How to Become an Inclusive Leader

Key Search Insight: Inclusive Leadership

There are many leadership styles and many paths towards becoming a leader. Leadership evolves from and depends on many factors, and as obvious as some may seem, they are what shape a leadership role. 

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”

Source: Forbes

Successful leadership means maximizing employee engagement so their ideas and actions bring an organization closer to reaching a goal. Unlocking the potential of all employees is a cornerstone of inclusive leadership, which is an essential part of successful leadership.


What is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership is an important part of successful leadership for businesses and organizations worldwide. For organizations to thrive in a diverse and rapidly changing world, unlocking the potential of all employees is paramount. 

Workforce diversity has been linked with many benefits, such as boosting creativity and enabling more effective problem solving. […]
Once managers have achieved diversity in their team, the next step is to implement inclusion tactics. Team members need to feel psychologically safe and included to bring diversity’s benefits to light.”

Source: Workable

Authentic inclusive leadership is essential to effectively shape your organization on the principles of diversity and inclusion.  For a deep dive into the definition of inclusive leadership, head to our blog article Inclusive Leadership: Definition and Guideline.

The Importance of Inclusive Leadership

The increasing diversity of employee populations, as well as the diversity of markets, customers and digitally available information create a business context that is highly diverse and changing at a faster rate than ever before.

A leader’s ability to create and optimize a diverse workforce in and for diverse markets, with diverse customers and infinitely more diverse information at the tap of a screen will decide the success of an organization. 

Inclusive leadership balances and adapts to shifts in any and all of these areas. Using the tools and skills they have acquired as inclusive leaders, changes are met with an open, non-judgmental attitude. 

Inclusive vs Exclusive Leadership

Diversity and Inclusion: Qualities of Inclusive Leaders

What does it take to become and remain an inclusive leader? Being an inclusive leader is a big challenge as it takes time and energy. Deloitte’s research shows that many leaders cite their personal values and a deep sense of fairness as the main driver in the pursuit of inclusion and diversity in their organization. In addition, the reward of enhanced performance for an individual, a team and the organization as a whole was cited by leaders.

Small Steps, Big Impact

While many factors play into inclusive leadership, start with a focus on those traits that you identify as most crucial for yourself and your organization. To understand where some of your time and efforts should be directed, consider taking the Project Implicit test from Harvard University. 

Whether you’re starting out or are the leader of an entire organization, building or expanding the following top traits of inclusive leadership will allow you to empower your individual employee relationships and your entire organization. 

These traits ensure that all members of your organization are treated equitably, feel a sense of belonging and value, and have the resources and support they need to achieve their full potential.

Top Traits of Inclusive Leaders

  • Authentic Commitment

    Authentic commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I), because these objectives align with their personal values. This needs to be seen and heard by all employees. Inclusive leaders are the ambassadors of D&I in an organization, challenge the status quo and make D&I a personal and professional priority.

  • Humility

    Inclusive leaders are able to admit to mistakes, learn from criticism, create a space where different points of view are acknowledged, and seek these contributions to grow as leaders and overcome limitations.

  • Awareness of bias

    Being mindful of personal and organizational unconscious bias and blind spots and setting up policies, processes and structures to mitigate them. Striving for self-regulation and fair play Challenging habitual patterns on a personal and organizational level is a characteristic of inclusive leadership.

  • Empathy and Compassion

    These traits are crucial to inclusive leadership. It also includes actively seeking to understand others' points of view and bringing a compassionate perspective to working and communicating with others.

  • Cultural intelligence

    Understanding others' cultural norms, seeking perspectives and adapting as required informs D&I decisions and the possible need to expand a company's efforts in this area. Effective cross-cultural interaction for inclusive leaders means understanding how their own culture impacts their worldview and expectation of others and applying this to their leadership.

  • Effective collaboration

    Inclusive leaders are team players, fostering and involving themselves in a working environment that is open to collaboration to achieve what's best for the team and to work towards a common goal. This results in empowered individual employees and creates diverse groups to leverage collaboration to produce something new, solve a problem or reach a goal.

  • Curiosity and Creativity

    Curiosity opens the door to new ideas, continual learning, open-mindedness and to creative problem solving. This inclusive leadership skill of learning about and synthesizing a wide range of perspectives requires time and effort to engage and involve yourself. The result is a richer set of information, tools and strategies that enable better decision making.

Sustaining and Evolving Inclusion in Remote Set-Ups

“Dramatic workplace changes introduced in response to COVID-19 have provided organizations the opportunity to reset team dynamics. This major shift can, and should, also serve as a  catalyst to embed more inclusive practices and more effective leadership skills.”

Source: McKinsey

In the wake of the pandemic, working remotely has become the next normal for many employees and could be a permanent shift in the way we work together in organizations. 

To ensue that valuable advances in diversity and inclusion are continued, inclusive leaders take on the challenge of sustaining and evolving inclusion in a remote setting. Helping individuals and teams build new habits that match the remote setting while strengthening connections across the organization will encourage the growth of an inclusive company culture.

Stress and negative emotions are a common result of the pandemic. In addition, non-inclusive dynamics can be less visible to inclusive leaders and at the same time feel more amplified for the individual. For leaders to understand what employees are facing in a remote setting and how to support them is essential. The following list offers starting points for inclusive leaders to encourage empathetic communication, and respond to challenges in inclusive ways:

Diversity Team

Remote Inclusive Leadership Strategies

  • Demonstrate empathy

    Make time for frequent check-ins to learn how to support employees in their remote set-up

  • Acknowledge needs

    Share your challenges to encourage an open dialogue about employee experiences of working remotely rather than making assumptions; tailor actions according to the outcome

  • Seek to understand

    Others' experiences and personal style matters and will inform what is needed for everyone to feel included in a team

  • Empower diverse perspectives

    Encourage participation in virtual meetings through questions, welcoming different opinions, and rotating call facilitators.

  • Make time for remote team building

    Substitute in-person, impromptu engagement with scheduled sessions that focus on familiarizing team members with each other.

  • Prioritize mentoring and development

    Set regular check-ins, assess goals and interests, challenges and opportunities for each team member

  • Set individual inclusion commitments

    Share your own goals and encourage employees to set individual goals and commitments around inclusion and diversity. Create a list of inclusive actions that can help employees choose their own.

Ultimately, your goal as an inclusive leader is to realize the full potential of all employees, whether you have returned to an in-person work set-up or have adopted a new, remote structure.

Expand Your Inclusive Leadership Team with Key Search

Key Search supports some of the world’s most exciting startups and fast-growth companies in hiring their inclusive leaders. Considering factors from location to company culture and leadership style, we include all factors to help you hire the right leader for your company.
Inclusive leaders and diversity in leadership help your company’s diverse teams realize their full potential. They are experts in placing diversity and inclusive leadership on your company’s long-term agenda. We are able to help you find the best inclusive leaders and assist you and them during the hiring process. 

Are you ready to expand your inclusive leadership team or want to focus on inclusive leadership moving forward? Reach out to me for an initial call to get to know each other, align expectations and to see how Key Search can help you. 

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