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How to Be an Inclusive Leader


Each minute of our life is a lesson but most of us fail to read it. I thought I would just add my daily lessons & the lessons that I learned by seeing the people around here. So it may be useful for you and as memories for me.

The events of the past 17+ months have made it very clear that organizations and leaders within companies are looking to foster a more inclusive work culture. An inclusive culture is one that accepts, values and views as strength the difference we all bring to the table. Achieving Inclusive culture, isn’t something that can happen overnight, it can happen — by resetting workplace dynamics and implementing inclusive practices with the support of Inclusive leadership.

Building a culture of inclusion isn’t like turning on a light switch. Companies increasingly rely on diverse, multidisciplinary teams that combine the collective capabilities of women and men, people of different cultural heritage, and younger and older workers. But simply throwing a mix of people together doesn’t guarantee high performance; it requires inclusive leadership — leadership that assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired. 

How inclusion affects your teams

Research from BetterUp shows that 1 in 4 employees don’t feel like they belong. That’s across companies, industries, and demographics. Imagine what it is for underrepresented employees.

When people don’t feel included, the cost is deeply personal. It also hurts the team. They don’t show themselves. They might hold back opposing or counterintuitive ideas and not participate in working sessions for fear of falling further out of the group. They don’t feel comfortable that their ideas and comments will be taken with the same openness and seriousness as anyone else’s. They don’t bring their unique personality, background, and interests into conversation.

They don’t take big risks or achieve big results. They don’t get noticed. They censor themselves. The cost to the team? Employees who feel excluded are 25% less productive on future tasks, have a 50% greater risk of turnover, and are less willing to work hard for the team. 

The feeling of being included comes from all of a person’s interactions, not from policy. Our data shows that the direct manager has the biggest impact. They need to be more deliberate, especially for people who feel demographically dissimilar from others in the organization and experience 27% less psychological safety as a result. 

Only 31% of employees believe their leaders are inclusive. That is, less than a third of employees believe their leaders see, value, and respect them as a whole person. Unwanted attrition, especially among employees from underrepresented groups, is an ongoing problem. Those valuable employees leave, and with them, their potential, as well as the insight about the ways the environment, culture, and leadership aren’t working. 

Most leaders and managers don’t set out intending to exclude others. Yet, in the course of pursuing a goal and relying on sometimes outmoded beliefs about leadership, they fail to get the best out of their teams. Worse, they might not even realize it. 

As you work to become a more inclusive leader, keep these experiences in mind. Not every underrepresented person will have these experiences, of course, but they are common and worth remembering as you work on demonstrating more inclusive behaviors. If individual leaders are inclusive their teams will feel safe and trust them and then they will perform better.

What is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leadership is emerging as a unique and critical capability helping organisations adapt to diverse customers, markets, ideas and talent. An inclusive leader sets the tone and models the behaviors for their team to create an environment where each person feels seen, valued, respected, and able to contribute — in short, where they feel they belong and are included. 

Inclusive leadership is about actively creating an environment in which all members of your team feel empowered to contribute and feel safe to be themselves. While the tactics vary depending on the situation, at a high level, it means demonstrating empathy for team members and customers, advocating for colleagues with less institutional power, increasing your cultural and emotional intelligence, and establishing a culture that values (rather than merely accepts) diverse perspectives.

Diversity is all around us but it is up to leaders to decide whether or not to make full use of the diversity in their organisation. Inclusion is about fostering the structure, culture and mindset in an individual and leader, that enables that person to say, I fit in here, I feel valued, and I can be my true self and do not have to hide parts of my character – and because of this I can contribute to this organisation.

Lots of articles about inclusive leadership list personality traits of inclusive leaders, but that’s not the approach I take here. I believe anyone can (and everyone should) demonstrate inclusive behavior, so I focus on actions that will help develop your inclusive leadership style.

Tips for Becoming a More Inclusive Leader

What can you do to improve your inclusive leadership style? Here are a few places to start:

Reflect

I invite you to start paying attention to your own frame of reference.  Consider how your background affects the way you show up at work. Think about the ways your education, race, gender, age, physical or mental health all come into play. How comfortable are you discussing those things at work? How comfortable are your reports doing the same? 

Build trust

Inclusive leaders trust their people. They are totally committed to ‘we’ before ‘me’. If your people have to trust you as a leader you have to trust them to bring their expertise to work. Fostering trust will enable your people to feel safe and willing to contribute their unique perspectives

Slow Down

In a world where “Move fast, break things” is printed on company walls, it can feel radical to ask someone to slow down. But a few minutes of planning and thought can go a long way. Speed and spontaneity are rarely inclusive—they rely on ingrained habits, not empathy and understanding. Build new, more inclusive habits and you’ll still be able to iterate quickly without asking your underrepresented colleagues to bear the burden. 

