Inclusive Leadership is Now THE Leadership Model

14 June 2023
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Leading in a diverse workplace

It’s a fact that work and the workplace of the 21st century are intrinsically and recognisably different from what they were a few decades ago. Workforces are more diverse and the workplace itself, in many cases, is not a fixed location, but becoming increasingly remote. Moreover, employees are no longer willing to make an arbitrary distinction between their private and work identity. They want to bring their whole selves to work and expect leaders to interact accordingly.

Changes in Organisational structure

There has also been a radical shift in the structure of organisations as they have become flatter and less hierarchical. Leaders are no longer assumed to be all-knowing and presumed to be able to issue directives without question or challenge. For decisions to be made, often a broad consensus of team members is required for approval.
Business leaders have had to adapt their own behaviours now that rank and file employees, as well as the middle managers, have more influence in decision-making and the way in which organizations function. Leaders brought up with a command-and-control style or who are reluctant to delegate or are inclined to believe that they have a right of veto in any situation will require a mind-set change to adapt themselves to the modern diverse workplace.

A Culture of Inclusiveness

A culture of inclusiveness arises and gets impetus from the top. Leaders need to be a model of inclusion themselves while also ensuring that the organizational values and culture are consistent with an inclusive system and structure. Equity and inclusion require accountability, and hence, everyone in the team must live the core organizational principles. Leaders need to make sure that everyone is embraced within a culture of inclusivity, yet at the same time doing their part to maintain and grow this culture. The empowerment of all employees across the organisation also implies that they will need to behave responsibly– meaning that they make certain that the saying “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” is always adhered to.

The Inclusive Leader

There are specific behaviours and attributes that one must possess to be qualified as an inclusive leader. Leaders who can consistently exhibit these characteristics will be in a great place to begin raising the awareness of the importance of building an inclusive workplace culture and to start embedding inclusive behaviours in others in all levels of their organisations. Symmetra through its work over many years with organisations across the globe has created a paradigm for an exemplary inclusive leader. In this paradigm the inclusive leader will exhibit all or most of the following behaviours:

  • A learning mindset
  • Self-awareness of differences and biases
  • Actively seeks out and engages with people who are different
  • Values diversity
  • Embeds psychological safety within their team
  • Is open to different opinions and ideas
  • Promotes organisation-wide collaboration and the spanning of boundaries
  • Champions diversity across the organisation

The leader who is truly and authentically committed to inclusiveness can establish one of the most valuable forms of capital that a leader can have, namely; trust. Harvard Business Review has articulated this excellently in an article titled Begin with Trust:

“The traditional leadership narrative is all about you: your vision and strategy; your ability to make the tough calls and rally the troops; your charisma, your heroic moments of courage and instinct. But leadership really isn’t about you. It’s about empowering other people as a result of your presence….” [ ‘Begin with Trust’- HBR May-June, 2020 ]

Moving Forward

Workplaces where leaders have managed to cultivate a culture of inclusiveness, where all feel valued and respected are the workplaces of choice in the 21st century. These are the workplaces where team members have a great sense of belonging and their contributions are valued. They are spaces where every individual feels a part of a team, willing to collaborate and contribute, and at the same time comfortable in maintaining a sense of uniqueness. Executives and managers who can create this sense are the real leaders.

The conclusion which we at Symmetra have drawn is that Inclusive leadership can no longer be regarded as a useful option for executives and managers to adopt, but should rather be viewed as expressing fundamental elements intrinsic to organisational leadership in the 21st century. With this kind of leadership organisations are poised to thrive. Without it they will surely struggle.