Inclusive leadership is simple. It’s about giving everyone the opportunity to be heard. More specifically, when people feel that they are treated fairly, that their uniqueness is appreciated and they have a sense of belonging, and that they have a voice in decision-making, then they feel included.

Inclusive leadership is about accepting & optimizing diversity of people so as to facilitate innovation in abundance. Innovation cannot be welcomed if leaders operate with a stifled, rigid, resolute, know-it-all attitude.

Often, leaders unintentionally (or sometimes, intentionally) exhibit behaviours of exclusion that leave staff feeling left out and despondent, which in turn impacts team’s productivity and performance. A leadership coach can make you mindful about it & help you practice inclusion more consciously. Leadership coaching is certainly a simple yet effective method to achieve leadership goals.

As a leader, you bear the responsibility for setting the tone and carrying the mantle of an inclusive culture. Here are 5 attributes that will make you an inclusive leader at the workplace:

1.Practice humility & transparency: Those [leaders] who lack the self-awareness and humility to learn and admit they don’t know everything—these would be leaders who miss an opportunity to learn, and who will be blindsided if they are not careful.

Humility never gets old. It will only create better understanding and respect between people. Admit your mistakes; learn from criticism, suggestions & different points of view; acknowledge & seek contributions of others to overcome your limitations. Keep conversations and observations oriented around issues and not individuals. Club it with transparent communication, and there you have it, a highly functioning team with better-aligned values.

2.Demonstrate courage to propose and accept new normals: Inclusive leaders aren’t afraid to challenge entrenched organizational attitudes and practices that yield homogeneity, even if their recommendations are politically or culturally unpopular. The courage to speak up—to challenge the status quo—is a central behaviour of an inclusive leader. Similarly such leaders are also open to listen to accept other people’s ideas and suggestions to bring about cohesiveness and ‘a tolerance for innovation’ amongst everyone.

In the 1980s, for example, McKinsey changed its recruiting practices to promote divergent thinking and meet a demand for consultants. Instead of continuing to recruit from a narrow pool of MBAs from the top business schools, McKinsey’s Advanced Professional Degree (APD) program sought out talent from industry and a broader base of universities. Today, 20 to 30 percent of McKinsey’s North American associates are classed as APDs, as opposed to 10 percent in the early 1990s; the diversity of background, industry experience, and discipline knowledge of APDs are seen as highly valuable.

3.Avoid favouritism: Nearly everyone has their favourite go-to person for sharing information, leading projects, asking for advice, etc. However, as an inclusive leader, you must keep a watch on this behaviour.

Favouritism can decrease morale, act as a de-motivator for the team, dampen performance and increase attrition.  Inclusive leaders are mindful of personal and organizational blind spots, and self-regulate to help ensure fair play.

The leaders that are inclusive do a couple of things. At the individual level, they are very self-aware, and they act on that self-awareness. And they acknowledge that their organizations, despite best intentions, have unconscious bias, and they put in place policies, processes, and structures in order to mitigate the unconscious bias that exists. 

4.Stay curious: What’s the one attribute CEOs need to succeed in the future? “I would place my bet on curiosity,” responded Michael Dell, chairman and chief executive officer of Dell Inc., in an interview. “Because with curiosity comes learning and new ideas, and in businesses that are changing very rapidly, if you’re not curious, you’re not learning, and you’re going to have a real problem.”

Highly inclusive leaders have an open mind-set, a desire to understand how others view and experience the world, and a tolerance for ambiguity.  For inclusive leaders, asking curious questions and actively listening are core skills that are key to deepening their understanding of perspectives from diverse individuals.

5.Empower your team members: Empowerment is all about enabling team members to develop and excel and to give them the best conditions to do so. Inclusive leaders provide every individual the flexibility to get work done in their own preferred way.

“The end state for a good performing team is an autonomous team,” says Deven Billimoria, CEO of Smartgroup Corporation, an innovative specialized financial services firm. Such collaboration and tolerance of diversity leads to the most innovative work by every team member which enhances the overall intelligence of the organization.

Summing up, inclusive leadership is about treating people fairly, valuing their uniqueness, and leveraging the thinking of diverse groups for smarter ideation and decision making.

Inclusive leadership has the power to make an enormous difference to the level of innovation and collaboration of a team. When applied correctly it can provide the tools, behaviours and mind-set for leaders to be more effective not only at work but also in their personal lives. Through leadership coaching sessions, an executive coach can help you integrate it in both- your work and personal life- to bring about the best in people around you and more importantly to be your best.

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