There are many different types of leadership styles. Each of them has unique practices and traits for the business leaders that utilize them. One such popular leadership style is inclusive leadership.
Inclusive leaders care about making positive social connections with their staff. They ensure that everyone feels heard and valued at work.
And, some organizational leaders even take a stand against inequality in the workplace. They want to eliminate biases so the team can unite under a common goal.
Like with transitioning to any new leadership style, changing the way you approach leadership takes time. But, you will get greater relationships with your staff and more loyalty as a result.
In this article, we provide an overview of inclusive leadership, both its pros and cons, as well as inclusive leadership traits.
What is Inclusive Leadership? Theory & Meaning
Inclusive leaders are at their core supportive people. They hate seeing discrimination in the workplace. Biases and harassment are simply not tolerated by this type of leader.
They build a culture of inclusion. No one should be talked down to, discriminated against, or left unheard in the workplace. True inclusion allows employees to feel heard and in control of their work destiny.
Relationship building is another key factor that builds employee trust. Many employees view inclusive leaders as more approachable and individuals who care about their feelings (and emotional well-being).
To build relationships, inclusive leaders give compliments and feedback. Additionally, they make themselves available to talk with their team.
When giving this feedback, inclusive leaders try to be as non-biased as possible. They are empathetic to their staff, and understanding when problems arise.
Finally, this type of employee also ensures that everyone is aligned for a common purpose. They do not want employees to work mindlessly or get burnt out. Instead, they seek to inspire individuals to be passionate.
To become passionate, these leaders allow all employees to participate in major activities and decisions (especially underrepresented employees). They believe this is the fairest way to lead an organization.
Why is Inclusive Leadership Important & Their Benefits
Every type of leader has qualities that benefit their team. If you seek to benefit your entire organization, including those that are minorities or were previously unheard, consider trying inclusive leadership.
There are many practical and emotional benefits to this leadership style.
10 Benefits Provided By Inclusive Leaders
- Becoming a reputable organization and being seen as pro-equality by the public
- Increasing employee satisfaction and building passion
- Ensuring that minority employees are not harassed or overlooked
- Through a commitment to diversity, increased team innovation
- Through hearing a diversity of perspectives, learning about different approaches to the same problem
- Increasing collaborative interactions among teams
- Being viewed as an approachable and trusting leader
- More brand loyalty and lower turnover rates
- Giving opportunities to people who may have been overlooked, and thus boosting their confidence
- Boosting revenues and profits
Inclusive Leadership Key Characteristics
Every type of leader has different qualities. Some are negative, while others are positive.
If you are interested in understanding the inclusive leadership approach, there are some key characteristics you should be aware of.
Inclusive leaders put lots of time and energy into ensuring that the workplace is diverse and equitable. If they make a mistake, they are sure to correct it.
They speak one on one with their employees to get their unique insights. Sometimes, it may be easier to just overlook an employee. But, this is simply unacceptable to inclusive leaders.
Inclusive leadership efforts ensure everyone feels heard, appreciated, and valued.
No business owner knows everything. Being humble and having the courage to say “I do not know” is something that inclusive leaders have no problem with.
Inclusive leaders value feedback, but not just for their employees. They also enjoy getting honest feedback on their own performance.
If they make a mistake, they do not dwell on it and instead try to grow from that.
Awareness of bias
Everyone has some biases, whether societal or individual. Inclusive leaders understand this, and they are always trying to remove these biases and be objective.
Inclusive leaders understand multiple types of biases, such as implicit bias, stereotyping, and group biases.
To create a safe work environment, they set strict rules about inclusion and place an emphasis on diversity.
Leaders need to have a passion for learning. To the inclusive leader, curiosity is second nature.
They consistently ask for feedback and apply it in their decision-making.
These types of leaders are never done learning. Additionally, inclusive leaders recognize they do not know everything. Therefore, they seek out expert opinions when they are unsure of something.
Inclusive leaders are not fans of homogenous workplaces. They lead cross-cultural teams with a variety of perspectives.
When there is an opportunity to learn about a different background, inclusive leaders take it. If it is time to give feedback, inclusive leaders understand how bias could influence their opinions.
