Five Qualities of an Inclusive Leader

Five Qualities of an Inclusive Leader

What are the qualities of an inclusive leader? They welcome diverse viewpoints. They treat people respectfully and fairly – and make people feel valued. Perhaps most of all, an inclusive leader is genuinely collaborative in the way in which they approach any task or project.

Here are some of the most important qualities of inclusive leaders, with specific tips.

1. Inclusive leaders are authentic and humble – and encourage authenticity in others.

When it comes down to it, the more you can authentically communicate from a place of humility, the more inclusive a leader you will be.

It begins with genuine humility. An absence of pretense is key to being an inclusive leader. If you can say in a completely authentic way – “I’m not sure what the right path forward is. What do you think?” – the more you will be perceived as inclusive. If you regularly invite input from a diverse array of people with different backgrounds and ideas, you will be perceived as inclusive.

Inclusiveness is also sparked when you are open about your own personal journey. Walt Disney said, “I was fortunate in that I had some big failures early on. They allowed me to learn.” Inclusive leaders share stories about their backgrounds. The more you share your personal journey, the more people will feel free to share their own stories and feel included.

Lastly, let’s not forget the power of humor, especially self-deprecating humor. The more that you can get people to laugh, the more people will feel at ease. Having a sense of humor can help people lower their guards, be more forthcoming, and ultimately feel more included.

    2. Inclusive leaders are trust builders.

    Trust is the underlying glue that helps people feel more included. Here are some specific trust-building techniques that will build inclusiveness and belonging.

      1. Provide positive recognition – Take time each day to let people know that their contributions are noticed and appreciated.
      2. Intentionally build relationships – Take the time to get to know people and find out about their career goals, their families, and their lives outside of work.
      3. Share information broadly – Don’t fall into the trap of sharing information selectively. Keep everyone in the loop about what’s going on.
      4. Avoid micro-management – Once people are trained, let them to do their work as they see fit.

    To be more inclusive, it’s a good idea to trust people as your default mode. An interesting fact is that about 50% of people are willing to trust first, and assume their trust is well-founded until they see evidence that it’s misplaced. The other 50% “distrust until” – they wait until they see evidence that their trust is earned. To create a culture of inclusivity, leaders need to be willing to assume the best in other people until proven otherwise.

    3. Inclusive leaders are culturally competent.

    Cultural competence means you understand the ways in which your background and culture have shaped your perceptions of the world – and that you appreciate how and why your perceptions may differ from those of other people. It means you consistently demonstrate a curiosity about other people, regardless of their background, and show a genuine interest in learning from them.

    One way to build cultural competence is to read and learn about people from different places. Research has shown that people who read fiction are better able to put themselves in another person’s shoes. Another way is to spend time learning other languages – even if it’s just a few phrases – and being able to communicate with people in their native language. Yet another way is to travel and to become immersed in cultures different from your own.

    When one acquires cultural competence, it’s visible to those around you in the way you engage openly with people of all types and backgrounds. They experience you as someone who does not make generalizations or judgments about people based on their background. Instead, you appreciate each individual as a human being with their own unique set of experiences and cultural influences.

    4. Inclusive leaders are cognizant of prejudices and stereotypes – and work hard to rid themselves of bias.

    Inclusive leaders examine their own biases. They reflect on their reactions to people who are of a culture significantly different from their own and work diligently to counter any prejudices or stereotypes that they have. They recognize that the potential sources for unconscious bias include:

      • Superficial bias: This is the tendency to judge people based on things like age, gender, personal appearance, or name, rather than on an individual’s inner qualities, skills, and abilities.
      • Authority bias: This is the tendency to believe people in authority and to follow their instructions, without checking the validity of their decisions.
      • Confirmation bias: This is the tendency to select information that validates your own views and to ignore information that is contrary.

    We are all subject to unconscious bias, both in ourselves and those around us. Gathering information from a variety of sources, learning how to identify one’s own assumptions, and continually challenging your assumptions can help bring heightened awareness and build inclusivity.

    5. Inclusive leaders are committed for the long term.

    Last but not least, inclusive leaders are committed to creating environments where employees experience and practice inclusiveness every day. Toward that end, they are clear about the norms of behavior that are consistent with inclusiveness and pay attention to and address behavior that is problematic. Here are some “red flags” to watch for:

      • People feel unwelcome or that they don’t belong.
      • People feel unsafe in voicing their opinions.
      • People feel pressured to adhere to a particular norm of appearance.
      • People feel they need to stick to a particular way of thinking.
      • People feel they can’t challenge the status quo.

    Inclusive leaders know that building an inclusive culture is a never-ending process of assessment, learning, and growth. They survey people to gain insights into what aspects of inclusiveness are working well – and what could be improved. Below are examples of questions to include in a survey of organizational inclusiveness.

      1. Do you view the workplace as safe and inclusive?
      2. Are you comfortable expressing yourself at work?
      3. Have you witnessed any discrimination or bias towards others in the workplace?
      4. Have you personally experienced any form of discrimination or bias within the workplace?
      5. Do you believe the organization takes appropriate action to address incidents of discrimination or bias?
      6. Do people with different identities feel respected and valued?
      7. Are diverse perspectives actively sought and valued during decision-making processes?
      8. Do you believe that people from diverse backgrounds have equal opportunities for advancement within the organization?

    Inclusive leaders celebrate the aspects of inclusiveness that are working well. They facilitate brainstorming sessions to come up with ways to address those areas that remain problematic. Bottom line, they demonstrate a commitment to inclusiveness in everything they say and do – not out of a feeling that it’s something they should do, but out of a deep sense of responsibility for the welfare of every human being in the organization.


    Want to learn more?

    If you’re looking to learn more about leading effectively and if you’re ready to take your organization to the next level in other ways, contact us to speak with a consultant.

    Eric Douglas

    Eric Douglas is the senior partner and founder of Leading Resources Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on developing high-performing organizations. For more than 20 years, Eric has successfully helped a wide array of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations achieve breakthroughs in performance. His new book The Leadership Equation helps leaders achieve strategic clarity, manage change effectively, and build a leadership culture.

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