We know from our coaching that there has been an evolution of the kind of leadership different generations expect; they prioritise leadership competencies differently. Boomers prioritise predictable employment and good wages. Millennials prefer to focus on flexibility and transferrable skills. While Gen Z live life more pragmatically, don’t label themselves and are radically inclusive. No single organisation can appeal to all potential employees and those determined to attract and retain a truly diverse range of candidates will have to adopt a truly inclusive approach.
Defining behaviours that allow for the needs of several generations to be met is crucial and in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’ inclusion is at the top of the list of core leadership priorities.
Inclusive attitudes and behaviours are no longer just a ‘nice to have’. Time and again, research has shown that inclusivity has a strong impact on performance. Inclusive leaders foster a culture which gives employees a sense of belonging and makes them feel valued. This allows each employee to bring their authentic self to the table, giving the team as a whole a competitive edge. Inclusivity enables leaders to get the most out of their team while ensuring that employees feel empowered by giving it. So, what behaviours can leaders’ model to be more inclusive?
1. Make everyone feel safe to speak up
- Make the different ways people share a topic of active discussion. Ensure that your team knows that some people are more reflective and that any comments shared should be gratefully received.
- Don’t allow any individual or clique to dominate meetings. Encourage everyone – including newcomers and introverts -- to speak.
- Ensure colleges respect and support one another. Create a ‘team charter’ to make sure that everyone is on the same page about what behaviour is and isn’t okay.
- Keep an open mind. If you’re challenged, don’t get irritated or defensive, just listen
2. Demonstrate a willingness to act on diverse opinions:
- When forming a team, look for different kinds of diversity including neurodiversity.
- Encourage all team members to listen openly to others’ opinions, even if they challenge the status quo.
- If you can’t take action on an idea, let the person know why so they don’t feel dismissed.
3. Ask people for feedback and respond constructively
- Teach your team (with outside training, if needed) how to give and receive constructive feedback.
- Don’t wait for formal meetings or reviews -- ask for feedback often and informally. Respond visibly and positively.
- Use language that invites feedback, such as, ‘I’m not sure I did a very good job of getting all the ideas out of the team in that meeting. What could I have done differently?’
4. Challenge behaviours that exclude other members of the team
- Commit to being a ‘super-observer’. Pay close attention to the impact of individuals’ behaviours on others.
- Ask yourself: Is anyone being excluded?
- Give people an opportunity to talk to you about their lived experiences.
- Make building inclusive team practices an explicit part of team meetings. Share your observations in private, for example, “When you said X/did Y, I noticed that our colleague Z blushed and then fell silent for the rest of the meeting, even though she’d been engaged until that moment. What might she have been feeling?”
5. Create a culture that empowers everyone on the team to speak out
- Brainstorm with your team: How can people continue to get to know one another? What would make them feel personally connected? What would enable them to make more of a contribution?
- Reflect: What can you do to help more people perform at their best?
- Give team members the opportunity to share their strengths and experiences with one another.
- Talk to people in every role about the work they do and why it is important to the team’s success.
6. Use objective data and input from others to make your decisions about people
- Make sure the criteria for promotion and advancement opportunities are openly communicated and understood by all potential candidates.
- Create and/or use a set of objective decision-making criteria and be consistent in applying them to everyone.
- Inform a diverse group of people with relevant knowledge of the objective criteria and ask them to provide input on any decision you make.
7. Ask open questions regularly and follow through with action
- ‘How can I help you succeed?’ Ask this often – it demonstrates that you care and are committed to the individual’s success.
- ‘What would you like to have happen?’ This encourages people to give you specific, individual ideas, while reinforcing a collaborative spirit.
- Tell team-members that you’re keen to discuss all the ways in which you can help. Show that you aren’t only interested in their objective or technical skills.
- Let people know in advance that you want to have this conversation, so that they can prepare.
Of course, performing these behaviours in and of themselves won’t make you an inclusive leader, but over time practicing them with intent and commitment will foster an inclusive culture and unlock the talent of each individual on your team.