Even though I have always loved breaking down complex leadership topics into simple language and behaviors that leaders can employ at work, I know leadership is not a simple business. For example, I see the topic of inclusive leadership as a kind of paradox. Why? Because the best leaders engage people in supporting a common goal beyond self-interest while acknowledging the unique characteristics each person brings to the table.
People Need to Feel Valued and Included
One of the primary responsibilities of an inclusive leader is to ensure that everyone they lead feels welcomed, involved, and psychologically safe at work. These leaders join their team members in a side-by-side working relationship that the people had a part in creating.
- Inclusive leaders invite participation and perspective. Not only do these leaders recognize and appreciate the unique point of view, background, and skill set of each person on their team, they also encourage their people to openly share those qualities and ways of seeing the world with their team mates.
- Inclusive leaders treat people equitably and ethically, given each person’s situation. This means getting to know who they are, what motivates them, and what they are hoping to achieve through their work experience. It also means understanding that each person is at a specific development level on each task or goal. The leader’s role is to work with each person to set goals, diagnose their development level on each goal or task, and provide the amount of direction and support they need to succeed.
- Inclusive leaders are empathetic to the needs of each individual team member.When leaders deliver the appropriate leadership style in each situation, they demonstrate their care for the individual team member and their development. This servant leadership-based approach puts the needs of others ahead of the needs of the leader, empowers people to move forward in their development, and builds confidence, empathy, and trust.
Inclusive Leaders Support their People
In her most recent blog post, April Hennessey, director of innovation for The Ken Blanchard Companies® and inclusion expert, says “If organizations hope to move large populations of employees toward more culturally aware and inclusive practices, their employees need to feel supported by and able to seek guidance from their managers, directors, and so on, all the way up the org chart.”
Inclusive leaders see the manager/direct report relationship as a partnership that begins with agreed-upon goals, regularly assesses degrees of competence and commitment, and ultimately relies on the hearts and skills of managers who will adjust their leadership style to meet the needs of each team member.
This process is the core of the SLII® leadership model I have been teaching for over 50 years. Its way of bringing people together in service of a larger goal is, by its very nature, inclusive—because SLII® charges every leader with truly knowing each person on their team, caring for them as individuals, and understanding their strengths as well as their needs.
Leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The reality is that most people don’t like to be told to do something. They want their voice to be heard. They want to be included in discussions. They want to be involved in decisions. They want to be appreciated. Inclusive leaders work alongside their people to make it happen.
You can become the kind of inclusive leader we need in today’s work environment where so many people are not able to contribute at the level they desire. Taking the time to know your people, diagnose where they are developmentally, and adjust your leadership style to help them succeed is a great way to get started.
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