Are you an Inclusive Leader?

In industries like Technology and Construction where there is a stereotypical leadership type – namely Caucasian men – it’s more important than ever that leaders at all levels are practicing inclusive behaviours.  While each of us may have our own idea of what it means to be inclusive, there are six key traits that truly Inclusive Leaders are shown to have.  These traits were identified through a study done by Deloitte and the full report can be found here.

Trait #1: Commitment

Highly inclusive leaders are committed to diversity and inclusion because these objectives align with their personal values and because they believe in the business case.

Inclusive leaders have to be motivated to spend their efforts and time (we’re all busy!) on being inclusive. While extrinsic motivation (the positive effect it will have on their business) is important, the research shows that the primary motivation for pursuing diversity and inclusion efforts was that it aligned with the leaders personal beliefs and sense of fairness.  The research also showed that a person’s “commitment to fairness ideals was deeply rooted in their personal experiences”.  Not surprising, right?  Similar to unconscious biases, our experience shapes a lot of our feelings and beliefs around what’s right and wrong, fair and unjust.  The other point I like to emphasize on this topic is the importance of leaders knowing and believing that “an inclusive culture starts with them, and that they have a strong sense of personal responsibility for change”.  A leader needs to work with their team on the how and not just the what.

Trait #2: Courage

Highly inclusive leaders speak up and challenge the status quo, and they are humble about their strengths and weaknesses.

An inclusive leader must be willing to speak up at three levels: with others, with the system and with themselves.  Like me, I’m sure many of you thought about the “with others” part first.  Challenging others – colleagues, leaders, customers, vendors – is hard!  As the article states, “There’s a vulnerability to being an inclusive leader, because confronting others and the status quo immediately invites the spotlight to turn on the speaker. Being an agent for change can also be met with cynicism and challenges from others.”  How many times have we thought or heard “we’ve always done it this way” or “why rock the boat?”… my encouragement to you is – be willing to be the boat rocker!

Even more difficult is the notion of challenging ourselves (revealing our own imperfections and demonstrating humility).  The research goes on to say “humility is the one attribute that is ‘most antithetical to common notions of leadership.’ It is difficult for leaders in the public spotlight to admit they don’t have all the answers. Courage and humility therefore go hand in hand.”  Being a leader who isn’t afraid to be open about their own “imperfections” and who can encourage others to do so without fear of judgment is an incredible gift.

Trait #3: Cognizance

Highly inclusive leaders are mindful or personal and organization blind spots and self-regulate to ensure “fair play”.

An inclusive leader is very self-aware of their individual biases and act on this knowledge.  They also acknowledge that their organization has unconscious bias and they work to put policies, procedures and structure in place to mitigate for this.

The notion of “fair play” becomes particularly important when it comes to diverse talent management.  The article says “inclusive leaders think about three features of fairness”:

•Outcomes – are pay increases, promotions and opportunities given fairly?

•Process – are outcomes decided with transparency, consistency, accuracy, free from bias and inclusive of the views of each teammate?

•Communication – are reasons for decisions clearly and respectfully communicated to all parties?

In industries that have been stereotypically categorized as dominated by “white men”, ensuring these aspects of fairness are demonstrated proactively is very important.

Trait #4: Curiosity

Highly inclusive leaders have an open mindset, a desire to understand how others view and experience the world, and a tolerance for ambiguity.

An inclusive leader has a thirst for knowledge and continual learning which allows them to be open-minded, inquisitive and empathetic toward others.  The article emphasizes the importance of the time and effort required to exhibit curiosity.  It’s a proactive behaviour and requires a leader to engage with others around them to gain that broadened perspective.

What are some of the benefits of being curious?

•Seeking to understand others better helps them feel valued and builds loyalty

•Provides you with access to richer information to enable better decision making

•Allows you to practice and exhibit your generous listening skills

•Gives you the opportunity to reflect on your own beliefs and ideas thereby reducing potential bias

•Fosters a more constructive exchange of ideas

I will make one note that I think is important – curiosity needs to be done with a genuine interest and positive intention.  Curiosity as a means of personal gain is not acting within the inclusive leadership framework.

Trait #5: Cultural Intelligence

Highly inclusive leaders are confident and effective in cross-cultural interactions.

An inclusive leader not only has an understanding of different cultures, they also “recognize how their own culture impacts their personal worldview” and “how cultural stereotypes…can influence their expectations of others.”  Further, inclusive leaders use their curiosity to enhance their cultural understanding, valuing differences and allowing for better connection with others from different backgrounds.  Another aspect of cultural intelligence is the inclusive leader’s ability to be tolerant of ambiguity.  In other words, when faced with a situation where they aren’t sure the norms, they can adapt their behaviours to meet the cultural demands.  Finally, inclusive leaders are able to be flexible and authentic – not overcompensating to try to fit into a different cultural but rather adapting to it while remaining true to their self.

Trait #6: Collaborative

Highly inclusive leaders empower individuals as well as create and leverage the thinking of diverse groups.

An inclusive leader understands that for collaboration to work, “individuals must first be willing to share their diverse perspectives.”  As a leader, we need to release control from the flow of ideas and empower individuals to connect their diverse outlooks to get the best result.  To do this effectively, we need to be mindful of the team’s composition and bring people with diverse backgrounds together.  In addition, inclusive leaders need to be aware of biases that can occur when groups are collaborating.  This means finding ways to mitigate the occurrence of confirmation bias or in-group favoritism.  Finally, inclusive leaders understand that the power dynamics in a group can affect how freely people contribute and work to build trust among the group and encourage people to share openly and without fear.

In the Construction Technology Industry, exhibiting these traits has become a key priority for Harbr’s leadership team.  “We want to be the trailblazers in championing women, visible minorities and others who have not been the ‘typical’ type of employee in these fields.  The only way we can do that is by demonstrating inclusive leadership in every part of our business.”

What will you do to become a more inclusive leader, business partner and team member?