Leadership expert, Susan MacKenty Brady reveals the necessary skills that every leader must know in order to create a culture of inclusion.
The fact that most companies don’t have “level playing fields” is finally becoming a top concern for many executives. The call for organizational diversity in leadership isn’t going away. The need to cultivate cultures of inclusion isn’t going away. The needed light which is shining on gender balance in leadership IS NOT GOING AWAY. Note Goldman Sachs CEO David Soloman’s declaration that the investment bank will refuse to take a company public unless it has at least one woman or non-white board member (read here). Just look at Bill & Melinda Gates’ 2020 Annual letter and you’ll see that their message, “Equality can’t wait” insinuates that they are just getting started. More powerful and resourced people than ever before are committing to changing the “gender equity” game. This is happening in part to right the wrong of injustice and in part because equity and inclusion is good business (read here).
My prediction is that leaders will be taking action to create diverse and gender-balanced leadership teams at speeds never seen before. Leaders will be asking hard questions about the current state of inclusion and equity in leadership in their organizations. Leaders will hunt down the drivers that perpetuate inequity, and courageously seek to make change. Leaders will assume that changes will upset those comfortable with the status quo. In essence, leaders will be making bold decisions about how level playing fields will be created, remove barriers and create enablers among organizational systems and processes. Increasingly, when leaders aren’t taking action to foster cultures of inclusion, they will be called out. It will be incumbent upon every leader to understand the individual role they play in fostering – or limiting – the extent to which the organization they lead is inclusive.
To create a culture of inclusion, where all can bring their gifts and talents and feel a sense of belonging, there needs to be an experience of inclusion. Inclusion is what people feel as a result of being with you. Your organization will only be as good at inclusion (which we know invites better business outcomes) if YOU demonstrate your moment-to-moment commitment to leading inclusively. Here are five skills you can practice today to be more inclusive. You can even be overt about deploying these skills, naming them as you do them so people know you are purposeful in your pursuit to foster an organizational culture of inclusion.
- Lead with curiosity: Best-selling author and Purpose Guru Richard Lieder reminds us “the future belongs to the learners, not the knowers.” Seek to understand; assume every person and situation is more complicated than any one person can see. Curiosity conveys humility. Learning can’t happen without humility – and curiosity. Inclusion can’t happen in the absence of a desire to understand a person, situation or context.
- Lead with transparency: Be real with what’s up. Recently, I spoke with a Fortune 500 CHRO who admitted to me (in front of her entire team) that “we are new to women’s leadership and very much learning how to create a gender balanced organization. We aren’t even close to being close yet.” Transparency is often stating what everyone already knows is true; transparency can also dispel myths. Remember, left with a lack of information, people will make up their own stories about “what is” often wasting valuable time and energy in doing so.
- Lead with respect, appreciation and kindness: For self and others, assume good intention and exercise compassion. You can’t go wrong with respect. A leader I have been coaching just learned the power of being kind & curious at the same time. Curiosity without kindness can feel to others like the “third degree.” Kindness without curiosity might land as manipulation. With a belief in herself and an assumption of good intention of others, this leader changed her brand. This moment-to-moment practice resulted in her going from a leader people were quitting to a leader worthy of being followed. The leaders who are most successful know how to balance intellectual strength with interpersonal savviness. The leaders who are quit on usually lack in their authentic expression of respect or appreciation or basic kindness.
- Lead with imagination: Innovation requires imagination. Imagination requires staying flexible to what’s possible. Leaders need fresh ideas from everyone to stay competitive. The best practice for leading with imagination is asking for it and rewarding it in others. “What do you see? Where and how can we improve?” Practicing 1-3 above helps with this, #4.
- Lead with courage: If we are to lead inclusively, we run the risk of being caught being human. Perfectly imperfect. Our biases (because we all have them) might be apparent or might unintentionally hurt another. Our choices and judgement might sometime have unintended negative impact. To walk the earth committed to leading inclusively means we “out” ourselves as fellow learners, and we take a stand FOR equity. To speak up and take risks takes courage.
Remember: when we aren’t being consciously inclusive, we run the risk of being unconsciously exclusive. Call these 5 things “leading inclusively” or just “good leadership”, but know this: the tides are shifting and change is being called for by those in positions of power and influence. Be among those who are walking the talk while making bold change. Be among the ones who make people feel inclusion as a result of being in your presence.
Do you have a strength in one of the 5 skills? Are you purposefully asking those around you to practice these skills? Are you practicing these skills?