Relationship Building

Inclusive leadership cannot be transactional. Inclusive leaders invest time in building real relationships with their team members, peers, and other employees, getting to know what matters to them and what they need to be successful. They know that each employee is a whole person who has more to offer than just the task or output they are delivering today. 

Building relationships goes beyond tolerance or accommodation. Inclusive leaders know the importance of not just being seen, but being understood and appreciated, for their whole self. 

Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions: How do you pronounce your name? Am I addressing you the way you’d like to be addressed? How am I doing? Is there anything more you’d like to discuss?  You can’t read your employees’ minds, but you can make the space for discussion to happen.   Tip: Consider anonymous options for collecting feedback, paired with public acknowledgment and commitment to improve—remember, your employees don’t always know if they’ll have backup and may not be willing to share right away.)

Recognition

Inclusion is proactive. Inclusive leaders make an effort to recognize people for their work and support their efforts and growth. That means recognizing specifically and personally the unique contributions of others in ways that are motivating and elevate their sense of personal accomplishment. Individualized recognition and support let employees know that the skills and experiences they’ve contributed and the risks they’ve taken are seen and valued.

Encouraging participation

Inclusion is an invitation, extended day after day. Inclusive leaders use a variety of approaches to seek input and feedback directly from people who might not speak up. and check- in on what people need to be successful. They also stay attuned to obstacles that might get in the way of participation — not just in meetings but in the way work gets done — and look for ways to minimize these obstacles. 

Focus on Culture Add, not Culture Fit 

A diverse team is smarter and does better work. So why focus on whether or not someone also likes craft beer and board games? Reframe the conversation so your hiring plans can look for what new and exciting perspective someone brings to your team. As my own manager Drew Gorton puts it, “If you want better results, surround yourself with people who are meaningfully different from you.” 

Empathy

Creating an inclusive space requires having an appreciation for where others are coming from and what they might be experiencing. Inclusive leaders are warm and encouraging in their interactions, embracing compassion in order to foster deeper connections with others. They make an effort to stay connected to the daily pulse of what is going on for employees and whether they are feeling seen, valued, and respected. When a leader prioritizes empathy and models nonjudgmental behavior, it helps everyone feel more able to share their experiences and state of mind.

Fair

Inclusive leaders treat people equally in terms of opportunity and fairly according to ability. We can only do this if we know our people. Curiosity is a trait of the inclusive leader. One way to check how to be fair is by substitution. Substitute one group for another when you are looking at questions for an interview or the language you are using. 

Social connection

Interactions with other people drive our sense of being included. Inclusive leaders encourage people to recognize each other as humans, not just co-workers or adjoining parts of a process. They create opportunities for people to engage with each other — both in and out of work — to deepen their connections and model the importance of maintaining close personal relationships with supportive people in our lives.

Alignment 

Inclusion means being able to do your best work. Inclusive leaders provide shared vision and clarity to guide others. They set their people up for success and create avenues for contributing to the larger outcome. Inclusive leaders also make space for people to find their own meaning and purpose. When employees know what the organization and team are driving toward and what matters most to the organization’s success, they can better determine how best to contribute. 

Inclusion is not just about diversity. It’s about competitive advantage. And it’s a choice.

Your Role as an Inlusive Leader is Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive.

Remember, Actions Matter 

Your actions as a leader matter. Maybe you’ve never had formal leadership training—many of us haven’t!  Whether or not you intended to end up as a manager, a team lead, or an open-source maintainer, you now hold the power to materially improve the lives of the people around you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want this power.  As long as you are in a leadership position, it is yours and you can use it for good. 

As leaders we must remember: our teams are watching our behavior to know what is and is not acceptable. If we turn a blind eye to harassment, harassment will flourish. If we turn a blind eye to microaggressions, microaggressions will flourish.  

On the other hand, if we do a good thing, others will follow our example. If we hold ourselves and others accountable, our team will, too. If we take the time to use the right pronouns, or have an inclusive holiday celebration, our team will know it’s okay to do the same. And that’s a magical thing. 

Please feel free to share your story and any lessons you learned, you experienced, you came across in your life in the comments below. If you enjoyed this, or any other other posts, I’d be honoured  if you’d share it with your family, friends and followers!

If you wish to follow my journey outside of my writing, you can find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MunnaPrawin) Instagram(MunnaPrawin) and Twitter(@munnaprawin1)

 

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