Is inclusive leadership just the new leadership buzzword?

Is inclusive leadership just the new leadership buzzword?

Organisational focus on inclusive leadership has accelerated in the last 6-7 years. Business owners want to know they have the right people in place to lead their organisation and achieve sustained success in a changed world, while driving a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.

The approach to achieving inclusion at an organisational level varies between businesses. Aston Martin have recently announced the appointment of Dame Natalie Massanet and Marigay McKee as Directors – strengthening their position as a luxury brand that complies with the expectation of having more women on executive boards, while the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority have said that Senior City Executives could have their pay linked to organisational progress – or lack thereof – in building more diverse and inclusive workforces.

But what constitutes inclusivity? And does being an inclusive leader make that individual an effective leader?

What makes an inclusive leader?

The Management Research Group (MRG) researched 7,500 leaders across multiple geographies, industries, functions and management levels in order to identify the leadership behaviours considered to represent inclusiveness.

Through their research, MRG found that the top three behaviours of leaders who are considered ‘effectively inclusive’ are: an ability to demonstrate empathy, a strong sense of self-awareness, and a willingness to listen to and encourage others. Operating with empathy meant managers and leaders demonstrated an active concern for individual team members and their needs – making them more capable of supporting their colleagues and direct reports in overcoming workplace challenges and managing change.

A willingness to listen meant leaders encouraged and valued the input of others. They granted credibility to the opinions of their colleagues, and were more than happy to incorporate what they heard into their decision making process. And this worked to complement their reduced sense of ‘self’, as leaders were less likely to want full autonomy when making decisions and acknowledged that the support and guidance of others was a valuable asset – helping to promote employee engagement and development.

MRG concluded that demonstrating these behaviours, among others, directly contributed towards being an inclusive leader capable of transforming their organisational culture. But what does it all mean for leadership effectiveness?

Are inclusive leaders effective leaders?

MRG found that while inclusive leaders excel in certain areas, there were additional elements needed to create truly effective leadership. Common pitfalls included a lack of self-confidence and resilience, an intolerance of ambiguity and an inability to deliver results and think effectively. Without addressing these development areas, it was felt that leaders who were deemed effectively inclusive may never become comprehensively effective leaders. And so MRG identified the skills these individuals could look to develop in order to enhance their leadership capabilities.

Failing to know when and how to challenge authority was seen as a key blocker of effective leadership. Managers and leaders work on the ground every day, developing a unique insight into the successes and challenges of the organisation – so when this experience tells them that a decision made by the senior leadership team is wrong, managers need to challenge it – ensuring they offer an actionable alternative that key stakeholders can buy into. This was seen to help with showcasing expertise and building confidence in their ability to make key strategical decisions.

Having the confidence to challenge authority creates opportunities for innovation, whether it’s by introducing new ideas, simplifying workflows or refining an existing methodology. MRG’s research concluded that leaders should be willing to show their ability to improve existing processes and services, and think outside the box in order to solve problems. Managers and leaders doing so were then seen to be ‘raising the bar’ and more capable of managing situations in order to achieve organisational success.

What the research shows is that inclusive leadership isn’t a standalone leadership style – it’s an integral part of effective leadership.

Where do I invest my leader development budget?

Firstly, it’s important to conduct a comprehensive and unbiased workforce assessment to gain an insight into the qualities already present within the  leadership team, compared to those needed for future success. Development areas can then be identified, enabling more informed leadership development decisions to be made.

Once the assessment is completed, if inclusion is identified as the sole area in need of improvement, then investing in a targeted development programme focused exclusively on inclusivity would be advised. However, if inclusion is one of many leadership areas in need of attention, then investing in a broader development initiative that incorporates multiple leadership competencies may be more prudent.

To find out more about what it takes to be an inclusive and effective leader, watch our free, on-demand webinar.