Inclusive Leadership means Diversity of Thought

I was once working with a CEO to help get his senior leaders to be more open to input from multiple sources, including younger employees.

“Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas”, he said.

“Wow!”, I thought. What a great mantra for diversity, inclusion, leadership, management, and just common sense.

But as Winston Churchill once remarked, “Nothing is as uncommon as common sense”.

Why are Inclusive Leadership and Diversity of Thought not more common?

Well, the human mind is hard-wired to consider ideas and perspectives from our own tribe as superior to those from the outside. This human tendency leads to political partisanship, regardless of the facts, and can lead to a senior leadership team that looks the same and thinks the same. The dangers of this ‘we are right, everybody else is wrong’ mindset is obvious; especially in times of rapid change, when past ways of doing things are losing or have lost their relevancy. 

If a closed mindset is the default setting, what must leaders do to override this and upgrade to inclusive leadership and diversity of thought?

But before I explain how, let’s discuss why.

Why Inclusive Leadership?

Research by Deloitte makes a compelling case for Inclusive leadership.

  1. 17% more likely to report being a high-performing team
  2. 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions
  3. 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively

In 2014, when Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft, he realized that the top leadership did not have a diversity of thought. Nadella showed inclusive leadership by inviting the founders of Mojang (a company that Microsoft had acquired) to the company offsite, even though they didn’t qualify. These young entrepreneurs were already cloud and digital natives and had the kind of thinking that Microsoft needed to pivot. At the time Nadella did this, Gartner gave them 2 to 3 years left of relevance, today they are a Trillion Dollar company.

My inclusive leadership gets tested every time I step in front of a group to facilitate or coach. It's not uncommon for me to have leaders from 8 to 10 different countries and cultures; some who won't speak up and some who can't keep quiet. Navigating a minefield of sensitivities whilst challenging perspectives is what gets my blood racing.

How to promote Diversity of Thought?

Surprisingly, many leaders who practice the behaviors of inclusive leadership are unaware that this is what they are doing, and those that don’t practice these behaviors are under the impression that they are inclusive.

Taking a Cartesian approach, let’s look at what the absence of inclusive leadership or diversity of thought looks like:

  • Being overpowering – not letting others speak, not inviting other inputs or perspectives
  • Discounting – putting down, ridiculing, or ignoring any idea not generated by themselves or their ‘tribe’.
  • Obvious Bias – only a select group of people are ever given opportunities to give opinions or make decisions

So, if these narrow-minded and divisive behaviors are toxic to the growth and sustainability of a company, what mindsets and behaviors should be encouraged?

The most powerful mindset a leader could adopt is that of humility. I don’t mean humility in the sense of making yourself less than you are but in the sense of the true meaning of humility, which is grounded. A grounded leader knows what they are good at and knows their own weaknesses. The grounded leader is self-aware that their perspective is just a perspective and can consider alternative, even contradictory views as equally valid.

With this truly humble mindset, the inclusive leader will:

  1. Create a psychologically safe space for discussion
  2. Admit their weaknesses as well as their strengths

  3. Ask for feedback on their blind spots
  4. Actively seek out differing perspectives
  5. Be informed of cultural differences
  6. Treat people as individuals with something to offer
  7. Ensure they are making decisions on the best ideas, irrespective of where those ideas come from

Or they could just remember that:

“Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas”

In Conclusion

If you are wanting to stimulate diversity or thought and generate inclusive leadership, consider engaging me as a speaker for your next event or leadership offsite.





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