Inclusive Leadership Best Practices That Transform Your Organization

Inclusive Leadership professional development by STEERus through training in communication and change management and emotional intelligence

by Amrit & Loralyn

Inclusive leadership has emerged as a powerful concept in the corporate landscape. Many consider inclusive leadership transcendental versus traditional leadership approaches. With a focus on fostering diversity given its modern blend of servant leadership, diversity, inclusion, unconscious bias, change management, and communication. This transformative leadership style recognizes we well as values the unique perspectives and contributions of individuals from diverse backgrounds. In recent years, inclusive leadership has gained significant traction and is now regarded as a vital trend shaping the future of work and a defining hallmark of successful organizations. This article explores the best practices associated with inclusive leadership and highlights the myriad of benefits it brings to companies.

Embrace Diversity

One notable trend in inclusive leadership is the recognition and appreciation of diversity. Forward-thinking companies are prioritizing diversity in their leadership ranks, ensuring that individuals from different genders, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and abilities are represented. Race tends to be the metric by which diversity and inclusion is measured by HR and the central theme of training in DE&I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion), however, diversity is so much broader than race alone.

In recent years, the definition of “diversity” has finally expanded to encompass:

  • neurodivergent thinking: from dyslexia to ADHD and living on the Spectrum, the ability to correlate concepts and see patterns differently is increasingly being welcomed into the office
  • gender: beyond the limited cis-gender and binary boy-girl definition
  • disability: an often-overlooked pool of diverse talent that is unemployed at rates 8x higher than people without a disability
  • politics: once a taboo topic in the office is now mainstream on social media, the omnipresent 24/7 news broadcasts everywhere we go, and daily conversation)
  • and even themes around vaccination: more tolerance for anti-vaxxers

By leveraging a wider range of experiences and viewpoints, companies can unlock innovation, creativity, and fresh perspectives, ultimately leading to better decision-making processes, higher productivity, and greater revenues.

Foster Psychological Safety

Gen Z not only wants – they demand psychological safety – and they want proof it exists in the workplace before they join an organization. Inclusive leadership emphasizes the creation of a psychologically safe work environment. You have likely heard this term often, but what does it mean? Psychologically safety is defined as a corporate culture that welcomes new ideas without judgement, fosters and appreciates creative problem-solving, and accepts that mistakes are inevitable – and okay.

Leaders who prioritize psychological safety encourage open communication, trust, and empathy within their teams. This inclusive approach supports an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable expressing their ideas, challenging the status quo, and taking calculated risks. As a result, it enhances employee engagement, motivation, and overall job satisfaction.

Promote Collaboration and Teamwork

Collaboration lies at the heart of inclusive leadership. Leaders who embrace inclusivity actively promote collaboration and teamwork. By encouraging cross-functional collaboration and leveraging non-traditional (whatever the internal “core” standard of thinking that pervades your organization) perspectives, companies generate innovative solutions and achieve better business outcomes. Inclusive leaders empower their teams to leverage individual strengths which counters the comfortable fallback of “group thinking.” Spur your teams to create a sense of belonging and a collaborative culture by making it clear that every voice is heard and valued.

Nurture Employee Development

Inclusive leaders prioritize the professional growth and development of their team members. They provide opportunities for skill-building, mentoring, and career advancement, regardless of background or identity. This is what 77% of Gen Z wants: professional development. By investing in the development of diverse talent, companies can cultivate a strong and resilient workforce that is equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in an ever-evolving business landscape. New ideas and methods to do things are constantly emerging. Failing to train your team on new techniques to be more productive and more efficient can have negative downstream consequences.

Enhance Reputation to Attract Talent

Companies that actively practice inclusive leadership enjoy a distinct advantage when it comes to reputation and attracting top talent. In today’s socially conscious world, prospective employees seek out organizations that demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But it goes beyond that to also include corporate responsibility and sustainability. Climate change is Gen Z’s biggest fear; student debt pressure is their second concern. Gen Z wants to work for companies who care about the environment; they will take a lower salary to work for a “better” company that they see as more conscientious and more closely aligned with their personal values. By embracing inclusive leadership, companies send a powerful message to potential candidates, showcasing their values and creating an attractive workplace culture that fosters diversity and growth.

Drive Innovation and Creativity

Inclusive leadership drives innovation by encouraging diverse perspectives and enabling employees to think outside the box. It sounds so cliché – but it’s exactly what today’s workplace needs. And it ties back to psychological safety which makes it okay to come up with ideas that are out in left field. When individuals from different backgrounds collaborate, they bring a range of experiences and approaches to problem-solving. This diversity of thought sparks creativity and leads to innovative solutions. Open-ended thinking helps companies stay ahead of the competition in rapidly changing markets.

Enhance Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

Inclusive leaders understand that diverse teams make better decisions. Full stop. If everyone devolves to “group thinking” and does it “this way because we always did it this way,” the company is at risk of going the way of the dinosaur, Blockbuster, or Radio Shack. By incorporating multiple perspectives, inclusive leadership minimizes biases and mitigates the risks associated with groupthink. The variety of viewpoints leads to a more comprehensive analysis of challenges and opportunities. This enables organizations to make informed, well-rounded decisions that consider a wider range of stakeholders.

