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Six signature traits of inclusive leadership

BY: Daniel Kwadwo Owusu
The writer

In a volatile and complex world, predicting the future with precision is a risky business.

Understanding and being adept at inclusive leadership will help leaders thrive in their increasingly diverse environment.

This article is intended to help leaders think about how traditional notions of leadership must change.

It is structured in three parts.

The first part describes the shifts elevating the importance of inclusive leadership – the ‘Why care?’ aspect.

The second part elaborates the six signature traits of an inclusive leader.


The article is concluded by highlighting key strategies that will help organisations to cultivate inclusive capabilities across their leadership population.

A new world

Global mega-trends are creating a business context that is far less homogenous and much more diverse than has historically been the case.

These interrelated shifts are influencing business priorities and reshaping the capabilities required of leaders to succeed in the future.

Below are the trends elevating the importance of inclusive leadership.

1. Diversity of markets

Markets are characterised by significant cultural, political and economic differences.

As income levels rise, so does consumer demand.

Organisations need to understand their market environment and strategize on the best approach to operate in the various markets.

2. Diversity of customers

To remain competitive in this environment, organisations have realised, customer centricity is paramount.

Customer promises are being written into vision statements.

As operating models are being redesigned to ensure that customers are at the heart of the business, the role of the ‘chief customer officer’ has also been created and elevated to the executive team.

3. Diversity of ideas

In the race for new ideas, diversity of thinking is gaining prominence as a strategy to protect against ‘groupthink’ and generate breakthrough insights.

However, while many agree intellectually that collective intelligence enhances group performance, few understand how to consistently achieve it with any degree of specificity.

Signature traits

Diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and talent is driving the need for inclusion as a new leadership capability.

Here are six traits of leaders who display the ability to not only embrace individual differences, but to potentially leverage them for competitive advantage.

Trait 1: Commitment

Highly inclusive leaders are committed to diversity and inclusion because these objectives align with their personal values and because they believe in the business case.

Being inclusive of diversity is a big challenge.

It takes time and energy; two of a leader’s most precious commodities.

The primary motivation for pursuing diversity and inclusion is aligned with leaders’ personal values and a deep-seated sense of fairness.

More than just talking, when leaders prioritise time, energy, and resources to address inclusion, it signals that a verbal commitment is a true priority.

Trait 2: Courage

Highly inclusive leaders speak up and challenge the status quo, and they are humble about their strengths and weaknesses.

For leaders, they need to make a decision as to whether they dig in and entrench as they are, or recognize the world as it will become, and be part of the change. The courage to speak up; to challenge others and the status quo, is a central behavior of an inclusive leader.

Trait 3: Cognizance of bias

Highly inclusive leaders are mindful of personal and organisational blind spots and self-regulate to help ensure “fair play”.

Inclusive leaders are deeply aware that biases can narrow their field of vision and prevent them from making objective decisions.

At the individual level, intrinsic leaders act on self-awareness. They acknowledge that their organizations, despite best intentions, have unconscious bias, and they put in place policies, processes, and structures to mitigate the unconscious bias that exists.

Trait 4: Curiosity

Highly inclusive leaders have an open mindset, a desire to understand how others view and experience the world, and a tolerance for ambiguity.

For inclusive leaders, asking curious questions and actively listening are core skills that are key to deepening their understanding of perspectives from diverse individuals.

Trait 5: Culturally intelligent

Highly inclusive leaders are confident and effective in cross-cultural interactions.

For inclusive leaders, the ability to function effectively in different cultural settings is about more than just having a mental map of different cultural frameworks (for example, Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory).

While an understanding of cultural similarities and differences is important, inclusive leaders also recognize how their own culture impacts their personal worldview, as well as how cultural stereotypes (including the misuse of cultural model) can influence their expectations of others.

Trait 6: Collaborative

Highly inclusive leaders empower individuals as well as create and leverage the thinking of diverse groups.

At its core, collaboration is about individuals working together, building on each other’s ideas to produce something new or solve something complex.

Inclusive leaders understand that, for collaboration to be successful, individuals must first be willing to share their diverse perspectives.

For inclusive leaders, diversity of thinking is a critical ingredient for effective collaboration.

Far from being guided by opinions and feelings, or leaving success to chance, inclusive leaders adopt a disciplined approach to diversity of thinking, paying close attention to team composition and the decision-making processes employed.

Conclusion

Diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and talent is an inescapable part of today’s business environment.

When leaders have clarity about what it means to be highly inclusive (through the six signature traits and fifteen elements), they are positioned for success.

The writer is the Country Managing Partner, Deloitte Ghana

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