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How to Build a Culture of Inclusive Leadership

By Melissa J. Anderson

Last Week, Opportunity Now, an initiative of UK charity Business in the Community, released a new study on inclusive leadership. The report, “Inclusive Leadership – from Pioneer to Mainstream,” highlighted the value that inclusive leaders bring to an organization, and recognized that there aren’t nearly enough of them.

In her forward to the report, Alison Platt, Divisional Managing Director, Europe and North America, Bupa and Chair of Opportunity Now, wrote, “Inclusive leadership is a leadership style which embraces, encourages and taps into the creativity and ideas which come about in non homogeneous groups.”

She continued,

“Truly inclusive leaders are not as widespread as we might like. …This is why we have described them as pioneer leaders. They are breaking new ground, learning through example and experience and not via organisational design. This research sets out what an inclusive leader actually is, how you can identify one in your business, and how to systematically increase the number of these pioneer leaders in your organisation.”

The study shows that inclusive leadership is transformative, engaging, critical – and rare. Here’s Opportunity Now’s advice on how you can build a culture of inclusive leadership at your organization.

Key for Business Growth

Indeed, the research shows, 84% of respondents to the survey said their inclusive leader made them more motivated at work, and 83% said that leader made them feel more loyal. Finally, 81% said their inclusive leadership motivated them to go above and beyond the responsibilities of their daily role.

Helen Wells, Director of Opportunity now and co-author of the study with Dr. Gillian Shapiro, Shapiro Consulting and Rachael Saunders of Opportunity Now, explained, “One thing the study revealed was that a brilliantly inclusive leader has such a powerful effect on how people feel about their world of work.”

She continued, “The other thing is that inclusive leaders are relatively rare. They have a powerful effect, but many of our respondents could only think of one.”

“Organizations are not looking at this in a more systematic way. We need to put this in organizational cultures and processes.” She added, “Currently, really great inclusive leaders have developed through osmosis – not through organizational design. “

“The most powerful takeaway on this report is that inclusion is a commercial imperative,” Wells said. “It’s about absolutely maximizing the potential of your people in a tough time.”

She continued, “We want organizations to prioritize and see as important the development of inclusive leaders.”

Driving Change

“With our changing and more globalized economy and emerging markets, we have an incredibly diverse customer base,” Wells said. And that’s why the development of diversity and inclusion is so important for today’s multinational companies.

She continued, “And that old control/command style of leadership is not fit for the purpose. We need to make sure the workforce is a representation of market reality.”

Additionally, she said, employee engagement is key in today’s economic climate. “Our particular research showed us how a really good leader who has a more inclusive style can get the absolutely best out of the people you have.” Considering the times of austerity and the economic turmoil many companies are working in, developing inclusive leadership style should be top of mind organizations looking to get the most out of stressed and overworked workforces.

How can senior people ensure they are taking part in building an inclusive culture of leadership at their companies? Wells suggested they ask themselves three questions.

1. Do you sponsor someone?

2. Do you help those you manage to understand the bigger picture?

3. Are you working to ensure the inclusive leadership style goes viral?

“They should ask themselves, ‘is this me?’” Wells explained. By modeling inclusive leadership, senior leaders can bring about cultural change in their companies.

Additionally, the report suggests, measurement and accountability are key to ensuring the inclusive leadership model becomes part of an organization’s cultural fabric.

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