are-you an inclusive leader

Corporate workplaces, globally, are undergoing a massive shift; changing consumer expectations, digital transformation finding its way into organizational processes, the traditionally under-represented groups being more vocal than ever about equal opportunity and equitable treatment to name a few. Recognizing the business benefits of having a diverse workforce, organizations are taking proactive steps to increase representation of various groups. However, merely increasing the representation in itself will not yield the desired results. 

Given this scenario, leaders today are now required to readjust their sails to be ready for the workforce of the future and go beyond the traditional ideas of a leader. 

Enter Inclusive Leadership. What is it and why is it needed? 

Inclusive Leadership is about ensuring that all team members have a sense of belonging, feel emotionally safe and know that they are being treated respectfully and fairly. This will, in turn, inspire them to take positive actions, be creative and contribute in a way that is in sync with their own individual potentials and skills. A recent HBR report has also shown that teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing and 20% more likely to say that they make high-quality decisions. 

The business and emotional case of inclusive leadership is an important leadership skill to succeed in the future is very strong. While the enduring qualities and core functions such as vision, providing direction, influencing etc. continue, inclusive leadership is about a mindset shift and embracing the idea that everyone should be valued. 

So, what are some of the traits of inclusive leaders? 

We have come up with a list, based on experiences and expectations shared by employees. As you go through this list, read it from both: leader’s as well as a team member’s perspective. 


Creating the right environment where members feel free to speak up and share ideas. In today’s context and the entering millennial workforce which has very clear opinions of their own, being able to voice them without the fear of judgements, is important. This will help employees feel heard, listened to and encourage them to contribute and drive innovation. 

An indicator question for the leader is – “Does my team feel free to present viewpoints contradictory to the majority?” If a leader does not hear contradictory viewpoints or observes that the team has stopped offering opinions, it calls for an urgent need for self-reflection. 


To belong and to be an accepted member of a group is a basic human need. It also features in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Inclusive leaders create and promote a culture of such belonging by helping them build valuable and deep connections with others. An indicator question is- “Do we enjoy healthy relationships in our team?”If members can continue to hold respect for each other and are able to resolve conflicts without holding grudges, that is a good sign that interpersonal relationships are healthy and productive. 


This is not to be confused with the idea of being brave. Rather, it is about accepting that one has vulnerabilities and expressing it as the case may be. Doing this will encourage the team to be comfortable to displaying weaknesses without the fear of being penalized. 

Leaders should ask: “Does my team feel safe to make mistakes?” A possible indicator is if they feel free to own up to their mistakes or failures and do they confide in you or do they try to manage or cover up the situation? 


Authenticity is the absence of pretence, being consistent with one’s behaviours and actions and being comfortable with one’s own uniqueness. Being authentic frees one from the need to imitate expected behaviours, which can in turn free up a lot of mind space. It also helps build trust. 

Leaders who ask this question “Do members in my team feel safe to bring their whole selves to work?” are on their way to practicing authenticity. If members feel an intense pressure to imitate or adopt the behaviours of the norm or even the leader in order to be accepted, then the leader may want to consider course correcting this situation. 


Leveraging and finding ways to compliment the thought diversity that exists within the team. Doing this will encourage a sense of belonging too. For this to happen, leaders should be aware of the individual and unique qualities that each person brings to the table and how they can learn from each other and offer support. 

Ask yourself, “Do I know and recognise the unique qualities of each member?” Carry out a strengths assessment of your team and encourage them to see how each person’s key strength is a unique contribution to the team. 


 Action oriented empathy and continuously taking action for the team’s self-development. This requires leaders to provide opportunities for members to either work around their weaknesses and/or creating the right learning environment. Inclusive leaders go beyond a project success and invest in the long-term and personal wins of their team members. 

“Do I deeply care about the success of my team?” As a leader, consider working with the team to further build on their own keeping their career success in mind. 

Here are some positive and negative experiences shared by employees, that will help put the above in perspective. 


  • “Being the only right-brain inclined member in my team, I get into tremendous arguments with my more left-brain colleagues. But I know that there is deep respect on both sides.” 
  • “My manager asks for more information when she does not have all the answers or is unaware of a certain topic. This removes the pressure for me to be knowledgeable about everything all the time. And encourages me to learn rather than put on a pretence of being aware.” 


  • “My manager always invites us to share our views. But comes up with a list of counters on why it will not work, without actively listening to it. I think he only wants opinions that are in keeping with his.” 
  • “When I came out of the closet to my manager, he advised me to not talk about it to anyone else on the team. To them, I am still straight.”  

A leader’s demonstration of the qualities of being inclusive will further encourage the members to adopt inclusive behaviors of their own. Shared understanding of each other will also lead to a better shared vision, leading to better engagement and better results. 

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