They view workplace interactions with people through a pro-equality lens. When they notice inequity, they are not afraid to call it out.
While some leaders enjoy competitive workplaces, inclusive leaders prefer collaboration. They want a united team that cares about one another’s goals and well-being.
When creating teams, inclusive leaders avoid starting cliques and want to establish trust. No one should feel uncomfortable in an inclusive workplace. If they do, the inclusive leader supports them.
How to Develop & Become an Inclusive Leader?
Workplace experiences, goals, and personality all shape the type of leader you become.
If you decide that inclusive leadership is a good fit for you and your team, consider taking the following steps.
Deepen your self-awareness
You cannot be inclusive without having self-awareness. Realize that you cannot be a perfect leader. Therefore, when you inevitably make a mistake, do not dwell on it.
Instead, ask for feedback on how to grow. Look at feedback as an opportunity to better yourself, not as negative criticism.
Realize that you have biases as well. Work on trying to be as objective as possible, but listen to employees if they feel uncomfortable.
Understanding your own leadership strengths and weaknesses will help you stay humble and establish a growth mindset.
Foster social awareness
Both social and self-awareness stem from high emotional intelligence. In your daily interactions, be aware of the other person’s needs, goals, and background.
Those that are not socially aware often unintentionally hurt others, which gives them a bad reputation and hurts their relationship with employees.
Recognize that certain individuals may struggle or be isolated. Show them you are valuable to talk to if they are struggling or confused, especially if they are new recruits.
Reveal blind spots
Even in today’s modern world, discrimination is still rampant. In fact, systemic oppression can even lead to brutality against people that simply do not look like you.
Even if you think you are colorblind, recognize that everyone has implicit biases. Be open to hearing your employee’s experiences and suggestions to change.
There is always room for more equity in the workplace. And, by revealing your blind spots, you recognize this fact.
Listen to understand
Listening to understand is a great way to connect with your employees. Passive listening, however, is not.
When you truly listen to someone and engage in the conversation, you learn about their values, ethics, goals, strengths, and struggles.
You can listen to employees in the meeting room or when someone decides they want to talk one on one.
These insights lead to a better understanding of your team, their passions, how to motivate them, and how to mitigate conflicts.
When a bond is formed between the leader and an employee, trust and loyalty are also formed. The employee will view you more positively, stay engaged, and want to work toward the company’s goals.
By creating connections, you ensure that there will be people by your side to support you. If you do not have this support, you may feel lonely, isolated, vulnerable, and could even give up.
These connections also give you insights into new ways to solve problems. You could gain a competitive advantage simply by listening to input from your employees.
Lead with courageous vulnerability
To some leaders, exposing their weaknesses is unthinkable. Inclusive leaders do not have this issue, though. They understand their imperfections and genuinely want feedback to improve.
Share your experiences with your own struggles. It is okay to admit that you are imperfect. In fact, employees will view you as more approachable and relatable if you do.
Speak out when you see someone being overlooked, and do not be afraid of others criticizing you for your courage.
Business Examples of Inclusive Leadership
Now that you understand the basics of the inclusive leadership style, you may be wondering: how have others started to implement it?
There is a mindset shift that must occur before you truly become an inclusive leader. Start to prioritize feedback and place equity as a top priority.
Then, you can start drafting a plan.
List of Examples of Inclusive Leadership
- Testing your own bias. Recognize that even if you try to be blind to race, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, and so on, you do still have biases. Learn about them and admit them by taking an implicit bias test.
- Consider if you are overlooking individuals. Are you choosing people to promote based on merit alone? Think about the other factors that could influence your decision.
- Set diversity targets. Ensure that different backgrounds are represented within your workplace. This is true of both ideological backgrounds as well as race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.
- Talk to minorities and marginalized groups. Ask those individuals if you can do anything to make them feel more comfortable, or if they feel heard in the workplace. Ensure they are not experiencing harassment and allow them to report it anonymously if they are.
- Learn about racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination. There are many books that detail the intricacies of discrimination. You could also attend equity workshops.
