Is your organization inclusive? Almost everyone answers “yes” when Brandon Hall Group asks that question in our research.

Are your leaders truly inclusive? Only one-third answer “yes” to that.

If you don’t have inclusive leaders, your organization is not inclusive. Inclusion starts with leaders who set the tone through humility, generosity and a sincere desire to leverage the collective wisdom of their teams.

Traditional top-down leadership doesn’t work in this transformative era. Employees and customers have ideas and opinions and want them to be heard and acted upon. To be successful today and tomorrow, leaders — from the front-line to the C-Suite — must be able to tap into the talents and motivations of their teams to collaborate, empower and inspire.

Bob Rosen, Founder and CEO of The Healthy Leader, has been advocating this style of leadership for years. “Employees and customers want to know that you ‘get’ them. This requires deep listening skills, perspective-taking and sensing their diverse and changing needs and desires,” Rosen said in Leader of the Future.

Through our research, Brandon Hall Group learned that truly inclusive leaders:

  • Are aware of their biases and humble enough to acknowledge them
  • Openly seek to mitigate their biases by receiving input from a wide variety of people
  • Seek to understand those around them, including people from different cultures and backgrounds, and listen, empathize and adapt to their points of view
  • Tap into the talents and motivations of their teams to collaborate, empower and inspire.

Inclusive leadership is not necessarily intuitive, especially to leaders who rose through the ranks in top-down, command-and-control leadership cultures and are now expected to change. 

Taking a class won’t make a leader inclusive. Developing inclusive leaders requires a unique and concerted effort that must be targeted at all levels of leadership. Leaders must embark on a journey to self-awareness through a variety of experiences that also build humility, empathy and the ability to grow and change.

“A leader’s ability to stretch their colleagues, engage in courageous conversations, and model healthy conflict resolution skills will give them a competitive edge,” Rosen says.

This new kind of collective sensibility can be demonstrated in many ways. For example, leaders can:

  • Give employees in individual and group meetings the opportunity to share their experiences and viewpoints and be willing to share their own. 
  • Actively show empathy and support when employees express a viewpoint different from theirs or the majority opinion. 
  • Advocate the importance of employees as coaches and mentors for each other.
  • Be proactive to ensure remote employees participate in virtual meetings. It is not enough that they are included in video conferencing. Ensure they have a chance to be heard.
  • Regularly recognize employees for meaningful contributions and make sure no single individual or a few individuals are disproportionately acknowledged. 
  • Ensure opportunities for promotions and high-visibility projects are provided to everyone equitably. 
  • Be comfortable — and make their teams comfortable — with conflict and disagreement as long as it is expressed constructively and professionally.
  • Encourage flexibility. Provide support for employees’ varying family responsibilities and structures. For example, primary caregivers may benefit from flexibility around pick-up and drop-off times for school or need variable work schedules. 

Rosen says the power of generosity, forgiveness and collective sensibility reflected in those behaviors (and others) cannot be emphasized enough: “Generosity will be the new competitive differentiator. In a world of scarcity and competition, people want to do business with kind people — those who are authentic and trustworthy, civil in their relationships and appreciative of others.”

-Claude Werder, Senior VP and Principal HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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Claude Werder

Claude Werder oversees Brandon Hall Group's analyst team, new product development, corporate development, the HCM Excellence Conference 2015, publishing, and social media and marketing strategies for Brandon Hall Group. In that role, he manages Brandon Hall Group’s research priorities, Membership Program and Member Center, and Brandon Hall Group’s exclusive KnowledgeBases of research data and HCM solution providers, services and products.