Why inclusive leadership would benefit Cricket Australia (and organisations generally)

Last week, The Ethics Centre released their review of Cricket Australia’s organisational culture and governance frameworks. One word is mentioned a handful of times, but it may hold a big clue as to the systemic cultural reform that’s needed. 

The word is inclusion.

So many descriptors and examples in the report speak to its very opposite – exclusion - whether inadvertent or deliberate. ‘The most common description of CA is as 'arrogant' and 'controlling'. The core complaint is that the organisation does not respect anyone other than its own,’ the review says. 

The findings show a reluctance to call out inappropriate behaviour, to challenge the status quo, and significant concerns about the perceived lack of diversity and gender equality at the high levels of CA’s management and board. Ego is identified as a source of cultural tension and ethical failure: ‘an “alpha male culture” privileges combativeness over collaboration and discourages healthy, constructive disagreement.’

Inclusive leadership is relatively absent. And that’s a shame (but not a shock). Here’s why:

First, inclusive leadership is increasingly recognised as one of the core attributes of leaders of the future, and it’s particularly important as organisations become more diverse – both in their employee base and their stakeholder base.

Second, CA knows commercially how important diversity is. It has made significant headway on diversity, as the review highlights, particularly in the expansion of women’s cricket. In fact, ‘Embrace diversity’ is the third most strongly agreed attribute in the assessment of CA’s commitment to living each of its values and attributes. ‘Cricket’s stakeholders place a high value on diversity – not just in relation to gender (important as that is) – as a key attribute of the game in the past and for its future. If anything, people would like the value of diversity to be embraced by CA to an even greater degree.’ That’s a great thing, because diversity of thinking and background benefits decision-making, innovation and engagement.

But diversity does not appear to be anchored with inclusion. Inclusion is a key enabler of diversity and that’s the missing gap for CA. 

They’re not alone here. Many organisations over the past decade have fast-tracked their focus on diversity, particularly gender diversity, in response to a range of community and commercial drivers. But they’ve not yet taken the next step, evolving their conceptual framework to position inclusion front and centre, with the focus being on developing inclusive leadership capability to leverage diversity of thought and diversity of background.

The field of growing global research on the topic of inclusive leadership is starting to show us a blueprint that leaders can reference to be more inclusive.

For example, Catalyst’s global report, Inclusive Leadership: The View From Six Countriespoints to four leadership qualities that predict whether or not employees feel included: empowerment, courage, humility, and accountability. Inclusive leaders work hard to treat all people fairly and respectfully, and empower them to solve problems and come up with new ideas. They stand up for their beliefs. They’re aware of their own limitations and biases. And they hold people accountable. 

What’s particularly relevant to us in the context of the CA review is the empowerment focus. 

Inclusive leaders have the mindset and skills to create an environment of psychological safety - where people are encouraged to speak up and challenge the status quo. They’re mindful of engaging the quieter voices in the room and actively seek out diverse views, particularly from ‘cognitively peripheral’ team members (those who hold unique information/ perspectives). Inclusive leaders actively engage in perspective taking – suspending judgement, checking understanding, and deep listening. What’s more, they work hard to embed diversity and inclusion principles across the organisation.

In fact, a number of attributes of inclusive leaders are, unfortunately, the attributes ranked lowest across all stakeholder groups in the CA review – listening, challenging the status quo, not being afraid to challenge/be challenged, and collaboration.  

There’s no doubt inclusive leadership requires a high level of emotional intelligence and agility, and that’s usually acquired through leadership education, 360 assessments and coaching. It’s rarely easy or intuitive to create an environment where people have both a sense of belonging, and feel valued for their unique perspectives and talents.

But it’s crucial if we’re serious about making diversity progress (and better workplaces more generally).

To help CA achieve national excellence and consistency without national control (a ‘master question’ in The Ethics Centre report arising out of the research), a condition identified is that ‘diversity is embraced as a tool for making better decisions’. In our view, that’s another way of saying ‘inclusive leadership’. It’s on page 101 of the report, and may just be the leadership 101 required to usher in a new era for Cricket Australia.