Can you identify the traits of inclusive leadership? Many leaders can’t.
According to “The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths,” a Deloitte Report from January 2018, leaders were more likely to be wrong than right about their own leadership capabilities and even unsure about the specific traits of an inclusive leader. Specifically, the report highlighted some profound survey results: only about 1/3 of the leaders surveyed saw their own behavior as others did, and the other 2/3 either under-rated or over-rated their inclusive ability.
Indeed, often leaders aren’t sure about how to adjust leadership behavior in order to be inclusive and effective. But what are the traits of inclusive leadership identified in the Deloitte study?
- Visible commitment
- Awareness of bias
- Curiosity about others
- Cultural intelligence
- Effective collaboration
Clearly this survey was conducted well before the dramatic upsurge in remote work, and it’s easy to see how these inclusive leadership traits are affected by being virtual. The absence of face-to-face interaction – where body language and facial expressions carry so much of the message – will certainly impact how behaviors associated with the traits can be communicated.
Notably missing from this list is the requirement for self-awareness and authenticity, which we at RW3 CultureWizard focus on in many of our global leadership courses. But it’s possible the authors of the Deloitte study assumed the underlying importance of authenticity as part of leadership. And, humility and awareness of bias certainly imply the common denominator of self-awareness.
As we look at these traits of inclusive leadership, awareness of bias, cultural intelligence and curiosity stand out as being uniquely critical for effective inclusive leadership on a global basis, especially in today’s remote work environment.
At no time in our recent past has bias awareness been as important and as high a priority for leadership as it is today. There is heightened awareness of the challenge of bias and the potentially corrosive impact that unconscious bias can have on teamwork, collaboration and general engagement. Leaders today not only need to have an awareness of their own bias, but they need to thoroughly understand it, and also need to model non-biased behavior in order to maximize the potential of their subordinates and their teams.
People have an idea of what bias is, and they will have trouble following a leader who doesn’t model anti-bias behavior. Modeling this awareness is fundamental to gaining respect and commitment from team members.
Inclusive leaders create a sense of belonging among their team by being honestly curious about the people they lead. Fortunately, curiosity conversations – which are so important in building a sense of trust – are not negatively affected by virtual communication. An exploratory attitude doesn’t rely on face-to-face interaction.
Asking questions about people’s well-being, about their family or personal events happening in their lives can easily be done in virtual conversations. Conversely, leaders can show their own authenticity by sharing tidbits about themselves during these conversations.
Curiosity alters the way you approach individuals and situations. When you’re curious about others, you not only learn more about them and have the ability to harness their contribution, you also make yourself more approachable. Team members will feel more comfortable offering suggestions and insights, enabling them to be more collaborative and effective.
As we all know, different cultures see the role of the leader very differently. While egalitarian cultures see the leader as coach and facilitator who is open to being questioned – and even challenged – other cultures see the leader’s role as being more authoritative, and one who provides specific answers rather than encouraging subordinates to find their own solutions.
Although it’s critical for teams and leaders everywhere to be inclusive and collaborative, leaders need to understand that different cultures expect leaders to behave in different ways, and team members may have different expectations about how they should be managed.
For example, telling a self-deprecating joke can be appreciated in an egalitarian environment, but it could entirely confuse people in a hierarchical setting. Inclusive behavior, like every other behavior, needs to be moderated and fine-tuned for the culture you’re operating in.
Inclusive Behavior and Remote Work
The characteristics of inclusive leaders that Deloitte surfaced, while accurate, need to be adjusted to both the remote environment that people are working in today and the cultural environments that we’re all trying to bridge.
It’s not a simple process, but fortunately, it’s a learnable one. The important action is that leaders practice and model it every day.