A Guide to Being an Inclusive Leader (With Definition)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 9, 2022

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.

Leadership has many forms and strategies to encourage teams to achieve specific goals. Inclusive leadership can create growth in a business's processes and systems. Learning how to promote a culture of inclusion as a leader can help you be more effective in a leadership role. In this article, we define what an inclusive leader is, explain the importance of this style of leadership, review the traits of such leaders, and outline ways to create a culture of inclusion.

What is an inclusive leader?

An inclusive leader is an individual who employs collaborative and communicative techniques to provide guidance and direction to a team. This type of leader often gives team members the opportunity to use their knowledge and expertise in decision making and problem solving. They actively take steps to involve everyone and encourage team members to share new ideas for collective action. They also work to minimize the interference of their personal preferences and biases in decision-making processes.

This comprehensive leadership style is one of many that can be effective in various business environments. It works to incorporate the input of all team members by ensuring equity, creating a sense of belonging and value, and providing resources to maximize potential.

Read more: Job Search Guide: Finding Companies That Value Diversity and Inclusion

Importance of inclusive leadership

Many organizations with increasingly diversified personnel can benefit from inclusive leadership in many ways, including:

  • Increased productivity: When leaders encourage all team members to participate in decision making, it's easier to facilitate collaboration. This collaboration can lead to greater output from a team.

  • Access to top talent: Managers and business leaders who use the inclusive style are typically more knowledgeable about and sensitive to diverse cultures. This knowledge can broaden the group of an organization's prospective employees, giving them access to top talent across different cultures.

  • Increased job satisfaction: By recognizing team members' ideas and perspectives, the inclusive style of leadership often increases employee morale. This positive way of working can easily translate into greater job satisfaction.

  • Improved efficiency: By allowing input from all team members, leaders can discover the most efficient ways to best utilize everyone's abilities. This is likely to lead to increased productivity.

Read more: How to Become a Good Leader: 5 Levels of Leadership Explained

Traits of an inclusive leader

Managers and business leaders who practise inclusion typically exhibit the following behaviours:

Commitment

It can take great time and effort to build a diverse and inclusive work environment. Leaders who undertake this task typically require an intrinsic motivation to complete projects. Their commitment may stem from their confidence in the business case or their own values. That's why they can devote time, energy, and resources to building an inclusive workplace.

Fairness and respect

Building an inclusive workforce usually requires a strong sense of fairness and respect for other people's cultures and rights. Leaders can screen their internal systems and processes for biases and how they may be affecting decisions and actions in the workplace. They can then take steps to remove such biases and institute a fair and respectful culture for all employees.

Courage

Encouraging inclusion in the workplace requires courage in two ways. First, leaders need the courage to challenge established organizational attitudes that facilitate homogeneity, as they may be the lone defenders of their recommendations. Second, leaders use courage to recognize their limitations and biases and to enlist help from others to overcome such limitations.

Constant reflection

The inclusive style requires regular reflection to evaluate personal and corporate biases and how they impact a team. Leaders often do introspection to ensure they aren't overlooking any factors. This regular reflection can help them monitor progress and identify areas that need improvement.

Emotional and cultural intelligence

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage emotions. In contrast, cultural intelligence is the ability to relate and communicate with people from other cultures. Being empathetic is a good reflection of both forms of intelligence. To increase inclusion, leaders typically require the ability to recognize privilege and understand other people's perspectives.

Collaboration

Inclusion can only develop in an environment that facilitates collaboration among all groups that make a team. Leaders often require the ability to include all diverse voices from teams in their decision-making processes. This can also help to enlist team members in the inclusion-building process.

Trustworthiness

Being trustworthy is critical to providing inclusive leadership. You can encourage your team members to trust you by positively reinforcing good behaviour and fair practices and admitting your mistakes. Being truthful and having integrity can also help you build trust. This can increase your team members' confidence in you, and they may be more likely to contribute towards achieving goals.

Read more: 9 Types of Management Styles for Effective Leadership

How to promote a culture of inclusion as a leader

You can promote inclusion in a workplace with the following steps:

1. Build a supportive environment

It's often necessary for inclusive leaders to create a supportive environment to make each team member feel emotionally comfortable. You can do this by actively listening and encouraging your team to share any challenges they may encounter. The conversations can be about challenges they are facing at work or in their personal lives. Creating a warm environment for your team can help them feel more at ease with their leader and in the team.

2. Diversify your team

A diverse team is integral to inclusive leadership. Building such a team requires intentionally seeking candidates from diverse backgrounds during recruitment. If everyone on your team is from the same background or has a similar way of thinking, then it may be necessary to examine your hiring and promotion practices. You can consider changing these practices and encouraging those already on your team to think differently. You may already have a diverse group, but they may be reluctant to share their opinions because of the environment.

3. Establish clear communication

Clear communication is essential in any inclusive team. Consider creating a communication process that disseminates information to everyone simultaneously. You can start by talking to your team members and learning their preferred method of communication. By brainstorming ideas together, you can find a process that helps you quickly share information.

Read more: What It Means to Lead by Example (and Leadership Styles)

4. Encourage collaboration

Encouraging a diverse team to share their ideas and work together is another step towards increasing inclusion. An excellent way to start doing this is by asking for help on a project. Consider selecting a team member and asking them to collaborate with you on a task, explaining the benefits for you and them. If you exhibit strong leadership and encourage team collaboration, others may be more likely to do the same.

5. Educate yourself

Regular self-education is critical when creating an inclusive workplace. Try to always be looking for new information that can make you a better leader. Consider reading blog posts and books, attending seminars, or listening to podcasts. As you learn more about the best ways to drive inclusion as a leader, you can implement this knowledge and benefit your team.

6. Develop the right attitude

The attitude of a leader often impacts those working for them. Maintaining a positive and energetic outlook can lead to a positive atmosphere in the workplace. If a leader can remain positive and encouraging, the team may feel they can also do so.

Humility can also be a vital component of a leader's attitude. If someone shares a better way of performing a task, try to embrace it. Doing so can improve the confidence of that person and encourage others to contribute more innovative ideas. Gathering a team of diverse individuals often means being able to give everyone an equal platform and promote an atmosphere where team members can grow.

7. Ask for feedback

The final step in this process is asking for feedback. One of the most complex aspects of being a leader may be recognizing your own biases and preferences. Honest feedback can help you see the areas where your efforts aren't performing as expected and indicate other steps you can take to facilitate inclusion. Consider scheduling regular meetings with your team where you can ask for feedback. You can also collect feedback from your team by sending out a survey. Doing this shows that you value your team's input.

Explore more articles