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The traits of inclusive leadership

October is Black History Month, providing an important opportunity to reflect on diversity and inclusion and forge a future of equality and belonging for all. As racial inequality and systemic racism have been brought to the forefront of the world’s consciousness, many organisations are striving to create more inclusive environments across their teams and within their values.

Hiring diverse talent alone doesn’t guarantee a culture of equality. It requires inclusive leadership that assures that all team members feel that they are valued and a sense that they belong - and as a result feel confident and inspired. Research shows that teams with inclusive leaders are 17 percent more likely to report that they are high performing, 20 percent more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29 percent more likely to report behaving collaboratively.

Leaders have a responsibility to provide their employees with an inclusive and respectful workplace and to do this well, it is essential to start by gaining knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Leaders may also find it useful to learn about legislation that deals with discrimination, harassment, and bullying, as well as take part in training on corporate governance to ensure that the organisation follows best practices around ethical behaviours.

Making all contributions equal

Cultivating a diverse, inclusive workforce takes time and energy, two of a leader’s most precious commodities. What drives inclusive leaders are their values and their understanding that creating a welcoming culture begins with them. When leaders devote time, energy, and resources to nurturing inclusive workforces by investing in people and inspiring others to share their passion and goals, they create a culture that drives the organisation forward. Walking the talk is critical as research suggests that what leaders say and do makes up to a 70 percent difference as to whether their employees feel included.

Oftentimes, minorities at work can feel pressure to create a different persona to whom they are, suppressing some of their personal values, and feeling unable to be authentic at work. Creating a culture of psychological safety helps to ensure that everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, even when their ideas aren’t popular. Leaders should recognise the skills that employees contribute, as well as listen to their ideas and contributions - this in return fosters a culture where team members feel valued and respected.

As a leader, developing a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy must be a long-term process that is fully embedded in the culture, as it impacts all areas of the organisation. Inclusive leaders invest time in building real relationships with their team members, peers, and other employees. They build a culture of trust where every person is accountable for the success of others and one that offers opportunities for all employees to grow and develop their skill sets by encouraging experimentation and providing feedback.

The people-led change

Inclusive leaders articulate an authentic commitment to diversity and create the space for others to contribute. They demonstrate an open mindset and empathy to understand those around them, pay attention to psychological safety, and focus on team cohesion. Leaders who create inclusive organisational cultures consider the opinions of their audience — not just who they are, but what they have to say. When leaders respectfully address multiple points of view even if they may not agree, they demonstrate that they value and consider more than one perspective in the way they approach business decisions. This also makes employees feel heard and valued, and more inclined to respect and value their peers.

Providing regular opportunities for employees to express their needs and concerns, asking for feedback, acknowledging, and implementing it, are all traits of an inclusive leader. On the contrary, leaders who say that they want to hear from their employees, but don’t provide regular opportunities for feedback or questions, risk alienating listeners and losing trust.

Not all employees have the same perspectives, experiences, or opportunities as others within the organisation, and leaders need to seek out and embrace these diverse perspectives. Creating opportunities for employees to connect with one another on a peer-to-peer level is also fundamental to inclusivity, productivity, and retention. That’s why offering a wide variety of connection opportunities allows for these relationships to flourish and communicates that everyone is invited to contribute and feels truly welcome.

Curiosity and an open mind are the hallmarks of inclusive leaders, who understand that personal and organisational biases narrow their field of vision and preclude them from making objective decisions. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering training and development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops, and coaching programs, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programs for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programs please contact Simon at

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