Inclusive Leaders Do These 4 Things—Do You?

If you want your organization to succeed today, then you must find ways to make inclusive leadership more than just a buzzword. But how can management teams ensure that all voices are on deck, particularly in light of challenges like this Catch-22 that an executive pointed out to me recently?

One way is to recognize that the traditional views on creating a diverse workforce based solely on creating more balance and fairness in demographic categories such as gender, age, and race are no longer sufficient—that threshold is too low. Successful inclusion now needs to go beyond the moral and legal imperative of simply integrating people with different demographics into the workplace.

Instead, today’s expanding view of diversity and inclusion has more to do with how people think and problem-solve—in other words, “cognitive diversity”—than with how they are defined by external differences. With this in mind, a company that does diversity right is one that successfully blends and supports a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, thinking styles, and experiences on a team. The new diverse team is able to combine everyone’s unique traits and perspectives to more effectively problem-solve and reach business goals.

But how can leaders build cognitively diverse, inclusive teams? A good start is to ensure that your leadership group develops these four specific attributes that research has shown are linked to inclusion:

  • Empower your teams. Leaders need to find ways to enable their team members to develop and excel. People can become disengaged if they feel that they can’t be true to who they are and express their unique perspective. Consider how to encourage and empower more multifaceted, layered teams when it comes to thinking styles and problem-solving approaches rather than uniform, company-mandated styles. SHAMBAUGH has found that even though people often feel more comfortable working with others who share the same style and approach, when people with diverse thinking styles and perspectives collaborate, it can lead to more innovation, fresh ideas, breakthrough solutions, and better results. Strive to empower each direct report by supporting and rewarding individual differences rather than “group-think.”
  • Create company-wide accountability. When you hold team members responsible for performance, you’re demonstrating confidence in them. Creating a culture of accountability builds trust and mutual respect throughout the organization, which helps create an environment of psychological safety that’s necessary to increase feelings of inclusion. Leaders themselves should also be held accountable for recognizing the expanded definition of diversity to bring all voices on deck, and walking the talk when it comes to inclusion. As discussed in my latest book Make Room for Her, measurement is an important component of leadership accountability, tying specific performance indicators to bonus compensation.
  • Ditch your comfort zone. A common denominator of the successful leaders I have met is that they have had the courage to move out of their comfort zone. As with anything new, it takes personal strength to set aside your personal interests and achieve what needs to be done. Inclusive leaders act on their inner convictions and deepest principles even when doing so requires personal risk-taking. An important aspect that determines your willingness to move beyond your comfort zone is your mindset—how you view and approach a situation. It may not come easy the first time, but after building up this habit, it gets less difficult.
  • Stay humble. Research from Catalyst has shown that altruistic leaders also rank high in humility, which simply means that they have a modest view of their own importance as a leader. This may seem counterintuitive, since the traditional view of leadership generally does not include being humble—in fact, the opposite is often more frequently associated with views of leadership competence. Yet learning how to take a step back to let others share the stage can make a big difference when you’re striving to create an inclusive environment.

The goal of every leader should be to create a workplace that encourages a diversity of thought and avoids screening out the different kinds of thinkers tomorrow’s leadership teams need to succeed. By cultivating the four attributes of inclusion in your managers and HR team, you’ll be building the type of leadership group that helps embed cognitive diversity firmly into your company’s culture.

Rebecca is an internationally acclaimed and sought-after keynote speaker, leadership expert and contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and the Huffington Post.

Learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s solutions on Inclusive Leadership or for more information on our other offerings visit:

Rebecca is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky FloorLeadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton, and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.


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Rebecca Shambaugh

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