Breaking the Mold: How Inclusive Leaders Challenge Traditional Ways of Thinking

The second level of inclusive leadership behaviour is interpersonal – the way we interact with others. Before we can create inclusive teams and organisations, we must first ensure that our interactions with other individuals leaves them with a sense of being valued, respected and understood. This cannot be achieved unless we come from an authentic place of valuing differences; from this arises a willingness to recognise our own way of thinking and doing things is just one way and needs to be adaptable depending on who we are working with.

Within the Interpersonal level, our model has two competencies: Valuing Diversity and Agility & Flexibility.

Valuing Diversity

Building on the humility and curiosity we identified in the Self level, inclusive leaders truly believe in the value of diversity in all its forms – both identity and cognitive. They demonstrate through word and action that diversity is a critical input into all problem solving and innovation. They create opportunities to take advantage of diverse contributions, they build diverse teams, and they use diverse inputs to benefit all stakeholders. This ranges from things as simple as who gets invited to meetings, to the way they recruit and the behaviours they reward.


Agility & Flexibility

Inclusive leaders have the interpersonal skills to effectively engage with people who are different to them. They do this by getting to know all those they work with, by understanding and respecting different ways of working/communicating and by being able to adapt their own style to adjust. When you as the leader demonstrate that you are the one who will change and adapt to their needs, it is an exceedingly powerful signal of inclusion.

Improving your Interpersonal Inclusion

In some ways, improving interpersonal inclusion is one of the most challenging areas as it requires us to subvert a very natural human tendency to stick to the similar and familiar. This is an evolved tribal trait that was beneficial for community cohesiveness, but doesn’t serve us well in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world of the modern marketplace. To improve interpersonal inclusion, we must seek out diversity, understand diverse people, and adapt to work well with them.

One leader we worked with was struggling to coach a talented African woman in his team to be more assertive and self-promoting. Through the coaching he came to understand that her cultural background was strongly collectivist and that her preference would always be to celebrate the team and achievements of others. Rather than trying to change her, he learned to he had to recognise the value in her approach and ensure that others would recognise it, too.



Here are some habits you can try to build your capability:


Get a thought partner

The stories of highly successful companies are abundant with great thought partnerships – people who thought and worked differently, and challenge each other, such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Find one or more people whose opinion you respect but tend to challenge you more often than not.


Identify and talk about the value of diversity

When your team gets a win, try to identify where a unique perspective or diverse collaboration has helped to contribute to the outcome. Then talk about it and try to replicate it.


Get to know everyone in your team

This may sound obvious, but consistency in relationships across your team is critical to a sense of inclusion. Are there some people – perhaps remote workers – who are on the periphery? Try to connect equally with everyone and understand their unique needs.


Let people do it their way

Whether this is working remotely, or taking a different approach to a problem than you might, you cannot leverage the value of diversity or allow others to learn and grow unless you let them attempt to do things differently to you.