Inclusive Leadership: Definition and Guideline

Global shifts are fundamentally changing the world we live and do business in. From markets to customers, ideas to talent – the increasing diversity across all of these groups is driving the need for inclusion as a new leadership capability.

Unique and critical to the success of organizations in the near future, inclusive leadership helps businesses adapt and commit to the achievement of the DEI guiding principles: diversity, equity, and inclusion. 


What is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership is the capacity to manage and lead a
heterogenous group of people efficiently, while respecting their
uniqueness in an empathetic, bias-free way.

Source: Workable

This inclusive leadership definition summarizes the need for authentic, inclusive leadership. These principles can be applied across the following four core pillars  that Deloitte identified. Each of them outlines a substantial shift, creating a business context that is more diverse and changing faster than we’ve ever seen historically: 

Leadership and Diversity of Talent

Employee populations see shifts that influence the diversity within an organization: age, education, ethnicity, gender, equal opportunity expectations, and other attributes. A company’s long-term success will depend on its leadership’s ability to create and optimize a diverse workforce.

Leadership and Diversity of Markets

Emerging markets, with their growing middle class, represent the single biggest growth opportunity for various businesses worldwide, based on a noticeable shift in demand.

Leadership and Diversity of Customers

Demographics of customers are changing, as are their attitudes. Technology empowers customers globally, equipping them with greater choice and ways to research and compare. This increasingly diverse customer base expects better personalization of products, services and the company’s messaging around it.

Leadership and Diversity of Ideas

Digitalization as well as hyper-connectivity and deregulation change the way we consume – goods as well as information. Digital technology creates broader competition, causing a need for rapid innovation.

Inclusive Leadership

The shift towards diversity of talent, markets, customers and ideas lead to a new landscape for leaders. It creates a new context that requires rapid adjustment towards inclusion and diversity as a leadership focus.

While some timeless notions of leadership will remain important, it is vital to understand the need to adapt to an inclusive leadership style in a diverse environment. Adjusting to this means mastering inclusive leadership skills

Diversity Team

The Benefits of Building an Inclusive and Diverse Organisation

Inclusive leadership is the capacity to manage and lead a
heterogenous group of people efficiently, while respecting their
uniqueness in an empathetic, bias-free way.

Source: Korn Ferry

For your organization to thrive in the future, unlocking the potential of all employees, all markets and all ideas to stand out to customers is key. In a world that is fundamentally changing on a global scale, driving real change needs to come from the boardroom, with a leadership team focused on inclusivity and diversity to build and shape their organization on the DEI principles.

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Inclusive Leadership Examples

Inclusive leadership […] rules out discrimination, bias and favour based on color, race and other protected characteristics
and allows employees to feel valued for their own input.

Source: Workable

What does it look like, when a company’s inclusive leadership commits to and follows through on goals set as part of their DEI journey?

Examples of inclusive leadership commitments that resulted in shifts which were noticeable beyond the organization – for markets and consumers – show a broad spectrum of ways in which inclusive leadership drives positive change:

  • British Public Broadcaster BBC has set up its Creative Diversity Commitment, a financial commitment to long-term change with a budget of 100 million British Pounds, focused on on-air-inclusion

  • Shifting the focus to diversity, GM’s CEO took full responsibility to ensure DEI principles as a continued priority on the company’s agenda

  • Apple’s $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative just announced a new set of projects to dismantle systemic barriers to opportunity and combat racial injustice, including venture capital funding for Black and Brown entrepreneurs and the Apple Developer Academy in Detroit for Black entrepreneurs, creators and coders

Key Steps Towards Inclusive Leadership

“Even relatively diverse companies face significant challenges
in creating work environments characterized by inclusive leadership and accountability among managers, equality and fairness of opportunity, and openness and freedom from bias and discrimination.”

Source: McKinsey

Research and reality show that there’s work to be done. The importance of inclusion and diversity, and specific aspects within it, is highlighted in McKinsey’s extensive research. Across countries and industries the common thread for leaders who successfully implement these topics is a systematic approach and bold steps to strengthen them within their company.  

Their importance puts them firmly on the long-term agenda, with the need for clearly defined and continued commitment. Led by leaders’ visible awareness of bias and their ability to express humility and empathy, it puts these companies on a path to successful implementation across all levels of their organization.

Leadership Attributes of Inclusive Leaders

What’s a first step leaders can take towards inclusive leadership? Expand your leadership set of critical competencies to include the following key features of inclusive leadership. 

Take a professional deep-dive into the ones you are less familiar with. Show long-term commitment to these attributes, and others you may have identified, as these will shape your organization’s approach to inclusion and diversity. 

“What leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included. […] the more people feel included, the more they speak up, go the extra mile, and collaborate — all of which ultimately lifts organizational performance.”

  • Visible commitment

    Articulate authentic long-term commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable, and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority.

  • Humility

    Be modest about capabilities, admit mistakes, and create the space for others to do the same.

  • Awareness of bias

    Show awareness of personal blind spots and flaws in the system.

  • Curiosity about others

    Keep an open mindset and deep curiosity about others, listen without judgment, and be emphatic towards them.

  • Cultural intelligence

    Be attentive to others’ cultures and adapt as required.

  • Effective collaboration

    Empower others, pay attention to diversity of thinking and psychological safety, and focus on team cohesion.

Key Search helps Businesses Hire Their Inclusive Leaders

At Key Search, we help some of the world’s most exciting startups and fast-growth companies hire their leaders. From inclusive leadership style to company culture, we carefully consider all factors to help you hire the right candidate for your company. 

Inclusive leaders and diversity in leadership build or expand your company’s diverse teams. They are experienced in placing diversity and inclusive leadership on your company’s long-term agenda. We are able to help you find the best inclusive leaders for you and assist you and them during the hiring process

Are you starting or expanding your inclusive leadership team? 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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