What Is Inclusive Leadership?
Inclusive leadership is a complicated topic. Leadership itself is multifaceted and we’ve seen a change in leadership over time. Leadership used to be very focused on command-and-control. Then the concept of servant leadership came into vogue, and leaders were asked to focus on serving those in their charge. Recent attention has also been given to strength-based leadership, which is the notion of finding what drives each person and helping each person achieve their optimum potential within the team.
Inclusive leadership takes that one step further. Inclusive leadership involves not just finding people’s individual strengths, but also creating an environment where everyone feels like they can bring their strengths to the table. To be an inclusive leader, you must do that in a way which lifts everyone and empowers everyone to be who they are and to be “all in” at work.
Why Be an Inclusive Leader?
No one asks, “What are the advantages to being an exclusive leader?” Or, “What’s the business case for hiring someone who can only work with a narrow subset of employees and customers?” It would be preposterous. There is no good “business case” for ignoring talent or good ideas that come from people who don’t look like you. Similarly, there’s no business case for turning away paying customers with a different understanding of the world. And yet, those are exactly the impacts we have if we don’t actively seek to be inclusive as leaders.
Why Are Inclusive Leaders in Demand?
Current business trends include: diversity & inclusion; networking, especially via social media; increasing globalization; and the “gig” economy. The primary drivers for all these trends are:
- shifting workforce and consumer demographics
- rapidly advancing technology
- an increasingly global economy and workforce.
Employers are competing to attract and retain the right talent for their organizations. At the same time, talented professionals are more diverse, more connected, and have more opportunities than ever before. Similarly, companies are competing for customers in emerging and niche markets all around the world, while consumers have greater access to both information and substitute goods and services. Acquiring talent is costly. Companies need leaders who know how to attract and retain talented individuals, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
Associations are no different. Your organization likely struggles to attract and retain the attention and dues of members. Perhaps similar associations or societies offer competing services and experiences. Technology, such as social networks and on-demand educational offerings, can lead prospective members to believe they don’t need to engage with a real-world community. Your association may be very exclusive, requiring certifications, or other qualifying hurdles. Yet, by leading your association inclusively, you can overcome the lure of new technology or the outdated leadership practices of competing groups.
Inclusive leadership requires self-reflection, patience, and vulnerability. It’s not easy and doesn’t happen overnight. The same can be said of nearly everything else that is worthwhile.