As we continue to adapt to challenging and uncertain economic times and look toward the future of how we can sustainably compete in an ever-changing marketplace, we often focus on business strategy, lean reduction, systems, processes and key differentiating factors which define our competitive edge. All relevant and powerful places to look. However, when it comes to attracting and retaining your best talent, harvesting the innovative ideas that live and breathe inside your organizations corridors and eliciting true commitment from employees, inclusive leadership skills are required.
We often see Diversity and Inclusion in the same area so let’s be clear that our stand is that we are ALL diverse. Diversity is about the differences and similarities of everyone – it is NOT limited to a specific group of people. We all have inherent diversity; factors with us from birth that shape how we see the world and how we are seen, like race, gender, ethnicity, etc. Their influence can impact our behaviors, expectations and mindsets. And acquired diversity, aspects of us and our identity that are shaped by elements that change over the course of our lives: where we live and experiences we have. These are less visible but still important in forming how we view the world.
Inclusive leadership is the ability to effectively leverage diversity and most importantly the diversity of thought that comes with it.
Inclusion has become an integral part of the survival conversation, begging the question “How can we enable employees to maximize their creativity to drive organizational innovation and long-term success?” Inclusive leadership creates the environment that does just that. A leader who leverages diversity of thinking can be the disruptive force that breaks-through common limiting factors in even the strongest of organizations. These limitations are often driven by culture, the behaviors, systems and symbols that point to “the way we do things around here”. It is our strong need to belong that has shaped us to quickly and often unconsciously assess what it takes to “be one of us” and what it would take to be “rejected”.
Our goal, and often that of the organization is for someone to assimilate quickly and “get with the program”. This is in direct conflict with efforts an organization might initiate to diversify talent, ideas and ways of viewing things in service of creativity and innovation. If an organization is truly committed to effectively competing in today’s ever-changing marketplace with increasingly global and virtual work teams, it needs to foster a culture that values the unique experiences and perspectives of each individual and fully engages everyone in the drive to success. Inclusion means that employees experience a sense of belonging.
Inclusive leaders strive to create an environment where employees feel they are part of one organization, across the globe. They value every individual’s contributions, no matter their title, in order to better adapt to new competitive opportunities and challenges. Building a culture that thrives on inclusive leadership starts with building the self-awareness of the leaders. Developing their ability to be introspective, being honest and aware of their own blind spots and deepening their ability and commitment to be authentically curious, listen and learn from their employees.
Gone are the days of the lone leader with all of the answers. Today’s leaders are leading with questions, changing the conversation, inviting challenge and demonstrating the powerful humility and self-awareness required to truly be inclusive. This in turns creates a culture where we interact with one another human to human, rather than title to title and invite everyone to be a part of the success of the organization rather than just “doing what they are told.” Command and control will stifle the creativity and commitment of even the most dedicated among us. Today’s modern competitive advantage is inclusive leadership. Bill Gates recently said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
About the author
Pamela is Axialent’s North America Managing Partner. With more than 15 years of experience in international relationship management, consulting and entrepreneurship, she is a leadership consultant and coach, course designer, and conference speaker. Read more>