- Listen to more than one employee when seeking advice. Ensure you hear multiple opinions and learn about different approaches to solving problems. Never make someone uncomfortable by voicing their opinion or asking a question.
- Value collaboration over competition. Avoid starting cliques or conflicts within the workplace. Instead, focus on creating a team that is united by a shared purpose.
- Call out bias and discrimination. Do not be afraid of backlash and stay humble. You can display your humbleness by admitting you are imperfect, have biases yourself, and do not know everything.
5 Books About Inclusive Leadership Style
One great way to learn about leadership is through experienced and repeatable leaders. You can listen to podcasts, attend workshops, or read books.
Below, we have provided a list of 5 excellent books to teach you about the inclusive leadership style.
1. Inclusive Leadership: From Awareness to Action, Cheryl Williams and Ernest Gundling
Inclusive leadership consists of many different beliefs and actions. This book reveals the unconscious bias many leaders have which prevents them from becoming inclusive.
Williams and Gundling provide actionable steps you can take to eliminate some of this bias and start connecting with your employees.
They share strategies for increasing diversity while still being a merit-based employer. Plus, they show how differences in the workplace produce benefits for the organization as a whole.
2. The Art of Alignment: A Practical Guide to Inclusive Leadership, Patty Beach
In this book, Patty Beach describes the journey a leader must take to become truly inclusive. Many leaders struggle to align with their employees. They do not understand how to unite their employees.
She tells leaders how to communicate with employees in such a way as to be seen as trustworthy and approachable to employees. There are many strategies that Beach shares to communicate and act inclusively.
3. Inclusive Leadership: The Definitive Guide to Developing and Executing an Impactful Diversity and Inclusion Strategy: – Locally and Globally, Charlotte Sweeney and Fleur Bothwick
Every inclusive leader has their own unique approach to leadership. If you are struggling to find yours, then Sweeney and Bothwick provide you with some great tips.
This particular book has even been listed in the 2018 Management Book of the Year shortlist. The authors show the statistics are clear: 80% productivity increases come along with more diversity.
If you want to unlock your business’s potential, consider this book on equity, diversity, and engagement.
4. Inclusive Leadership: Transforming Diverse Lives, Workplaces, and Societies (Leadership: Research and Practice), Bernardo M Ferdman, Jeanine Prime, and Ronald E. Riggio
Diversity and inclusion are becoming increasingly more important to employees. In fact, some candidates will not even apply to jobs if they are unsure of the company’s diversity protocols.
The authors of this book reveal why diversity has become so important. They dissect the theories behind equity and inclusion and make them understandable to virtually any leader.
Ferdman, Prime, and Riggio prove that any business can benefit from the increased productivity and positivity inclusion brings.
5. Inclusive Leadership: The Essential Leader-Follower Relationship, Edwin Hollander
At the heart of an inclusive leader is a strong sense of empathy. This empathy helps build relationships and trust with employees.
Social psychological Edwin Hollander reveals the beauty of this trusting relationship and how it can benefit businesses.
The hopes readers will understand that you do things WITH your team, not TO your team. This distinction is further emphasized and discussed in the text.
Hollander shares his own experiences as an inclusive leader and how he built inclusive teams while facilitating cross-cultural interactions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Inclusive Leadership
How do you show inclusive leadership?
There are many steps you can take to become an inclusive leader.
- Recognize your own biases
- Be a humble leader
- Look out for discrimination or harassment in your workplace
- Take a stand and allow everyone’s voice to be heard
How can managers be inclusive?
If you want to be an inclusive manager, you should start by making your values clear. Prioritize diversity and equity whenever you can.
Be open about your own flaws and vulnerabilities, too. Encourage collaboration and active listening.
Genuinely listen to the advice or feedback and implement it. Try to understand people’s perspectives, worldviews, and goals.
What is an inclusive mindset?
The inclusive mindset prioritizes diversity and equity. Inclusive people hate seeing someone left out, bullied, discriminated against, or uncomfortable for just being themselves.
Such leaders take steps to hear other perspectives. And, they have no tolerance for those who try to silence individuals who are different from them.