What Is Inclusive Leadership and Why Is It Important?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It's the role of managers to both guide their employees towards success and bring a workforce together as a team. Inclusive leadership is a style of leadership that can improve collaboration and problem-solving while considering the differing perspectives of all team members. Inclusive leadership can be a very effective style of leadership in certain settings. In this article, we answer the question, 'What is inclusive leadership?' and discuss the pros and cons of inclusive leadership with tips on becoming a more inclusive leader.

What is inclusive leadership?

You may be wondering, 'what is inclusive leadership?' Inclusive leadership is a style of leadership where leaders seek collaboration and communication with colleagues to carry out effective decision-making and problem-solving in the workplace. Inclusive leaders utilise the knowledge and experience of their entire team when making decisions with the ultimate goal of success driving their behaviours. Inclusive leaders are confident and effective leaders, but they are not held back by their egos.

Inclusive leaders are aware of their own partiality and seek to offset this by listening to and considering the views of their peers, colleagues and collaborators at work. Generally, inclusive leadership is a style of leadership that is accepted and welcomed by employees, who value being listened to and consulted on big decisions.

Related: Learning About Diversity and Inclusion: 10 Free Virtual Courses

What qualities do inclusive leaders have?

Inclusive leaders possess a range of qualities that make their leadership effective and collaborative. As the name of this style of leadership suggests, inclusive leaders include team members in decision-making which encourages staff to work hard and speak up, improving overall productivity and performance. Inclusive leaders share the following traits:

  • Humility: As an inclusive leader, it's important that you can remain humble and modest, with an awareness of your own limitations and the strengths of others. Humility allows inclusive leaders to look to others for expertise when necessary.

  • Active listening skills: Inclusive leaders can demonstrate active listening skills by taking on other people's ideas before making big decisions. Listening skills encourage team members to speak more without fear of interruption, which drives collaboration and engagement at work.

  • Effective communication: Inclusive leaders can initiate discussions with team members, prompting them to consider problems and strategies and offer their own feedback. By demonstrating effective and clear communication skills, inclusive leaders are able to draw out the strengths of their employees.

  • Target-driven: Inclusive leaders focus on their overall goal, whether that's sales, productivity or client satisfaction, without worrying about where those results come from. Inclusive leaders are committed to seeking good results and utilise the team and resources they have in whichever way is most likely to achieve these goals.

  • Creativity: Inclusive leaders must be open-minded, able to listen to and consider fresh ideas that they may not have considered themselves and open to innovations and creative thinking. Inclusive leaders are more likely to consider new and different ideas, which makes them well-placed to effect serious change in the workplace.

  • Committed to diversity: Inclusive leaders actively seek out voices that are different from their own and are committed to recruiting and listening to a diverse range of perspectives and viewpoints. Inclusive leaders are more likely to challenge the status quo and more likely to be open-minded about new thoughts and ideas.

  • Empathy: Inclusive leaders are empathetic and compassionate, able to listen to the perspectives and viewpoints of others and understand what they're thinking and feeling. Empathy makes inclusive leaders better communicators, ensuring that they consider all points of view before making any decisions.

  • Constructive feedback: Inclusive leaders are capable of giving and receiving constructive feedback. Inclusive leaders communicate feedback effectively, ensuring that employees are made aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and listen to and consider seriously any feedback given to them by their team.

The traits of an inclusive leader might vary a little, but all-inclusive leaders have strong communication skills and humility, which effectively allows them to place collaboration and teamwork at the forefront of their leadership style.

Related: What Are Communication Skills?

What are the pros and cons of inclusive leadership?

While inclusive leadership is often thought to be a positive and effective style of leadership, it does carry both pros and cons. Not all managers can lead collaboratively, and in some cases, this style of leadership can lead to increased conflict in the workplace. Below are some of the pros and cons of inclusive leadership:

Pros of inclusive leadership

Some of the main benefits include:

  • Inclusive leadership can lead teams towards innovative solutions by utilising the knowledge and expertise of all team members.

  • Inclusive leadership improves diversity in the workplace, ensuring that all employees have a voice within management.

  • Inclusive leadership can improve relationships between colleagues and management, encouraging open communication.

  • Inclusive leadership makes employees happier, ensuring they feel listened to and respected at work.

  • Inclusive leadership builds trust between managers and colleagues.

Cons of inclusive leadership

Some of the disadvantages include:

  • Inclusive leadership can lead to ambiguity of roles, with less clarity on hierarchy and responsibilities between management and staff.

  • Inclusive leadership can create more conflict if teams cannot agree on the correct way to proceed.

  • Inclusive leadership can result in potential power struggles, both between leaders and between staff members.

Related: How To Mediate Conflicts (With Definitions and Steps)

Why is inclusive leadership important?

Inclusive leadership is just one of many leadership styles that can be used effectively in the workplace. In settings where collaboration and expertise are of high value, inclusive leaders can leverage the ideas and knowledge of an entire team to solve problems and make decisions that other styles of leadership might not arrive at. Inclusive leaders are also more likely to attract and retain highly qualified staff members who value this leadership style and feel respected and engaged at work because of it.

Inclusive leaders, when successful, can motivate teams to work harder because each individual team member knows that their opinions are valued. Inclusive leaders listen to a diverse range of opinions and create solutions that are wide-ranging and empathetic because of this. Inclusive leadership is a key leadership style in businesses wanting to promote cultural diversity and sensitivity.

Related: Top 9 Leadership Skills to Develop

How to become an inclusive leader at work

If you think you could succeed using the principles of inclusion leadership, you can develop your inclusive leadership qualities by practising these traits at work. Understanding and appreciating the importance of inclusive leadership styles is the first step to becoming an effective inclusive leader. Consider these steps to become inclusive in your leadership:

1. Reflect on your own biases

Before you can develop your inclusive leadership style, it's important to reflect on your own perspective and the biases that come with it. No one is truly impartial, and inclusive leaders recognise this fact and strive to balance out their own biased views by working with the people around them. Understanding your own biases is the first step toward becoming an inclusive leader.

2. Foster open and positive discussions with colleagues

One of the essential traits of inclusive leaders is open communication and active listening. Practice communicating with your colleagues in this way, making sure you listen to their ideas with an open mind and encourage them to speak up and offer their expertise. Commit to an open and non-confrontational attitude, both during meetings and other collaborative work.

3. Take steps to encourage your team members to open up

Being an inclusive leader is about more than listening to other people in meetings. Sometimes, employees need encouragement to speak up and say what they really think. Work with more passive members of your team, encouraging them to get involved, and encouraging all team members to get to know each other for the purpose of improved collaboration and teamwork.

4. Practice delivering and receiving constructive feedback

As an inclusive leader, you need to use your communication skills to deliver constructive feedback to your team members and listen to their own feedback on your leadership. You can also practise giving feedback that encourages staff to be more inclusive themselves, encouraging them to speak more, listen more and develop their own collaboration skills. Working with a team who are effective communicators makes your own inclusive leadership style much more effective.

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