, and adaptations - and, this is paramount in achieving inclusive leadership. Although impossible to understand all the norms and beliefs important to others, an inclusive leader strives to understand their own biases and assumptions about others. A good example of an assumption is when a leader or manager may overlook a working parent and not place them on the promotion list because they assume the working parent might not be apt or willing to take on added responsibility. As far fetched as it may seem, it’s a very real example within many work environments. Only by acknowledging and working on these biases every single day, are inclusive leaders able to portray critical self-awareness to help fight bias and cultivate inclusiveness.

It's undeniable that inclusive leaders build inclusive teams who, in turn, build productivity and define success in organisations. This means that inclusive leadership is something that cannot be ignored anymore. Walking the talk and cementing it in every little process must intently cultivate it. It's by cultivating accountability in every leader to be and show inclusivity in their day-to-day delivery. We all know that sometimes accountability requires defined metrics used to qualify inclusivity in organisational leadership. And to go a notch higher, inclusive leaders qualify their accountability by using surveys to garner feedback from their teams on how much leadership is inclusive. From this feedback, these leaders quantify strides made towards inclusivity and make an in-depth gap-to-goal analysis of where they would like to be. This informs their next efforts in achieving the ideal – cultivating an organisation-wide inclusive culture.

Building legacies and impacting others to be inclusive is also a sure way of cultivating inclusive leadership and leaving its lasting footprint. An inclusive leader ensures that team members not only respect but also support one another. Through common ground rules, fair play, objective decision-making criteria and discipline, inclusive leaders achieve the common goals of passing on to others their drive and support for inclusive leadership. This way, the culture of inclusive leadership outgrows them within organisations, way beyond their transition.

Inclusive leaders recognise and acknowledge that everyone is created equal, only not the same. By acknowledging and promoting these differences, inclusive leaders encourage equal contribution and consequently harness the power of diversity from their teams. The result is, superior performance from every team member, and a successful organisation.

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” ~ Vernā Myers - VP, Inclusion Strategy – Netflix.

Inclusive leadership is a journey. Let's all hence, with humility, determination, curiosity and courage, forge towards an intentional inclusive leadership culture not only for ourselves but for the generations that will supersede our existence – they are our future leaders, aren't they?


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