Inclusive leadership makes a difference
Inclusive leadership is the only way to lead and it will make a difference.
But it is an active skill, one you must learn and develop. You cannot pass an exam and become certified, and you cannot just read a book or an article and become proficient. Like learning to drive or becoming a CA, learning new skills and knowledge requires practice, commitment, and application. Passing a course or reading an article won’t keep you up to date or ensure you are an inclusive leader.
Your leadership abilities and success depend on how well you adapt to the challenges and changing circumstances you face. It also depends on how you address the opportunity to managing a diverse team and how you make a group of people work more effectively together so that the team becomes stronger, more efficient and has shared vision and goals. The sum is always greater than their individual parts.
However, managing diversity isn’t easy. We are naturally more comfortable with people like ourselves. You may have heard of the term unconscious bias, and that some reports and politicians have questioned their existence. Sadly, this unhelpful distraction has moved the focus of the debate away from the very real and inherent issues of discrimination and bias in recruitment and selection.
I always tell people that there is nothing wrong with knowing that you have a bias, the only issue is when you have an awareness of a bias and fail to act.
Being aware of your biases and personal preferences, because we all have them, is one of the six key traits that Deloitte identify are shared by inclusive leaders (based on the ratings of 400 leaders by 4000 raters).
The traits are:
- Visible commitment – inclusive leaders make a genuine commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and are not afraid to challenge perceived wisdom and established practice.
- Humility - being an inclusive leader means showing some modesty and courage, but more importantly it means admitting when you make an error or mistake and demonstrating that you are not afraid to learn. This enables others to learn.
- Curiosity about others (and about difference) – inclusive leaders show their open mindedness and inquisitiveness about other people, actively listening without judging – while understanding other people, this is called “empathy”.
- Cultural intelligence – inclusive leaders are adept at understanding the cultures and lifestyles of other people and making changes to be accommodating.
- Effective collaboration – inclusive leaders are comfortable on being challenged, welcome difference of opinion and critiques. They will create psychological safety in their organisation and teams.
- Awareness of bias – taking an implicit association test is an excellent way to learn about yourself and assess where your innate preferences might get in the way of decision making.
By being more aware of your biases you will have a greater insight into your leadership style. It will also give you a better understanding of how you can seek to avoid biases or personal preferences, affecting how you select and hire, develop and reward or allocate tasks.
I always tell people that there is nothing wrong with knowing that you have a bias, the only issue is when you have an awareness of a bias and fail to act. As an experienced EDI professional, I was reassured when upon taking the test, I found I had no discernible difference in how I perceived a black or white person. I genuinely believe I don’t.
However, I know there is real science and validity behind the research in these tests. I am also aware that scientists tell us that our biases come out when we are tired, rushing to meet a deadline, processing multiple tasks at once, under pressure and hungry. So, before lunch on a terribly hectic day, after very poor night’s sleep, I decided to take the same test again. The result was clear, I had a modest, but definite preference for white people. I am white. This distressed me hugely, as I cannot imagine receiving worse feedback. However, I remembered the advice I had given to all the Executives I had previously coached and coaxed to become inclusive leaders. Remember to be fair and to show you are being fair.
The best short advice I can provide is to show empathy and consider the perspectives of others.
Furthermore, being aware of these biases is only part of the picture. Inclusive leaders must show their commitment and demonstrate that they are prepared to be challenged. They must show humility and courage, as this will inspire their team to trust them. Be curious about differences. If someone is from a different cultural or ethnic group to you, ask them about their life and experiences. This will expand your knowledge and cultural intelligence and will make you more sensitive to the individual needs of the people you lead and support. Using this knowledge and awareness will enable you to welcome diversity of thought and opinion and help you create psychological safety for your teams.
The best short advice I can provide is to show empathy and consider the perspectives of others. It is no longer enough to provide once a year mandatory EDI training for employees. Such training, aimed at compliance rarely meets the needs of your employees. EDI training should be focused on the roles of the team and the skills they need to demonstrate to manage diverse teams, or meet the needs of a diverse and changing customer base. Training focused on perspective training is central to helping employees develop into inclusive leaders.
The challenge for ICAS is to build these skills into our professional development offerings, embedding the leadership skills needed, to develop the inclusive leaders of tomorrow and ultimately embedding the essential elements of EDI into the CA training and the curriculum.
In partnership with Leading Figures we offer discounted 1:1 or Team coaching sessions for ICAS Members.
Catch up on Leading Figures' webinar on What makes an Inclusive Leader? Lessons from leading during COVID-19 with Tracey Rob Perera, Chair of the ICAS EDI committee, here.