In the current age of political turmoil and a business landscape often dominated by stories of dis-engaged and stressed out employees, it’s hard to think of many business leaders who are truly inspirational – those who challenge existing norms and ways of working.
Indeed, in research conducted by Bain & Company and the Economist Intelligence Unit, they found that less than half of 2, 000 respondents said they agree or strongly agree that their leaders were inspiring. Even fewer felt that their leaders modelled the values of the corporation in which they worked.
Today we see fundamental mismatch between expressed corporate values and leadership behaviours. Leaders are too often inclined to turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct, too often inclined to allow unconscious bias go unchallenged in hiring processes, in how projects teams are put together, in team rituals and ultimately, promotions and leadership progression. Too many of today’s business leaders engage in corporate ‘double speak’, which has the profound effect of dis-engaging an already dis-engaged workforce.
Against this backdrop, and within a context of diversity and inclusive leadership, I ask a simple question – where are the inspirational leaders? Where are, in the words of Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, the Corporate Kaepernicks? By that I mean those leaders who are willing to take a stand, or a knee, for women, for people of different cultural backgrounds, for those of us to represent LGBTQi communities… for difference in its broadest sense.
Today, the corporate world needs a new style of leadership. It needs a style of leadership that places inclusivity at the heart of how leaders think and act. At VERCIDA Consulting, we have been tracking the principles and behaviours of inclusive leadership for the last two years and in our new report Inclusive leadership by Design – The 6 Traits of Inclusive Change Makers we set out the six key traits of inclusive leaders. Here I want to focus on the trait of Inspire.
We found that inclusive leaders who inspire diverse follower are driven by two key features:
- A desire to for creativity and innovation: Inclusive leaders who inspire others understand the performance outcomes of diverse and inclusive teams and seek to break up homogeneous team working in order to simulate creative working practices and to find innovative solutions to business challenges.
- A commitment to action: Inclusive leader who inspire do things. Back to the research by Bain & Company. As they stress, inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results.
From our research, here are 6 things that inclusive leaders do to inspire diverse (majority and minority) colleagues; they:
- Take every opportunity to clearly and constantly articulate the performance benefits of diverse and inclusion teams: They use their positions of power to talk-up diversity at every opportunity. This ranges from conversations with the Board and Executive teams, to using town-hall events and team meetings to stress the relationship between diversity and business success.
- Champion the ideas of individuals who think differently: Inclusive leaders who inspire others understand how insider and outsider dynamics play out their teams; they seek to champion the ideas of diverse team members and individuals who think differently by facilitating a wide range of mechanisms which allow all team members to contribute to organisational decision-making.
- Construct project teams with diversity in mind and create opportunities for cross-team working and cross-cultural collaboration: Many of today’s leaders work within matrix business structures that operate across traditional geographic borders. Inclusive leaders seek to inspire and motivate team members by breaking up the silo and mono-cultural thinking. They dismantle homogeneous teams by consciously ensuring diversity of background, culture and thought is a key criteria in team selection.
- Put into place diversity and inclusion KPIs: Inclusive leaders who inspire diverse team members work with the principle of ‘what gets measured, gets done’. These leaders move from soft commitments to hard commitments by setting open and transparent diversity goals and inclusion measures. Examples include the number of diverse hires, or promotions in each team or business location. These leaders also use their financial fire power to create an inclusion ripple effect through their supply chain.
- Allocate financial and team resources to diversity and inclusion projects: This could include sponsoring projects that promote awareness events such as a talk for LGBT History Month or ensuring that team members are provided with adequate time and financial resources to attend and support the activities of employee resource groups (ERGs). This will also include ensuring that diversity and inclusion issues are allocated adequate time at leadership meetings to monitor progress against agreed actions.
- Align employee reward to behaviours and decisions which promotes organisational values and inclusion goals: Without such alignment two things are likely to happen. Firstly, employees simply ignore stated diversity goals as they view these as either unnecessarily or secondary to what they consider to be the day job, or they de-prioritise diverse as a ‘nice to have’, but something which is not a requirement to meeting expected performance targets. By aligning reward systems to everyday behaviours and decisions leaders signal the critical value they place on diversity and organisational inclusivity.
Finally, in the words of John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
Watch the video for "Inspire" from VERCIDA Consulting's
Six Traits of Inclusive Change-makers Series.