Creating a more inclusive organization is not a simple matter. It
requires resetting norms, educating all team members, changing long
held practices and policies (both implicit and explicit), and
rewiring the organization for greater communication and connection.
Too often, the role of middle- and senior-level leaders in creating
such an environment goes unaddressed.
Moving from an organization's traditional style of leadership and
culture to a more inclusive one requires a new set of skills and
behaviors. Underlying them all, however, is a fundamental mindset
shift. Middle- and senior-level leaders must see themselves as
facilitators, inspirers, communicators, connectors, and conductors
rather than omniscient rulers. Their role is not merely to oversee
different units within an organization but also to build
connections and share their big picture perspective so that all
people feel linked to each other, their common purpose and shared
success, and the organization's mission.
The notion of a connected organization is a very different mindset
for most leaders and organizations. More prevalent today are silos
that keep people separated from their colleagues and from seeing
the whole picture. It is common for individuals to lose sight of
the impact their own work has on the organization - even on their
own work area and team members. Such disconnection must be seen as,
among other things, a failure in leadership.
Employee surveys and organizational studies repeatedly identify the
lack of connection as an impediment to doing one's best work.
People are most engaged and productive when they feel valued,
respected, and heard. Silos, by definition, are isolating,
limiting, and marginalizing. They create layers of separation that
prevent people from seeing the rest of the organization and vice
versa. They also slow the speed of knowledge transfer and
application within an organization - a potentially make-or-break
metric in today's aggressive global marketplace.
Nine critical questions for inclusive leadership
Inclusive leaders are constantly looking for ways to create
connection and break down walls between individuals, teams,
functions, and business units. Leaders should continually assess
themselves and their organizations by asking these questions:
- With whom do people need to connect and on whom do they rely
(and who relies on them) to achieve objectives and the flow of
- What teams must communicate and connect for our organization to
improve operational performance?
- Does my leadership style invite people at all levels to
participate and share, or does it stifle people from contributing
- Am I seeing and hearing people at all levels of the
organization, or am I perceived as a distant figure to some?
- Am I willing to be transparent with people at all levels about
why and how decisions are made and invite people into the
decision-making process as needed?
- Could I walk up to any person in this organization, ask what
our mission and vision are, and how they contribute to them, and
receive an informed response?
- Am I removing barriers and providing supportive energy to
enable people in my organization to do their best work?
- With whom do I need to share more information and whom should I
be asking to share more information with me?
- Am I consistently doing what I say I will do?
The answers to such questions reveal much about a leader's
connectedness to others, as well as how well their organization is
facilitating communication and linkages among its members.
The learning leader
Another key question for all leaders is: Am I continually growing
myself, challenging myself, expanding my ideas and skill sets, and
providing that same level of coaching and development to all
members of my organization?
In today's new environment where market conditions are extremely
volatile and in which there are many unknowns, it is imperative
that leaders make a leap in their style - away from command and
control and hierarchy that is stifling people in organizations - to
create a more inclusive and connected culture that enables people
to do their best work. Leaders must be willing to be vulnerable in
this journey, recognize that they don't have all the answers and,
most important, be open to learning from people in their
organization. This represents a monumental mindset shift to a more
organic, evolutionary style that values continual learning as a way
to increase operational performance.
For many, making such a shift is a huge challenge. For too long,
the prevailing attitude has been that leaders are the best of the
best in their technical area and are the people who have all the
answers. One consequence of this belief is little tolerance or
appreciation for learning, because learning implies the need to
fill a gap in knowledge. There can be no continuous improvement
without continuous learning, however.
The nature of inclusion is such that there is no set process or
finite set of steps that achieve it. Responding to and making the
best use of people within an organization is as much an art as it
is a science - it is a matter of changing and then responding to
change, in a never-ending process.
We speak of inclusive leadership not as a program or endpoint, but
as a key to getting results in this new era of constant change. To
be an inclusive leader is not a destination, but a journey along a
winding path. Only after taking a few steps do the next few steps
become clear. Leaders need to see themselves as members of the
organization who are on that path with others, even as they help to
define the course the organization will follow. They cannot see
themselves as racers who have crossed some imaginary finish line
and are calling out for others to catch up.