7 Acts of Inclusive Leadership

Whether you’re just starting out or the leader of an entire organization, engaging in these 7 intentional inclusion tasks and building the following leadership skills will allow you to reinvent relationships and strengthen your organization.

1. Deepen your self-awareness.
As your first empowering act of inclusion, build a solid foundation of personal understanding of the powers and privileges you may have access to. Sometimes this may mean asking for feedback; admitting your own mistakes and failures; reflect on your own upbringing, background and social identity; talking about your emotions and experiences; or advocate for your own needs.

You need to have a high level of self-awareness; understand your own biases, strengths, and weaknesses; And be comfortable in your own skin to be able to engage in inclusive leadership tasks. If you are comfortable with yourself, that confidence will reflect through all the other actions of inclusive leadership. Learn how to increase your self-awareness.

2. Increase social awareness.
From self-awareness comes social awareness, a component of emotional intelligence, which is linked to leadership effectiveness. Social awareness is the currency of dialogue and our relationships with other people.

When people lack social awareness, they have trouble communicating or tend to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Use the information you gather to build an inclusive leadership culture while paying attention to what’s happening around you. For example, if a new person is hired, take some time to get to know them, show them around, and offer to help them get acclimated. Simple acts of inclusion can help build a culture of respect in your organization.

3. Reveal blind spots.
In your daily interactions with colleagues, enable yourself to open up to new information. Be curious about your organization’s experiences that differ from your own. Ask questions to learn more about other perspectives.

As we mentioned in our article, 5 Powerful Ways to Take Real Action on DEI, senior leaders especially need to recognize that their organization is not a level playing field. It may or may not be visible to you, but once you recognize that reality, you’ll be better equipped to take meaningful, significant steps that make opportunities more accessible to all of your employees.

4. Listen to understand.
Listening is a powerful tool and when used correctly, it can help the listener discover 3 things: information, and underlying feelings and values.

As a leader, you have opportunities to practice effective listening skills in everyday conversations, whether your employees are sharing personal stories or enlisting your help to work through a challenging assignment.

By listening to understand, you go beyond active listening to get a more accurate picture of the challenges your team is facing. You are better equipped to resolve conflicts, and you increase competence as well as inclusion and communication skills.

5. Make connections.
What is the purpose of making connections? A connection is a link formed between people with the intention of strengthening, encouraging and enhancing their bond. These connections help give you a more diverse social network. If you can create social connections, you’re more likely to have what you need when you need it, and that connection is directly linked to employee well-being. On the other hand, when social connectedness is low, individuals run the risk of experiencing isolation, fear, mistrust, limited access to information, and negative effects on work performance.

In an organization, different social networks and a network-wide perspective are important because they invite information from different sources and perspectives. These perspectives expand your ability to deal with differences, especially in times of challenge or crisis. Just as you want to diversify your financial portfolio, you want your social networks to be diverse, as it makes you a more flexible, resilient and agile leader.

6. Lead with courageous vulnerability.
Inclusive leaders lead with courageous vulnerability. In other words, they put themselves in a place where they feel vulnerable, and they do so with courage. They are self-aware enough to recognize their own limitations and be able to share them openly. They seek input and ask questions, and they respectfully challenge others’ ways of thinking.

A senior faculty member in our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion practice, Abigail Dunn-Moses, describes an experience early in her career: “I’m a black woman, and in my organization, we had a Latina who was very committed. Year after year, I was promoted. I saw his tireless work,” she says. “I felt for him, but I didn’t do anything for a long time.”

As a co-minority in the organization, Dunne-Moses felt vulnerable — and that she had no voice. “But the truth was that I did,” she says. “So I faced my weakness, I faced it bravely, and I spoke up for him.”

Dunn-Moses had to reveal this bold weakness 3 times through constant conversations with management, but eventually, his weakness paid off and his colleague was promoted. As a result of her persistence and willingness to practice allyship as a leader, Dunne-Moses was able to strengthen her organization by helping to retain and advance a highly committed and engaged employee whose contributions had been overlooked.

7. Invest resources in inclusion.
Forward-thinking organizations understand that building a culture of inclusive leadership and diverse teams that collaborate well together takes a thoughtful investment of resources, but will provide a valuable return in the form of increased employee satisfaction and engagement, the ability to innovate, and the ability to respond. Complex challenges.

But how do you invest in inclusive leadership? A recent survey found that nearly 75% of underrepresented groups — women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ employees — don’t think they’ve personally benefited from their company’s diversity and inclusion programs.

We believe that inclusive leadership will continue to grow in importance in the coming years and we highlight this in our (Better) Leadership project, where we focus on how leadership can (and should) evolve with our changing world.

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