While diversity, equity & inclusion in the workplace have been championed in businesses across the globe, the reality is many people still are not treated equally and feel like they don’t have a voice.
We have never needed inclusive leaders more than we do now. A truly inclusive leader influences change by connecting with people on a radically human level, leading with both their head and their heart. By listening to all voices within the organization at every level, these leaders will bring teams together, unlock their collective intelligence, and change the future of their organization.
The journey to becoming an inclusive leader starts with self-awareness. The goal is to recognize and address your own biases, value diverse thinking and celebrate different perspectives. Once you do that, you can encourage others to do the same.
An inclusive leader:
If you’re looking to become a more inclusive leader, we’ve laid out a guide to the experiences you should seek out, the traits your employer will look for, and the competencies you should develop.
Inclusive leadership is not just about having an attitude of openness, it’s a set of disciplines and traits that can be assessed, coached and put into action. Korn Ferry research has identified the 5 traits and 5 competencies needed for leaders to be inclusive in their thoughts, perceptions, and actions—and inspire an inclusive mindset in others.
Traits are generally hard-wired. They include an individual’s personality, sense of purpose, and values, but they also indicate preferences. For inclusive leaders, they are the inner enablers that make inclusive leadership possible and, when utilized as a whole, they tell us the leader’s disposition towards differences.
The core traits of an inclusive leader are:
For more information and details on these traits, download The 5 Disciplines of Inclusive Leaders white paper.
While the traits outlined above are the foundation of an inclusive leader, these aren’t enough on their own. An inclusive leader must also possess the skills to lead inclusively.
Korn Ferry identified the competencies that are essential for inclusive leadership and used empirical analysis to organize these competencies into clusters. We call these the five disciplines of the inclusive leader.
The core competencies of an inclusive leader are:
As an inclusive leader, you’ll use different combinations of these five core competencies to shape your organization’s people strategies, innovation, globalization, brand and reputation, and growth.
As organizations become increasingly diverse—employing people of different races, genders, religions, abilities, identities, and backgrounds—it is imperative as a leader that you learn how to manage cultural differences and embrace this change. As an inclusive leader, you need to be able to identify other culturally driven preferences as well as your own, to gauge where different work styles are likely to be beneficial and productive.
Experiences that expose you to a broad range of geographies, people, and contexts can increase your understanding of culturally driven preferences by challenging your assumptions and ways of doing things. Diverse experiences can also open your eyes to the fact that clients’ and employees’ needs aren’t all the same and can’t be addressed uniformly across the board.
This will position you better as a leader, with the understanding that solutions can be varied and counterintuitive, and that, sometimes, they’re best reached along unconventional paths.
Personal and professional experiences that may enhance your capacity to be an inclusive leader include:
If you've had these experiences in your formative years, you have an edge on this journey. However, you may not be using your past experiences intentionally in your present-day leadership.
For those who didn’t have early-life exposure to more diverse experiences, it’s not too late. You can seek out short- or long-term immersion experiences and even lifestyle changes in order to become a more inclusive leader.
Generational views of diversity and inclusion are challenging the status quo, making the need to be inclusive more crucial than ever.
Millennials are forecast to comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Millennials and Gen Zers are craving a culture of connectedness that facilitates collaboration and professional growth. The millennial perspective on inclusive leadership matters — they are looking for leaders who are vulnerable, psychologically present, and heart-centered. To be truly inclusive, leaders must use both head and heart.
Korn Ferry sampled 24,000 broad-based leader assessments taken between 2015 and 2019 and unearthed two types of inclusive leaders: those who led with the heart and those who led with the head.
The heart-led group of inclusive leaders stood out for its high scores on these people-related traits and competencies:
The head-led group of inclusive leaders had high scores on these mindset- and action-oriented traits and competencies:
Even those who are inclusive must learn new ways of leading.
Heart-centered inclusive leaders must develop an approach to diversity and inclusion that leads to organizational impact.
Head-centered inclusive leaders must work on both achieving greater diversity and inclusion and leveraging it for business and organizational results. Your impact will be limited if you’re not emotionally connected with the diversity of the people you’re leading.
These findings around the head and the heart reinforce what Millennials and Gen Z groups are telling us they want from their leaders in the future.
One participant in a Korn Ferry focus group stated, “With our generation of young leaders, there’s the need to understand that a position doesn’t make a leader; the leader makes the position.”
By taking on the challenges inherent in leading heterogeneous, inclusive teams, you’ll bring your organization and your own leadership to the next level in a highly competitive and increasingly diverse global marketplace.
While certain traits are innate, you can also develop many of the skills that it takes to be an inclusive leader. However, developing these inclusive leader skills requires commitment and a strategy.
It takes a comprehensive plan, grounded in the assessment and development of key leadership traits and competencies, to foster inclusive leadership at the level of the organization that you influence.
Your work will inspire other leaders throughout the organization to make a much needed inclusive mindset shift and capability development, with the goal of realizing the full potential of your diverse workforce.