Inclusive leadership makes a difference

How important is inclusive leadership to effective leadership and business performance? Is inclusive leadership development really worth the focus when leadership programs often have crowded agendas?

When business leaders ask us these questions, we ask them to think of the most inclusive leader they’ve worked with.

What’s typically recalled is how supportive the leader was, their openness to new ideas and different perspectives, their openness of themselves, and their consistent focus on results.

These leaders built an environment where people felt valued for their differences as well as a sense of belonging. Where diversity – of background and thinking – was not a threat, but an advantage.

In essence, these leaders made a very significant difference to engagement, innovation and team performance.

That’s the core essentials of inclusive leadership, which is increasingly recognised as a quality that distinguishes great managers from mediocre ones.

It’s why a significant part of our work at Diversity Partners is building capability to lead inclusively by challenging unconscious bias and encouraging diversity of thinking and background.

New McKinsey research provides even more compelling evidence of the value of supporting others and seeking different perspectives for leadership effectiveness.

Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters says the key to developing effective leaders is to prioritise four types of behaviour.

McKinsey’s global research found four kinds of behaviour explained 89 per cent of the variance between strong and weak organisations in terms of leadership effectiveness:

  • Solving problems effectively
  • Operating with a strong results orientation
  • Seeking different perspectives
  • Supporting others

McKinsey says these core leadership behaviours will be relevant to most companies today, particularly on the front line[1]. And they’re integrally linked with the qualities expected of inclusive leaders.

How inclusive leadership development enhances these behaviours

  • Solving problems effectively

Leaders learn about cognitive biases that can impact our problem solving processes – often without us being aware – and identify actions to mitigate them.

Leaders also have an opportunity to learn techniques to avoid groupthink and reduce the impact of priming in decision-making.

  • Operating with a strong results orientation

Leaders are reminded of the importance of taking personal responsibility for action and demonstrating confidence in team members by holding them responsible for performance within their control.

  • Seeking different perspectives

Leaders learn experientially about the value of diversity of thinking (acquired from our experiences and backgrounds), as well as the value that comes from ‘inherent’ diversity such as age, gender, cultural background.

Leaders are introduced to perspective taking tools and actions that help to avoid bias and genuinely promote different thinking styles.

  • Supporting others

Leaders learn about the challenge and opportunity in collaborating with team members from differing backgrounds.

By exploring majority-minority and inclusion-exclusion dynamics, leaders become more tuned to understanding how others feel in different situations.

If we’re serious about embedding diversity and inclusion principles into talent management systems, leadership development is a good place to start.

[1] Based on surveys with 189,000 leaders in 81 diverse organisations, McKinsey found that leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 distinct leadership traits surveyed.