Teresa Boughey outlines five ways to be a more inclusive leader.
Being a leader is a tough gig.
All eyes are on you – yes, that’s you! Watching your every move and hanging on your every word. Some may relish being in the limelight, particularly when things are going well, however as we know the events of 2020 have meant that leaders have needed to step into uncharted territory as they’ve endeavoured to grapple with the effects of the global pandemic.
The ripple effect on the decisions made by leaders at this time will be felt by many, in truth, for generations to come. Behaviours and actions not only impact the immediate workforce, but their families, talent attraction for the future, the customers they serve and the communities within which they operate.
This is why there has never been a more critical time than now for inclusive leadership. For leaders to skilfully flex between making critical business decisions and setting the pace, whilst at the same time providing psychological safety for employees who are likely to be experiencing feelings they have never felt before; loss, grief, and anxiety by the sheer uncertainty of what the future holds.
An inclusive leader will be in tune with its people and the environment within which they operate.
But what is inclusive leadership and what does it look like? Let’s take a look at the five key traits of an inclusive leader:
An inclusive leader will have a high degree of personal awareness. They will be aware of their own strengths but also recognise that at times these can also become weaknesses. They will know their limitation and not be afraid to look to others for expertise and guidance.
They are able to tune into the emotions they are feeling at any given time and can recognise the impacts that this has on others as well as their own performance. They understand the links between their thoughts, emotions and actions. They have an ability to connect with others, flexing their style when tuning into the needs of others.
The use of personality profiling tools can be highly beneficial as self-analysis can be difficult, particularly if behaviours have been suppressed.
When leaders start to experience stress and burnout then ‘bad day’ behaviours may start to become more commonplace, particularly as leaders continue to navigate these choppy waters. Having a strong degree of personal awareness can therefore be crucial for personal health and wellbeing.
Fairness and equity
Inclusive leaders do not have favourites. They will proactively look to create opportunities for all. They will ensure that all employees receive frequent and constructive feedback, they will proactively provide opportunities for professional development through coaching, mentoring and/or stretch opportunities.
They will treat individuals and groups fairly as they recognise and value their unique difference rather than making assumptions, value judgement or applying stereotypes. They welcome upward feedback and see this as a positive route to enhancing their own knowledge as well as developing and strengthening working relationships.
At a time when organisations find themselves managing a divided workforce with furloughed employees, those working remotely as well as those employees who have continued to work as normal during the pandemic then there’s never been a more important time to be transparent with communications.
To be fair and equitable with actions and to recognise the value that diversity of thoughts and unique difference can bring.
Right now employees are likely to be experiencing feelings they have never felt before. Over recent months employees may have experienced bereavement for loved ones or colleagues, managing grief as a result of lockdown limitations and restrictions, while juggling family or carer responsibilities, or facing financial difficulties.
They may also be one of the millions of black people and their allies around the world who are hurting and looking to their leaders to use their voice, power, position and resources to make fundamental changes.
An inclusive leader will be in tune with its people and the environment within which they operate. They will show empathy for employees who are struggling with life challenges. They will listen and create harmony within a group and inspire others through leading by example.
Inclusive leaders are not afraid to show vulnerability. They will own their mistakes and admit when they get things wrongs. Not having all the answers is never viewed as a weakness, instead they see this as an opportunity to learn and grow. They will proactively seek the advice of others to achieve an enhanced overall outcome.
They will openly share their challenges, hopes, dreams and fears. They recognise that growth can often arise when we move beyond our comfort zone and when we overcome our biggest challenges.
Inclusive leaders recognise that by listening to others as well as sharing their experiences with others it breaks down hierarchical barriers, it creates an opportunity for human connection and can inspire others to go beyond what is often felt as impossible.
Inclusive leaders will champion others, particularly when they are not in the room. They will show support by speaking their name, they will put others forward for opportunities. They take the time to understand the uniqueness of others and will make connections and put them forward for opportunities recognising that diverse groups lead to richer decision making, more creativity and reduces the risk of groupthink.
Inclusive leaders will close down hurtful comments and will have zero tolerance when it comes to discriminatory behaviour and practices. They don’t ever see that championing others means less for them, an inclusive leader recognises that when others succeed they succeed too.
It’s fair to say that so far 2020 is undoubtedly providing the biggest test of leadership skills the world has seen. Whilst at the same time is providing a great opportunity for leaders to lean in, to learn and be open to change.
Every leadership action creates a ripple effect which will be felt for years to come so choose wisely, be inclusive and shape your leadership legacy.
About the author
Teresa Boughey MA FCIPD is CEO of award-winning Jungle HR and founder of Inclusion 247.