Key Characteristics of Inclusive Leaders

Now that we’ve covered the best practices, let’s dig into the key characteristics of inclusive leaders:

  • Open-mindedness and cultural intelligence: they value diverse perspectives and possess cultural intelligence. They ask questions to learn about different cultures, beliefs, and values with the goal of recognizing individuality in the context of something bigger – belonging and community.
  • Empathy and active listening: they genuinely care for their team members and demonstrate this with attentive, active listening. Leaders listen to understand the needs of others and create a supportive environment.
  • Collaboration and teamwork: they prioritize collaboration, foster respect, and leverage the strengths of each team member as an individual then celebrate collective achievement.
  • Fairness and equity: they ensure equal opportunities for growth, challenge biases, and promote a level playing field within the organization.
  • Transparency and communication: they make data-informed decisions and share information openly. Plus, they encourage feedback, foster trust and accountability.

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” – Stephen Covey.

How to Build Inclusive Leadership Skills

Inclusive leaders create environments that embrace diversity, foster collaboration, and promote fairness and transparency. They empower individuals to contribute their unique perspectives and create a thriving culture where everyone can excel. There are several strategies to develop inclusive leadership skills. Below, we have listed some steps to consider taking.

A. Provide diversity and inclusion training:

  • If you don’t have the expertise within your organization, go outside to offer training programs that educate leaders on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Ensure the training program provides awareness about unconscious biases and strategies to mitigate them.
  • Enhance leaders’ understanding of inclusive practices and behaviors by regularly reviewing the key themes of the training.

B. Encourage cross-cultural experiences:

  • Promote opportunities for leaders to engage in cross-cultural experiences, such as international assignments or diverse team projects.
  • Encourage leaders to seek diverse perspectives and actively learn from individuals with different backgrounds.
  • Routinely review who is on which team to encourage mixing things up so that people aren’t always on the same team.

C. Create mentorship and sponsorship programs:

  • Establish mentorship and sponsorship programs that connect leaders with individuals from underrepresented groups.
  • Encourage leaders to become mentors and sponsors, providing guidance, support, and opportunities for growth.
  • If you lack the infrastructure to set up your own mentoring program, there are several external sources to consider.

D. Establish diversity metrics and accountability:

  • Implement diversity metrics to track progress and identify areas for improvement: begin by expanding the definition of diversity that is typically limited to race and binary cis-gender standards.
  • Hold leaders accountable for fostering inclusive practices and achieving diversity goals.
  • Regularly review and assess the impact of inclusive leadership initiatives: openly celebrate diversity wins.

E. Foster a safe and inclusive work environment:

  • Cultivate a culture of psychological safety, where individuals feel comfortable expressing their ideas and perspectives without fear of judgment or reprisal.
  • Encourage open communication, active listening, and respect for different viewpoints.
  • Address and prevent any instances of discrimination or harassment promptly and decisively; make the consequences public (at least internally) so that people understand the repercussions of intolerable behavior.
  • Create policies that make safety a priority and use welcoming pronouns and expanded definitions to underscore inclusion.


Challenges of Inclusive Leadership

One significant obstacle is unconscious bias. Everyone possesses ingrained beliefs and attitudes about people based on their group membership. These biases are learned through our upbringing and can result in unfair assumptions and differential treatment, hindering the development of inclusivity. People don’t know what they don’t know!

Another challenge is the lack of diversity within an organization. Without a diverse workforce, it becomes arduous to cultivate an inclusive culture. A lack of awareness among leaders regarding the significance of inclusive leadership and the associated challenges can impede progress. Leaders may be unaware of how to establish an inclusive culture or how to effectively address unconscious bias.

Resistance to change poses another hurdle. Some individuals may be resistant to altering established work practices or how people are treated. This resistance can impede the efforts to construct an inclusive culture.

To overcome these challenges, organizations must prioritize education and training to raise awareness about unconscious bias and the importance of inclusive leadership. Efforts should be made to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization, including leadership positions. Allocating resources to support initiatives that foster inclusivity is essential. By addressing these challenges head-on, organizations can create a more inclusive environment that values and empowers all individuals.


Parting Thoughts

Inclusive leadership is more than just a passing trend; it is a fundamental shift in the way companies operate and lead. By embracing diversity, fostering psychological safety, promoting collaboration, and nurturing employee development, organizations can reap a multitude of benefits. Inclusive leaders have better reputations – so do their organizations. They can attract better talent, drive higher productivity, and generate more revenue from their teams. Valuing individuality is a leadership tactic that pays big dividends for shareholders.

Sustained success in the modern business landscape requires new methods – and new leadership. Embrace inclusive leadership and see the difference. If you are unsure how to get started, talk to STEERus to learn more about our Inclusive Leadership Professional Development Program.


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