By Charley Morrow
Have you ever worked for an inclusive leader? If you have, you know it. These leaders are special because of the positive impact they have on individuals and organizations—they encourage everyone to engage in the organization’s mission in their own unique way.
They encourage and develop the best in others, and shine the spotlight on others’ accomplishments. They embrace the diversity of their workforce and customers, and understand the value of having everyone’s voice heard. Employees love working for inclusive leaders and often change jobs to stay close to these special leaders.
And if you’ve worked for a non-inclusive leader, you may have thought about leaving more than staying.
In the 1990s, many leaders were encouraged to believe they had all the answers, as well as the vision, for the organization. Inclusive leadership may be the opposite of that. Today’s organizations are flatter, more collaborative, and much more diverse. Smart managers ask for others’ insights and amplify the strengths of all employees, rather than taking a top-down approach.
My journey to study and understand inclusive leadership started in an everyday coaching conversation. A woman I coached told me she had never had a direct leader who made her feel included, and she felt her race was a contributing factor. As a white man, I had little experience with feeling excluded, so I had not thought about inclusion until that conversation. As a psychologist with 20 years of experience assessing and developing leaders, I was fascinated. What is inclusive leadership? What sorts of behaviors are the hallmarks of this type of leadership? When I started to ask people about being included at work and whether they have had an inclusive leader, I heard mixed stories—some had, but many had not. Stories of inclusive leaders were warm and glowing, while stories of exclusion were filled with negative feelings and disengagement.
Inclusive leadership is not a new idea. However, there was no good way to assess inclusion, let alone track a leader’s progress toward inclusiveness. My personal journey, paired with a request from Linkage’s Institute for Leading Diversity & Inclusion™ team, led to the research to develop Linkage’s Inclusive Leadership Assessment™.
Through focus groups and individual interviews, we learned that inclusive leadership is not all that different from general leadership. Like any good leader, inclusive leaders are results oriented and know how to leverage others fully. However, inclusive leaders go one step beyond and draw on the strengths and experiences of their people to help them become more productive in the organization.
Through this research, we learned that the behaviors demonstrated by inclusive leaders can be described in eleven competencies and measured with the Inclusive Leadership Assessment.
The Linkage Inclusive Leadership Assessment Model™
At their core, all inclusive leaders have a passion for results and a talent for unleashing others’ strengths for better business results. Surrounding a core of being Results Oriented and Leveraging Inclusion and Diversity are our three areas of focus:
1. Leading self. Over the years we have been taught to act as if we are colorblind and gender-neutral, and that no differences exist between people. But these efforts actually limit us. Inclusive leaders recognize that everyone has unique perspectives and value, and that those differences can contribute to unique business results. While everyone has biases, these leaders minimize them through candid conversations and courageous actions, and by being personally vulnerable and open to learning.
2. Leading relationships. Inclusive leaders build great relations with others by networking broadly, adapting their style to others, and encouraging others’ development. They focus on micro-affirmations—subtle acknowledgements of a person’s value and accomplishments. These small gestures build others’ confidence and competence, and as a result, give employees exposure and opportunity to excel professionally and for the organization.
3. Leading culture. Inclusive leaders build an environment in which everyone feels comfortable contributing their true self. This means building trust, respect, and a feeling of safety within an organization. These leaders share responsibility when things go wrong, but also the credit when things go well. They understand the value of, and tap into the wide variety of differences for the benefit of the organization.
Similar to the age-old question about leadership, are some people naturally inclusive or is inclusive leadership learned and nurtured over time? It seems that those who are naturally curious and open to experience tend toward a style of inclusive leadership. But anyone can learn to be a more inclusive leader by practicing the key behaviors we discovered.
From our research, we built the Inclusive Leadership Assessment to measure the behavioral competencies demonstrated by inclusive leaders. The assessment can be used by organizations to develop leaders and also to measure an inclusive culture, increase employee engagement, and advance organizational imperatives.
By measuring all leaders, organizations can establish diversity and inclusion benchmarks; in the process, leaders will internalize the behaviors, leading to faster, more meaningful change. Because the assessment is based on behaviors, not personal epiphanies (or aha moments), when combined with skill building and effective coaching, it provides a scalable solution which can be broadly and quickly implemented with observable impact.
Given the competition in today’s global and diverse markets, employee diversity is not enough. Organizations must learn how to bring and engage diversity—of people, experience, and thinking—in to the conversation and decision-making process. Through this new model, and our corresponding assessment, Linkage has created a measurable way for organizations and individual leaders to track their progress toward becoming more inclusive.
Charley Morrow, PhD, is vice president of assessments at Linkage. He has more than 20 years of experience designing, implementing, and evaluating training, individual assessment, and organizational-transformation interventions. He’s also an expert in developing assessments and methodologies for individual, team, and organizational motivation and performance. Follow him on Twitter @CharleyMorrow.