Inclusive leadership means that as a manager, you are ensuring that all of your team members feel a sense of belonging, that they are being treated fairly and respectfully. Highly inclusive leaders work with an open mindset and make it clear that their employees are valued, giving high importance to enforce diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Using inclusive leadership capabilities will inspire your team members to take positive actions which will contribute to an innovative culture in the workplace, higher job satisfaction, higher job performance and lower turnover rates.
In a recent study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, their research highlighted that teams with inclusive leaders are:
- 17% more likely to report that they are high performing
- 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions
- 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively
They also saw:
- 10% improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases work attendance by almost 1 day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism
It is clear that inclusive behaviour in management leads to several personal and organizational benefits. Inclusive leadership capabilities enable team members to feel confident, secure and motivated in their positions.
The qualities of highly inclusive leaders are consistent, so the Fellow team compiled 8 characteristics of inclusive leaders that will allow you to optimize your human capital in a positive, supportive manner. Keep reading to check them out below!
8 Characteristics of Inclusive Leaders
1 Inclusive leaders are cognizant of bias
One of the signature traits of an inclusive leader is cognizance of bias. Unconscious bias is instilled in all of us, including managers. While it’s quite common, it’s extremely important to be aware of these biases and fight against them in the name of diversity and inclusion.
The reality is that biases narrow your field of vision, which prevents you from making fair, objective decisions. Inclusive leaders understand that they must confront their own unconscious biases and learn about different ways to prevent these biases from influencing business and organizational decisions.
In an article by the Wall Street Journal about inclusive leadership, they warn that there may be consequences without measures to reduce unconscious bias:
“They (managers) also seek to implement policies, processes, and structures to prevent organizational biases from stifling diversity and inclusion. Without such measures, inclusive leaders understand that their natural inclination could lead them toward self-cloning, and that operating in today’s business environment requires a different approach.”
To foster an inclusive work environment, there not only needs to be diversity in backgrounds and ethnicities but a diversity of thought as well. Highly inclusive leaders are cognizant to bias so that they can build a workforce that has differing approaches, views and opinions to strengthen the team and demonstrate inclusive behaviour.
2 Inclusive leaders are culturally intelligent
Where there are many perceptions of inclusion and what that entails, cultural intelligence is essential to an inclusive and diverse workforce. Being educated and aware of cultural norms is essential to working with diverse groups within the organization as well as outside clients or customers. With an open mindset and a willingness to learn, managers will be able to adapt their behaviour and their style of communication appropriately to respect the customs and norms of others. In the same article about inclusive leadership by the Wall Street Journal, they touch upon the adaptiveness of inclusive leaders to different situations and settings:
“They (managers) regulate the speed and tone of their speech and modify their nonverbal behaviors—gestures, facial expressions, body language, and physical interactions—as situations dictate. In addition to understanding other cultures, these leaders also demonstrate self-awareness of their own culture, recognizing how it shapes their worldview and how cultural stereotypes can influence their expectations of others.”
Being culturally aware also includes being aware of our own culture and how this subjectively moulds our perceptions and opinions about the world around us. Building and creating a more diverse workforce allows managers and team members the opportunity to interact with diverse groups of people from many different backgrounds, where we can learn from one another and expand our understandings of other people and their unique approaches in the business world.
3 Inclusive leaders are self-aware
Highly inclusive leaders acknowledge that they have organizational blindspots, unconscious biases and subjective tendencies. Instead of thinking about if you have unconscious biases (because we all do!), think about what they are and how they impact important decisions and business outcomes.
Leaders must be prepared to take action to minimize limitations on a personal and organizational level. Because these unconscious biases have been built and exist within organizations, managers need to put together procedures and structures to mitigate them and come up with alternative solutions. Inclusive leadership means that leaders strive towards making calculated, objective and fair decisions.
While managers work on their self-awareness to become stronger, more inclusive leaders, it’s important that they set the stage for their employees to do the same. When onboarding new employees or training existing new employees on the topic of diversity and inclusion, it’s a great idea to have the team acknowledge their personal tendencies and think about new ways to approach situations without a subjective mindset.
4 Inclusive leaders build trust
Trust is a pillar to teamwork, something inclusive leaders understand. It’s so important to instill trust in your team members as it is a mutual characteristic of a working relationship. If you trust your people, they will trust you back in return. Fostering trust in the workplace is going to make your employees feel safe and willing to contribute their thoughts, opinions or suggestions that are valuable and insightful.
