Why Inclusive Leaders Are Good for Organizations, and How to Become One

Harvard Business Review
By Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido, Harvard Business Review, March 29, 2019 | Reviewed by Matt Slimming, PT

As Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido explain in the Harvard Business Review (March 29, 2019) article, “Why Inclusive Leaders Are Good for Organizations, and How to Become One,” diversity isn’t enough when building an effective team.

As leaders we also need to be mindful of being inclusive with all team members.

It has been shown that diverse teams can be extremely effective and sometimes outperform the competition. Diverse teams include women and men, people of differing cultural heritage, and of ages that span the decades.

However, data suggests that diversity alone does not provide the best performance. For greater chance of success, the leader must be inclusive. Inclusive leadership “assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired.” Here are a couple of benefits of being an inclusive leader:

  • Teams with an inclusive leader are 17 percent more likely to state that they are high performing.
  • A 10 percent improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases average work attendance by almost one day per year.

So if you would like to increase the likelihood of having a high-performing team and also reduce absenteeism, here are six traits that, when demonstrated, dramatically increase the perception your employees have of you as an inclusive leader.

  1. Visible commitment to diversity by actions
  2. Humility
  3. Awareness of company bias in issues of diversity and seeking to correct the bias
  4. Curiosity about others without judging and while showing empathy
  5. Attentiveness to the cultures of others
  6. Empowering others, paying attention to diversity of thinking and psychological safety, and focusing on team cohesion.

How do you think you stack up in these six areas? Well, the bad news is that only about one-third of leaders accurately grade themselves on these areas. One-third overrate themselves and one-third underrate themselves. So it may be a waste of time trying to grade yourself.

Instead you can survey your team with questions that relate to the six traits. Before you analyze your score, be careful: To be considered an inclusive leader, you can’t just look at your average score. You need to score “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” by each survey participant on a 5-point scale.

The key to becoming an inclusive leader is to live the role. Making occasional, grand gestures does not change your team’s perspective. This only happens when your daily behaviors reflect the six traits. However, if you are willing to work daily at living out these traits, you will experience the long-term benefits of leading a more highly functioning team.

Matt Slimming

Matt Slimming, PT, DPT, is a PPS member and founder of STAR Physical Therapy and STAR Fitness Center, in the Greater New Orleans area. STAR has 8 locations. He can be reached at matt@starptclinics.com.

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