With an inclusive mindset comes powerful perspectives

As the world becomes more complex and social and human justice issues take center stage, leaders are being called on to do more and be better.

But the most successful leaders aren't just hiring more diverse talent, they're approaching their business with an inclusive mindset. They're bringing multiple, diverse perspectives to the table and creating environments where everyone feels empowered to influence decision-making. They're recognizing how inclusion in the workplace can lead to social equity and better business outcomes. They're reflecting on themselves and serving others.

At Korn Ferry, we call this inclusive mindset "inclusion that multiplies". It is one of the five leadership mindsets that enable business leaders to grow their capabilities and become true Enterprise Leaders. This mindset helps you achieve better results and decision-making through connection, collectivity and collaboration.

What is "inclusion that multiplies"?

It's easy to think that inclusion is simply hiring more people from different demographics and backgrounds or bringing more people into business meetings. Inclusion is often oversimplified into additive terms.

Inclusion that multiplies is broader. It's not only about peoples' presence or even participation. This inclusive mindset is about making sure diverse perspectives are actually heard, understood, and applied; that decisions are reached collaboratively; and that different perspectives influence decision-making in an ongoing way. It's the magic that makes a group more than the sum of its parts.

Many successful leaders are advocates and allies for inclusion, such as Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who says, "A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone." Enterprise Leaders not only gather that diverse mix of voices, but they also realize that no single person can capture the complexities of every corner of the business. They know that the best way to succeed is to give up a bit of power and enable their network of leaders to share information, ask questions to gain perspective, make decisions and solve problems collaboratively.

Naomi Sutherland, a Managing Partner at Korn Ferry, says this mindset is more than beneficial—it's freeing. It expands your mind and helps you "think about who should be here, whose perspective do we need, what value is added by different voices," she says. It allows you to consider points of view outside your own and empowers you to make decisions for the whole.

Inclusive mindsets unleash the power of diverse teams

A strong argument for inclusion in the workplace is the power it has to release the collective intelligence of diverse teams. It's the principle behind democracy, trial by jury and academic peer review. Even before it was fully understood as a scientific concept, humans were intuitively aware that better decisions are made by groups, not individuals.

Studies by Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon, have shown that the collective intelligence of a particular group is not strongly correlated with the individual intelligence of its members. But Woolley and her fellow researchers found three factors that do correlate with collective intelligence: the number of different speakers in a group, the proportion of women in a group and the average social sensitivity score for group members.

As a business leader, harnessing the power of collective intelligence means harnessing these factors of collective intelligence by fostering a socially sensitive, diverse and inclusive "environment where everyone has opportunity to share equally," Sutherland says. It means understanding that "intelligence" refers not only to the expertise each person in the room brings to the table but also to the emotional intelligence that enables the group to learn from one another.

"The diverse teams that are most effective in harnessing collective intelligence are able to read the emotions of others in the room," Sutherland says. Team members are able to share their own perspectives and know when it's time to shift the floor to others.

So how can you adopt an inclusion that multiplies mindset and embrace Enterprise Leadership?

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Unleashing the power of all of us.

4 ways to adopt an inclusive mindset

1 Reflect on your team's current performance

Start by evaluating how well you currently harness collective intelligence in your organization. Recall a recent meeting of your executive team and ask yourself:

  • What was the purpose of this team and meeting?
  • Who was present in the meeting? Who was the most vocal? Whose voice was loudest?
  • Who did we not hear from who may have meaningful insight to share?
  • What does this team achieve together that cannot be achieved separately by individual function leaders?
  • What is accomplished that would not be done if this team did not come together?

If these questions are difficult to answer, it can be a sign that your group is not as inclusive as it could be, which could be impacting its performance. Sometimes, executive leadership team meetings are simply times for individuals to share what they have been doing within their function. If this is the case, you are benefiting incrementally from the presence of each person, but you have not tapped into the multiplying power of inclusion.

To do better, you need to look at both the structure of the team you've put together and the environment you've created for it to operate.

2 Create inclusive environments

It's not enough just to bring the right people to the table. The role of an Enterprise Leader is to create an environment where people are encouraged to share their perspectives and then ensure those voices are included in the decisions. The collective intelligence of a group increases when more people take a turn speaking.

Applying an inclusive mindset means acknowledging and avoiding the "similar to me" bias in which people tend to value perspectives closest to their own. It also means resisting the urge to assume you know what another person's view will be or thinking you've gathered enough information after listening to only a limited number of perspectives or have sought out or heard primarily from those with whom we already agree. We can't know if that's the case unless we continue listening.

Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck notes that hiring is one area where this bias can creep in. Krawcheck places a high value on hiring a good fit for the whole team rather than just the role because that can unconsciously lead you to select someone who's similar to you. "By trying to hire the right person for the team," she says, "that can drive you to someone with skills and experience and background that are different from the team—and therefore add to the team."

Watching out for the "similar to me" bias in all areas of problem-solving can not only help your teams come to better decisions, but it will also help to create the type of place that people want to work, which can improve hiring prospects and employee retention.

3 Understand your role—and let go of control

To completely adopt an inclusive mindset, you must look inward. You may need to rethink some of your existing assumptions about yourself and your role as a leader.

Some people struggle to let go of the notion that a leader should be a gifted individual, who is an expert at producing brilliant ideas and innovations all on their own. But it’s far more likely that a leader gained their strength by working with others over time and that their innovations are built on the ideas of others in an environment where people feel a sense of appreciation and openness.

Instead, accept that you cannot be an expert at everything—that you can achieve much more by including and empowering other people and amplifying their voices. Your role is to bring people together, share the challenge and listen before making a final decision in the best interests of the group. This inevitably means letting go of control and distributing power to others.

When you give up some control over problem-solving and decision-making, you empower others to share their ideas. It multiplies the impact your collectivity can have.

4 Look beyond your organization

Using inclusion as a force multiplier shouldn't stop at the boundary of your organization. "It's hard to have innovative ideas if you're not talking to people outside your organization," Sutherland says. Many leaders keep their knowledge and views close to the vest. But an important aspect of Enterprise Leadership is looking to create lasting change not just across your organization but beyond it—into the ecosystem and society you exist in.

As one example, think of the teams of scientists and researchers at pharmaceutical companies that came together to collaborate on a vaccine for COVID-19. These companies not only worked with each other for the greater good, but also included outside expertise to enable fast success. Through a radically inclusive approach, they were able to multiply their resources and ambition far beyond what a single person or department or even an organization could achieve. You can have a similar influence if you, too, open up the limits on collaboration.

It's this outside network that can truly help an organization thrive, says Sutherland. For leaders, Sutherland notes, "understanding what's going on in their industry [and], who’s doing similar and aligned work, having relationships with seeming competitors, sharing data and insights, being sure they're not working in isolation" can make all the difference.

Develop your inclusive mindset

Challenging your belief systems and adopting new mindsets is not easy to do. It's all part of the ongoing journey to become a true Enterprise Leader who possesses the skills necessary to take on the multifaceted challenges of today's business world.

If you're ready to take your next steps, get in touch with Korn Ferry to learn more about the Enterprise Leadership Institute. You can also read more about inclusive leadership here.