So, You Want to Be an Inclusive Leader?

By: The Humphrey Group

We know that inclusion yields many organizational benefits: a happier and healthier workplace, better talent retention, more innovative teams, better decision making, and the list goes on. And yet many organizations struggle with actively creating a culture whereby all members of the team feel empowered. To reap the benefits of inclusion, organizations must focus on developing inclusive leaders. Learning how to be an inclusive leader is more than just good intentions or an open mind. It requires a fundamental shift in the way leaders approach their role and manage their teams. Any leader who wishes to lead more inclusively must adopt a mindset of empathy, humility, and respect. 

While these might sound like lofty ideas, there are many surprisingly simple actions any leader can take to immediately develop a more inclusive leadership style. 

Communicate with Empathy

Empathy is fundamental to inclusive leadership because inclusion is all about acknowledging and valuing the ways that we are different. The most empathic leaders are curious about the different experiences members of their team bring to their work, and intentionally draw these out. The result is a team of people that feels valued because of the different perspectives they bring. In practice, this can be as simple as asking questions before stating your own opinion; actively inviting disagreement in meetings so that those who have a different perspective feel safe sharing it; and appreciating differences of opinion when they arise rather than viewing them as a problem. 

Communicate with Humility

An inclusive leader knows their own limitations and genuinely believes they need others to succeed. This mindset of humility is a key pillar of an inclusion mindset. In practice, this can mean Inviting more people into the conversation than you think you need to, engaging with them and asking for their opinions and suggestions. Be authentic and listen to what is being said – integrate these views and ideas into your own initiatives and lead by example. Taking the time to see the organization through the eyes of others is one of the sincerest ways to demonstrate humility because you’re admitting that you don’t know it all. 

Remember, leaders are human! Missteps are inevitable. Inclusive leaders have the courage to take responsibility and apologize without qualifying. In these difficult moments, leaders set the example for the rest of the organization. 

Communicate with Respect

Respect is about holding space for the preferences of others, recognizing that we may not always understand them fully. Inclusive leaders are lifelong learners and committed to keeping up with changing norms and expectations. Whether this is eliminating outdated words from your vocabulary, getting comfortable using new terms, or simply rethinking the questions you ask your team members to avoid micro-aggressions, leaders have daily opportunities to practice the mindset of respect. Examples include: explicit acts of listening (“Could you tell me more about that?”), asking others for their opinions (“What’s your take on this idea?”), or taking an interest in their experiences (“Has this been true for you in the past?”).

A truly inclusive leader will always be building the pillars of empathy, humility, and respect as part of their leadership mindset. Developing these skills requires commitment, but by taking on the challenge you will be in a position to enhance your leadership skills and inspire others to do the same.

Learn more about inclusive leadership with The Humphrey Group here.