If you build trust with your team, they will simultaneously become more open and honest with you. Creating a transparent work environment is going to allow you to approach problems with a more clear understanding of the issue and how to mitigate it.
A good rule of thumb is to trust your diverse group of employees as a default, instead of expecting individuals to “earn” your trust. This is going to instill confidence in them, fueling their motivation to strive for success and to show to you that they are capable of fulfilling their job duties. When you trust your team members, you can divide and conquer your workload, rather than trying to control more responsibilities and becoming exhausted and overwhelmed.
Show employees that you trust them by sponsoring them for new opportunities and delegating important tasks to different people on your team.
5 Inclusive leaders empower their employees
Empower your employees! They were hired for good reason and are more than capable of fulfilling their responsibilities. Creating an environment where team members feel comfortable and encouraged to speak up exemplifies inclusion. Your employees should feel like they can share their ideas and their opinions without the fear of judgement or a lack of receptivity. It’s going to feel empowering when your team members feel heard, valued and listened to as you continue to inspire your group to contribute and innovate in the office (or online).
In an LinkedIn article about the qualities of inclusive leaders, Deepa Agarwal (Inclusion and Diversity Specialist) provides an essential question to ponder on whether or not you are empowering your team:
“An indicator question for the leader is- “Does my team feel free to present viewpoints contradictory to the majority?”If a leader does not hear contradictory viewpoints or the team has stopped offering opinions, it calls for an urgent need for self-reflection.”
It’s important to encourage opposing opinions from our counterparts and employees because they serve as a valuable learning opportunity to hear from people coming from different backgrounds, whether it be a different educational background, different professional work experience or simply a different thought process.
6 Inclusive leaders encourage authenticity
Authenticity is an important characteristic of inclusive leaders because it frees you from the need to expect certain behaviours and approaches. With an absence of pretence, and being your true self, you are setting a great example for your team to feel comfortable being themselves and bringing their unique characteristics to tackle business problems and every day responsibilities creatively.
Promoting authenticity is a way to foster innovation and creativity amongst your group, which is going to give you an edge over other teams or organizations who have put in place strict and quite frankly, boring protocols. Promoting authenticity and encouraging your team members to be themselves builds trust in your relationship and empowers them.
If team members feel any kind of pressure to imitate or mirror behaviours of the “norm” so that they can be accepted, then there is an obvious red flag that the leader needs to address. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable being entirely yourself as a manager. You have the power to influence your group to embrace their unique and diverse personalities and have the opportunity to lead by example.
7 Inclusive leaders are humble
As leadership expert Lolly Daskal argues, the best leaders are humble leaders:
“Research shows the effectiveness of humble leadership: Humble leaders have more influence, they attract better people, and they earn more confidence, respect and loyalty than those who rely upon ego and power.”
If you want to promote inclusive leadership in your organization, start by teaching managers about Servant Leadership and the importance of having an open mind to admit their own mistakes.
Here’s how Jeff Hyman, author of Recruit Rockstars, defines humble leadership in an article for Forbes:
“Humble leaders understand that they are not the smartest person in every room. Nor do they need to be. They encourage people to speak up, respect differences of opinion and champion the best ideas, regardless of whether they originate from a top executive or a production-line employee.”
8 Inclusive leaders encourage collaboration
Last but not least, inclusive managers create environments where employees can collaborate and learn from each other.
According to Kathryn Heath and Brenda F. Wensil, building an inclusive culture starts with more inclusive meetings:
“In the meeting itself, customs and expectations should be established upfront. Let people know they can speak openly and offer a dissenting opinions without fear of retribution. If you have introverts in the room, start with a brief round robin activity that includes everyone and helps the attendees get to know one another better. If it is an especially large group, either break people up into smaller teams or rotate the seating halfway through the exercise.”
If you’re brainstorming ideas and making decisions, you’ll get better results when your whole team contributes. Fellow’s real-time notetaking tool promotes collaboration and encourages everyone to participate actively in the conversation.
Inclusive behaviour in management is essential to the success of a diverse group of employees in today’s business world. A manager’s leadership capability should include being cognizant to bias, being culturally intelligent, being self-aware, building trust, empowering employees and encouraging authenticity and collaboration.
Having an open mindset is going to make you a stronger, more intelligent leader as you strive to learn about different approaches, opinions and perceptions in the workplace. In working towards these qualities of an inclusive manager and in embracing the idea that everyone should be valued, you are going to inspire your team to be more productive and more effective, creating higher job satisfaction and higher overall happiness in your company.