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How to develop more inclusive leaders today


21 May, 2021

Korn Ferry research reveals that inclusive leaders are rare. Organizations must develop more inclusive leaders for these complex, disruptive times.

5 traits of an inclusive leader

  • Authenticity: Trust and humility.
  • Emotional resilience: Composure and self-awareness.
  • Self-assurance: Confidence and optimism.
  • Inquisitiveness: Openness to differences, curiosity, and empathy.
  • Flexibility: Tolerance of ambiguity and adaptability.

The competencies are the observable skills and behaviors required for success at work, offering a view into a person’s current level of proficiency on work-related skills.

5 competencies of an inclusive leader

  • Achieves transformation: Leads with courage, persuades others and drives results.
  • Builds interpersonal trust: Values differences and instills trust.
  • Integrates diverse perspectives: Balances stakeholders and manages conflict.
  • Optimizes talent: Drives engagement, develops talent and collaborates.
  • Applies an adaptive mindset: Has situational adaptability, shares a global perspective and cultivates innovation.

When applying this research to our leadership assessments, we found that the nations with the highest number of inclusive leaders were New Zealand (12.9%), Australia (10.8%) and the United States (9.7%). The top industries with inclusive leaders were nonprofit (9.5%), government (7.5%) and healthcare (7.3%). And, as for functions, no group scored over 10 percent: creatives were highest (9.1%), followed by executive and general management (6.8%) and information technology (5.9%).

Two types of inclusive leaders

Our research also noted another pattern while analyzing the distribution of the traits and disciplines: there are two types of inclusive leaders. Some inclusive leaders lead with their heart, while others lead with their head.

Leaders who lead with the heart

The heart-centered cluster had higher average scores on the people-related traits — authenticity and emotional resilience—and disciplines—optimizes talent, integrates diverse perspectives and builds interpersonal trust.

Leaders who lead with the head

The head-centered cluster was more mindset- and action-oriented; they scored higher on the traits of flexibility and inquisitiveness and the disciplines of applies an adaptive mindset and achieves transformation.

What does this mean for your organization? Ideally, you’ll have a balance of head and heart leaders throughout your organization. And you’ll need to find ways to develop inclusive leaders with both sets of traits and disciplines. That means you need to help your leaders learn new ways of leading. So, for example, heart-centered leaders must develop an approach to diversity and inclusion that leads to organizational transformation. Meanwhile, head-centered leaders should work to improve their emotional connections with their diverse talent.

When inclusive leaders develop the skills and disciplines that enable them to lead with both their head and heart, they’re better able to build rapport and trust, recognize different learning and thinking styles, welcome new and diverse people to the table, seek out contributions from those who bring different experiences to the discussion and elicit their talent’s personal best. They can also practice inclusion systematically, whether they’re conducting talent review discussions, assigning a developmental opportunity or deciding who to bring onto a team.

How you can develop more inclusive leaders

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, inclusive leaders will play an increasingly critical role. Organizations can grow their ranks of inclusive leaders by setting the right framework, including the tools, systems and processes necessary to build heart and head leaders.

  • Effective assessment and training for inclusive leadership
  • Access to just-in-time tools that leaders can use to interrupt their unconscious biases
  • Structurally inclusive processes and systems, ensuring that job requirements, behaviorally based interviews, success profiles and other evaluative tools are bias-free.
  • Methodologies such as inclusive design that leaders can apply to remedy systemic inequities.

By establishing this framework and developing more inclusive leaders, organizations will realize the true benefits of diversity and inclusion.

To learn more about our Inclusive Leader model, download our article, Head and heart leaders for an equitable future, and reach out to learn more about how we can help you assess and develop your leadership team so you’re ready to start building a more inclusive tomorrow.