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From Good to Great: Developing Inclusive Leadership Skills

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Have you ever considered the power of inclusive leadership to your organisation? With diversity at the core of your business, you’ll create a collaborative and innovate working environment. And as an inclusive leader, you play an enormous role in your company’s success. 

Did you know you can hugely influence your culture to create an inclusive environment that empowers team members? In short, it’s you who provides the setting for people to feel confident, to be themselves, and contribute their very best at work. 

That’s quite a responsibility! But what an achievement when you get it right!

Anyone can be a good leader, but it takes constant self-development to be great. In this post, we’ll explore the key areas that’ll help you develop top notch inclusive leadership skills for taking your business to new heights.

Understanding inclusive leadership

Inclusive leadership is defined as a leadership approach that values diversity, promotes equity and allows for a sense of belonging. It’s a vast topic that we recently dedicated an entire white paper to – learn more by downloading it here. 

But in a nutshell, the goal of inclusive leadership is for everyone to feel respected, included, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives. It’s a key differentiator for organisations; boosting motivation, increasing creativity, and encouraging a culture of innovation. 

As an inclusive leader, you’ll bring teams together to work collaboratively, while recognising and maximising individual strengths. You’ll go beyond just meeting diversity quotas; instead, you’ll seek out different viewpoints and listen attentively. Ultimately, you’ll make diversity and inclusion your superpower! 

Are you ready to go from being a good leader to a great one by developing your inclusive leadership skills? This article’s for you!

The foundation of inclusive leadership

The fundamental principles of inclusive leadership are based on core values including compassion, empathy, equity, and open communication. The very best inclusive leaders embody these values.

Compassion and empathy allow leaders to understand and connect with their team, while equity ensures that every individual is given the same opportunities. Open communication enables team members to voice their opinions and encourages transparency. In leadership, these principles are applied by actively listening, giving feedback, and making everyone feel included. Your aim is to develop trust, mutual respect, and psychological safety within a workplace where everyone’s voice matters and is heard.

Self-reflection and awareness

How often do you take the time to consider how you carry out your role? We don’t mean the day-to-day tasks. But what kind of a leader are you?

Now we’ve introduced the basics of inclusive leadership, think about the traits and behaviours we’ve highlighted. How do you compare?

While this isn’t always a simple, or even comfortable task, developing self-awareness is the first step in becoming an inclusive leader. Without self-awareness, you can’t identify your own biases and assumptions and work towards overcoming them. 

So, block out a few minutes to reflect on your values, your leadership style, and your communication style to assess areas for improvement. There are various tools and exercises that can aid in ongoing self-reflection and personal growth. Why not try creating a journal to reflect on your actions and behaviours to help you identify areas that need improvement? Ask others for feedback on your leadership style (be prepared for them to be honest!). Or consider a mentor. Is there someone you admire as a leader? Do they represent the kind of leader you hope to become? 

Self-reflection is a vital first step. It’ll take a little proactivity and commitment, but understanding your own biases, assumptions, and blind spots will be well worth the effort in your journey towards personal growth.

Building inclusive teams

As an inclusive leader you should strive to create a team that values diversity and encourages inclusivity. It’s a key responsibility!

This can be achieved by being intentional during the hiring process – actively recruiting individuals from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives – and, also by encouraging a culture of innovation and creativity. When these attributes are part of your organisation’s DNA, you’ll promote a sense of belonging and inspire people to be open and engaged.

The most successful organisations are those that have embraced inclusive leadership and have diverse teams. Think organisations such as McDonalds who launched the “BETTER TOGETHER: Gender Balance and Diversity Strategy,” and Johnson & Johnson, famous for their D&I vision, “for every person to use their unique experiences, abilities, and backgrounds together – to spark solutions that create a better, healthier world.” It’s no coincidence that some of the largest global giants are committed to DE&I.

Effective communication

Communication’s critical when it comes to inclusive leadership. It’s the cornerstone of successful teamwork and organisational performance and develops understanding, trust, and collaboration. 

Inclusive communication should be clear, empathetic, and inclusive. When messages are unclear or ambiguous, it’s easy for misunderstandings to arise. Meanwhile empathetic communication involves actively considering others’ perspectives, needs, and emotions.

Three essential skills for leaders to master are active listening, providing constructive feedback, and encouraging open dialogue. Active listening allows you to understand different perspectives. Constructive feedback that’s specific, timely and focuses on the behaviour rather than the individual fosters growth and continuous improvement culture. And supporting open dialogue allows for people to feel valued and heard. 

Once communication skills are perfected, you’ll not only enhance team morale and engagement but also facilitate understanding and collaboration among diverse team members. This can have an immeasurable impact on team morale and performance. 

Fostering innovation

Did you know that inclusive leadership has a direct correlation with driving innovation and creativity? By embracing diverse perspectives, leaders can challenge conventional thinking, encourage out-of-the-box ideas, and create an environment where innovative solutions thrive. 

When leaders embrace inclusivity, they tap into a wide range of ideas, insights, and approaches. This diversity of thought sparks creativity and challenges conventional thinking. Inclusive leaders are key to creating platforms for ground-breaking solutions and transformative growth.

