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.