Inclusive leadership is emerging as a unique and critical capability helping organizations adapt to diverse customers, markets, ideas and talent. According to studies, inclusive leadership has six traits.
- Visible commitment: They articulate authentic commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable, and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority.
- Humility: They are modest about capabilities, admit mistakes, and create the space for others to contribute.
- Awareness of bias: They show awareness of personal blind spots, as well as flaws in the system, and work hard to ensure a meritocracy.
- Curiosity about others: They demonstrate an open mindset and deep curiosity about others, listen without judgment, and seek with empathy to understand those around them.
- Cultural intelligence: They are attentive to others’ cultures and adapt as required.
- Effective collaboration: They empower others, pay attention to diversity of thinking and psychological safety, and focus on team cohesion.
For those working around a leader, the single most important trait generating a sense of inclusiveness is a leader’s visible awareness of bias. Analysis of 360-degree Inclusive Leadership Assessments (ILA) of more than 400 leaders made by almost 4,000 raters reveals that awareness of personal and organizational biases is the number one factor that raters care most about.
This isn’t all, Raters aren’t seeking for a simple acknowledgment of bias, tinged with a fatalistic sense that little can be done about it. They are concerned with bias awareness as well as two additional behaviours:
Humility: Raters want to see that their leaders are determined to address their biases. In contrast, leaders who are humble acknowledge their vulnerability to bias and ask for feedback on their blind spots and habits. Research shows that when cognizance of bias is combined with high levels of humility it can increase raters’ feelings of inclusion by up to 25%.
Empathy and perspective taking: Leaders who show high levels of empathy and perspective-taking make them more approachable, trustworthy and empathetic. When cognizance of bias is combined with empathy/perspective-taking, it can increase raters’ feelings of inclusion by up to 33%.
Empathy and perspective taking gives people hope that a leader cares about them and takes their views into account. It creates a sense of personal connection between leaders and a diverse set of stakeholders making it easier to make and implement shared decisions.
Putting the traits to work
Leaders need to consider whether they give equal time to all meeting participants, or favour co-locators over those who dialled in, for example. Leaders can get granular feedback on everyday behaviours that support or inhibit inclusion. One tactic is to establish a diverse personal advisory board (PAD).
A second tactic is for leaders to share their learning journey about recognizing and addressing biases. Leaders can start by discussing their 360 assessment results and role model the importance of humility in addressing biases. These actions express humility, help leaders to test and build on their insights and role model the importance of humility in addressing biases.
A third tactic is for leaders to immerse themselves in uncomfortable or new situations which expose them to diverse stakeholders, for example by attending an Employee Resource Group meeting, or sitting in different parts of the workplace each week. Exposure, combined with open-ended questions, helps to expand horizons and disrupt preconceived ideas.
In a workforce with increasingly diversified markets, customers, and talent, inclusive leadership is a vital competency for leveraging diverse thinking. Without humility and empathy/perspective taking, it’s difficult for leaders to gain deep insights into the nature of their blind spots or remedial strategies and, therefore, to grow.
Leaders that are humble and empathetic will be open to feedback regarding their own biases. These behaviours are not only important for leaders’ own development, but they also help others feel more included.
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