We know the importance of building diverse teams – we’ve seen the results first-hand. By partnering with Solutions Driven, you’ll gain access to a vast network of diverse candidates who bring unique perspectives, skills, and experiences. From executive search to talent acquisition strategies, Solutions Driven will ensure you have the necessary resources to identify and recruit the diverse talent needed to drive innovation.

Overcoming challenges

Developing inclusive leadership skills can come with its fair share of challenges. Remember if you hit obstacles along the way, it’s completely normal. Here’s a few of the most common issues and how to deal with them.

  1. Resistance to change: If you’re implementing inclusive practices, you could face resistance from individuals who aren’t entirely onboard with new ways of thinking and doing things. Overcoming this challenge involves reiterating the importance of open-mindedness, providing education and awareness on the benefits of inclusivity. Also remember to lead by example.
  1. Unconscious biases: Unconscious biases can impede the development of inclusive leadership skills. Most of us have them. But the important thing is recognising and confronting biases through self-reflection. Education and training programs can help leaders identify and address their biases.
  1. Lack of awareness: Some leaders may not fully understand the value and benefits of inclusivity. Addressing this challenge requires providing clear communication about the positive impacts of diversity and inclusion on team performance and organisational success. Sharing case studies and success stories can help leaders recognise the significance of inclusive leadership.
  1. Limited resources: An organisation may lack the necessary resources – budget or staff, for example, to fully support inclusive leadership development. But you can overcome this challenge by seeking external support, partnering with experts in diversity and inclusion, and utilising available resources.

Practical solutions and techniques

  1. Education and training: Providing comprehensive education and training programs on diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias can help leaders develop a deeper understanding and awareness. These programs can equip leaders with the knowledge and tools needed to address challenges and become more inclusive.
  1. Creating accountability: Establishing clear expectations and metrics for inclusive leadership can hold leaders accountable for their progress. Reinforce it with regular check-ins, performance evaluations, and recognition of inclusive leadership behaviours.
  1. Building diverse networks: Actively seeking diverse perspectives and building networks of individuals from different backgrounds can broaden leaders’ understanding and support their growth as inclusive leaders. Engaging in networking events, conferences, and industry groups focused on diversity and inclusion can facilitate connections and learning opportunities.
  1. Mentorship and coaching: Seeking mentorship or coaching from experienced inclusive leaders can provide valuable guidance and support. Mentors can share their own experiences, offer advice on navigating challenges, and serve as role models for inclusive leadership.

5.     Inspiring stories of leaders overcoming obstacles: Sharing success stories of leaders who’ve successfully overcome challenges in developing inclusive leadership skills can inspire and motivate others. Highlight the transformative power of inclusive leadership and demonstrate that change is possible. 

Measuring progress

You don’t want all your hard work to go to waste. To ensure you stay on track, continuous improvement and measuring progress are essential.

Make sure you’re setting goals and identifying key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs might include:

·      Diversity metrics

·      Employee satisfaction/engagement surveys

·      Feedback sessions/inclusion scorings

·      Training and development participation

·      Promotion and retention rates

And to quantify your success you could do the following:

·      Data collection and analysis 

·      Establish baselines and targets 

·      Benchmark

·      Demonstrate transparency with regular reporting

·      Commit to continuous improvement (i.e. refine/adapt KPIs regularly)

Whichever measures and methods you choose, be sure to track your success by quantifying improvement. It’s vital for assessing your development in inclusive leadership – both your own personal growth and the performance of your people and the business. 

Who’s leading the way?

Let’s wrap up by hearing from some inclusive leader role models. 

Group CEO of Y9, Ashish J. Thakkar, describes how his business is “embracing inclusive and accessible models such as compassionate leadership.” Ashish prioritises empathy and collaboration through truthful leadership and is dedicated to inspiring positive change and transparency. He’s quoted as saying “We believe in shared leadership with love, where diverse perspectives contribute to decision-making with an ‘everyone should win’ lens.”

Shani Senbetta is the Founder and CEO at Ethiopian social enterprise, Kidame Mart, a business supporting rural women to start up their own micro-enterprises. 

Shani is proud to have created a leadership model “based on empowerment, not charity.” She explains how her biggest challenge on setting up was having to change this mindset – in both the women she supports and her staff. But today, she owns a thriving company meeting its goals of ‘making economic opportunities more accessible’ and owes her success to a commitment to education and mentorship.

And finally, Karen Horting, Exec Director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, quite simply says in an article written for Forbes, ‘Diversity benefits everyone. It’s not an issue that just affects minorities or women. Diversity is an issue that affects the entire workforce.”

Inclusive leadership isn’t a destination. It’s an ongoing journey of growth and improvement. By embracing empathy, equity, and open communication, leaders can create environments where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute their best. 

As an inclusive leader, it’s crucial to commit to developing your inclusive leadership skills continuously. By doing so, you can unlock the full potential of your teams, drive innovation, and foster a culture of inclusion and belonging. 

Are you ready to embark on your journey to becoming a more inclusive leader? Learn more with our white paper, Inclusive Leaders: The Secret to DE&I. Or chat to one of the team at Solutions Driven. Far more than traditional recruiters, we’re working with organisations on their end-to-end talent acquisition strategies, helping them to reach their goals with diverse and inclusive workplaces.

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