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Inclusive Leaders

Dr. Doyin Atewologun

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Different from all the rest?



In a world where theories of leadership abound, how do you know which approaches or styles of leadership work for your organisation?


Many explanations of leadership claim to be distinct, describing different theories, but actually overlap. When these theories aim to explain ‘ideal’ leadership behaviours, good leaders are expected to be inspiring, honest, make decisions in the interest of the group and communicate those decisions effectively.


How do inclusive leaders differ from other styles of leadership? Inclusive leaders blend transformational and authentic leadership. Authentic leaders encourage their followers to be true to themselves, make decisions based on personal and organisational values and to be give honest feedback.


Transformational leaders (like Richard Branson, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr) are those leaders known for motivating, influencing and supporting their employees and followers to reach and extend their personal goals (e.g., being bold, brave and disruptive) aligned with a broader, social and organisational vision (e.g., innovation, legacy, human rights).


While authentic leaders help their followers strive for more and better ‘in here’ individually, by focusing on self-development and self-awareness, transformational leaders help people strive for more, effective change and a better future ‘out there’. Inclusive leaders encourage members to bring their full, authentic selves to work and actively promote how this diversity creates an advantage for personal and organisational goal attainment through building inclusive cultures.


Inclusive leadership is increasingly being recognised as the key differentiator for leaders in contemporary organisations. Today we are working with more heterogenous groups – across generations, across time zones, and across societies and backgrounds. Inclusive leaders bring every one of these people on board with them.


Although there are similarities between authentic leadership, transformational leadership and inclusive leadership, inclusive leaders bring a unique differentiator – they foster a culture of acceptance and belongingness. With the increasing demographic diversity of the workforce, inclusive leaders play an important role in ensuring that diverse talent, insights and perspectives are involved, recognised, promoted and retained.


Developing inclusive leadership 


Based on academic research, three common themes emerge to develop inclusive leaders:


Interact mindfully with team members


Mindfulness means being conscious and aware of the context. Inclusive leaders show they accept and appreciate employees in what they say and what they do. From a place of privilege, inclusive leaders recognise those in less powerful positions and consciously provide access to power. This can be done in a range of ways, for example, access to senior networks can happen through verbal introductions, invitations and acknowledgements or behaviours such as positive body language (eye contact, leaning forward, nodding), verbal encouragement in meetings, direct and honest feedback and allocation to critical projects.  

Everyday inclusive micro-behaviours can be intentional or unintentional. A leader’s conscious commitment to inclusive micro-behaviours can close the gap between minority members and more senior individuals – relationships that are typically more challenging to build for minority individuals.

When employees’ voices are equally heard, the benefits of diversity are fully utilised, and members feel valued for their unique insights.
Be open to new ideas and experiences


Being receptive and open-minded towards new, innovative ideas are key characteristics of inclusive leaders. Inclusive leaders familiarise themselves with followers’ unique strengths and notice when minority-status or typically less vocal members refrain from contributing to discussions or are ignored, interrupted or when their ideas are repurposed by other group members. When employees’ voices are equally heard, the benefits of diversity are fully utilised, and members feel valued for their unique insights.


Practice collaborative decision making



Inclusive leaders make sure everyone has access to necessary information and resources. Resources are not just financial; organisational resources include time, exposure to key projects and other opportunities. Equal access to information and resources closes the ‘privilege gap’ between those who are naturally represented in power (e.g., majority-status employees who look and act like leader ‘prototypes’) and those who are not (e.g., minority-status employees are less likely to benefit from informal networks and being given the benefit of the doubt). Collaborative decision-making is better for everyone (not just minority-status employees) because higher quality decisions are made.


Advantages of inclusive leadership for the business:
  • Innovation 
  • High performing teams 
  • Engagement and retention 
  • Culture change 
  • Evidence-based solutions 
  • Recognised commitment to inclusion 


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