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Inclusive Leadership: Traits and Behaviors that Impact Organizational Growth

By MiShon Landry

We’ve all heard the cliche, “Not every manager is a leader,” but I would like to take that a step further and assert the fact that, “Not every leader is a leader.”

Before we get to the nuts and bolts, it’s worth defining what is a “manager” vs. what is a “leader.”

Manager can be defined as: a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization; synonyms include:      executive, head of department, supervisor.

Leader is described as: the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country; synonyms: chief, head, principal.

Leader also means: an organization or company that is the most advanced or successful in a particular area; synonyms: pioneer, front runner, world leader, world-beater, innovator, trailblazer.

In today’s marketplace, we often see individuals who are mistaken as leaders. These individuals are ones who “should” possess innovation and trailblazer qualities, but instead, they leave us disappointed and feeling as though there must be something more to leadership.

You see, today’s 21st century leader has to do more than simply understand that in order to have innovation, you need diversity. But diversity alone is not enough; 21st century leaders also have to understand that inclusion is “needed” to stimulate diversity.

Diversity is not just about the differences and similarities.

“Inclusion” or “inclusive” can be defined as not excluding any section of society or any party involved in something. Although there are regulatory factors, laws, and agencies entangled in preventing organizations from excluding individuals, these agencies continue to exist because the practice of discrimination continues to thrive in today’s workplace.

As demonstrated in the most recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge statistics (charges filed with EEOC FY1997 through FY2016), you will see the overall number of charges have increased in most categories, significantly pointing to those of race, age, retaliation, and disability just to name a few. This data supports the need for more inclusiveness at work.

To be inclusive at work is to ensure that everyone has a seat and a voice at the table. It is to be cognizant of our biases and to work within them, to prevent us from unconsciously or consciously discriminating against individuals due to their gender, ethnicity, age, culture, sexual orientation, religion, or anything that we perceive makes others different.

It’s when we include a variety of different viewpoints and perspectives and recognize all voices. But we can’t do that if we don’t know what biases we have that might be sabotaging our good intentions of being a fair and inclusive leader.

Therefore, inclusive leadership can be described as the practice of leadership that carefully includes the contributions, thoughts, views, and opinions of all stakeholders in the organization or community.

An inclusive leader understands that in order for collaboration to be successful, individuals must be willing to share their diverse perspectives and experiences. However, most individuals are not willing to share their diverse perspectives and experiences because they do not feel as though they will be understood or accepted.

Inclusive leaders comprehend that differences cannot be considered unless a trusting, open environment has been first established. “Traditional” leadership relies on bridging differences by searching for similarities; however, inclusive leadership supports uncovering differences that initially may cause a bit of disharmony or conflict.

Working through these, by talking about the benefits and seeing each side of the coin for its own unique value, is just one of the ways that inclusive leaders help their teams manage through conflict.

Whether differences are related to work styles, communication, generational, socioeconomic, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, inclusive leaders understand that some fundamental traits must be present to properly manage and lead individuals through these individuals through these complex conversations.

Inclusive leaders know how to navigate and put personal interest aside to achieve what needs to be done. They have:

  • Courage: They act on guiding principles and use a moral compass even when it means taking a risk. As a leader, you must know how to stand up for what is right rather than hiding in fear. It doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be afraid, but you refuse to allow that fear to stop you.
  • Accountability: As a leader, you must hold yourself equally accountable and enforce the same rules of engagement that you expect from your employees. The best leaders always do, but in today’s workplace, this behavior must be more deliberate.
  • Transparency: Be transparent in how you lead others. Employees want to know that you can be trusted; revealing the areas where you can improve makes you more authentic, genuine, reliable, and trustworthy.

These are but a few of the traits that inclusive leaders demonstrate. These along with several others help an organization grow and move to the next level in an increasingly diverse and competitive global marketplace.

But it takes more than just knowing the traits and behaviors. It takes commitment and requires a comprehensive plan and strategy. Learning to apply concepts and models in your daily business operations to build a more inclusive leadership culture is key to growth in the 21st century.


Mishon Landry

MiShon Landry is CEO/founder of Culture Consultants. Culture Consultants is a Women Owned Business {MWBE} Diversity & Inclusion Practice Focused on Leading Change in Today’s Organizational Culture. Reach her at MishonLandry@GMail.com.  

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