If you are a leader in an organization today, you have most likely provided Diversity & Inclusion training for your team. The focus of a lot of that training is on the value of having a diverse team and how to ensure you embrace the diversity of individuals on the team. What can sometimes be given less focus is the importance of the leader’s inclusive behaviors when it comes to realizing the full value of a highly diverse team. You can have the most diverse team ever and a leader who does not practice inclusive behaviors and end up with a team who will abandon their diverse backgrounds for the safe place of acting more like the leader.
Be Like You, Not Like Me
When a leader practices inclusive behavior they make the people on their team feel welcome, safe, and as if they belong. When someone feels safe and welcome, they do not feel the need to cover their identity or, worse yet, take on the identity of the leader. They feel free to be themselves. When this happens, the leader and the organization will reap the full benefit found in highly diverse teams.
What Makes a Leader Inclusive?
In working with leaders from many different industries and my journey, I have noticed specific values that have surfaced from highly inclusive leaders. Where are you when it comes to embracing these eight values?
Inclusive Leaders value:
- Learning over knowing. Leaders who practice inclusive behaviors are teachable. Even though they may think they know, they are open to the fact that someone from a different background may know differently, and they invite others to have a voice.
- Collaboration over Individuality. Inclusive leaders lean into the diverse nature of the team by inviting collaboration and teamwork. They don’t allow their perspectives to distract from the collaborative benefits of having a diverse team.
- Connecting over being right. If you desire to win or be right, you will send a message that it is not safe to speak up or contribute. You will close the door to genuinely connecting with the members of your team.
- Questions over statements. Inclusive leaders are world-class question askers. When you put aside declarative statements and instead use questions to communicate with your team members, you invite other perspectives. Statements are closed doors to discussion. Questions are open doors to discussion.
- Empathy over sympathy. When you feel with someone versus feeling for someone, you put yourself in their shoes and essentially say, “me too.” An empathetic communication style builds trust and tells people they are safe and welcome here.
- We over me. Inclusive leaders know they will never be successful unless a lot of people (the team) want them to be. When you make day-to-day interactions about yourself, the people on your team will feel manipulated, and their engagement level will be reduced. Put the team first, and you will motivate the people on your team to engage.
- Acceptance over judgment. With a diverse team comes the realization that the members of your team are not like you. When people are different from you, it can be tempting to judge differences versus recognizing and accepting differences.
- Perspectives of others over stating your truth. It’s easy to think that the way you see things is the way things are when it is merely our perspective of how things are. Inclusive leaders know that others have perspectives too, and they are open to hearing what those are.
Every leader I know would tell you they desire to have a culture where everyone feels that they belong. They do not want anyone on their team to feel they need to cover up who they really are because it does not feel safe to be myself. Yet, in many organizations, that is precisely what is happening. It takes an intentional approach to ensure that everyone you lead feels like an insider, not an outsider. By embracing these eight values, you will be well on your way to leveraging your diverse team through your inclusive behaviors.
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.