Inclusive Leadership: Will A Hug Do?

Inclusive Leadership: Will A Hug Do?

February 1, 2012
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Does it go without saying that companies must adapt to these uncertain economic times if they are to survive? Clearly a return to business as usual is a recipe for a slow decline. Diversity of thinking is gaining prominence as a disruptive force to break through the status quo.

So how is this potential to be unlocked and accelerated? It is not by homogeneity but by creating the conditions in which diverse people can both operate to their full potential and work together cohesively. And this means changes for individual leaders as well as workplace cultures.

Step one is letting go. Letting go of the iconic image of the leader as hero – standing alone atop a mountain, pointing the way forward to followers in the foothills – and replacing it with ....? Well, let’s be frank, the replacement image is less clear, but this ambiguity provides us with an adaptive opportunity. An opportunity to pursue the signals pointing to inclusion as the new paradigm, and the inclusive leader as someone who seeks out diverse perspectives to ensure that insights are profound and decisions robust. A person who actively creates a workplace in which diverse talent is fostered, whatever the packaging, and in which diverse teams operate to their maximum potential. And a person who understands the link between diversity, inclusion and higher business performance.
 
But what does that really mean on a day-to-day basis? Is inclusive leadership just about giving people hugs...being a little ‘nicer to people’ so that everyone can speak up? Putting it like that makes this new aspiration sound easy and not business focussed; and, leads us to think that our biggest problem is to remember to do it; not that we don’t quite know how to do it.
 
The inclusion story is about intention, but it is also about understanding what influences inclusion (and exclusion) and how to create new habits of behaviour and work practices. By examining the research and mining the insights of six global role models, namely Dr Rohini Anand (Sodexo, USA); Dr Dawn Casey (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Australia); Aase Aamdal Lundgaard (Deloitte, Norway); Sanjay Rishi (American Express, India); Bruce Stewart (Office of Personnel Management, USA); and Linda Tarr-Whelan (Demos, USA); this paper explores what inclusive leadership means for individuals, teams and workplace practices.