Inclusive leadership requires a balance of courage and humility. Making the choice to put yourself in situations that can be uncomfortable is a risk—one that ultimately benefits you and your organization. Humble yourself by being vulnerable but not to the point that it hurts your credibility as a leader.
- Inclusive leadership requires a balance of humility and courage. Making the choice to put yourself in situations where you aren't the expert can be uncomfortable and requires taking a risk which means you have to have the courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable. But after taking that risk, you'll find it ultimately benefits you and your organization. Let's start with humility. The literature on leadership routinely cites being humble as a core characteristic of a strong leader, leading an inclusive team is no exception.
When I say humility, I'm referring to an overall attitude or approach of recognizing you don't have all the answers, or that your way isn't the only way to accomplish a goal. I'm not implying that you shouldn't take credit for the great work you and your team accomplishes. You don't have all the answers and you don't have to. Or in the words of my father, you don't know what you don't know. This just means that there's a whole lot out there that isn't on your radar and not just you sitting across from me, this is true for everyone.
We all have limitations, simply acknowledging you don't know something is a way leaders can demonstrate humility. Accepting that you don't know or understand something doesn't have to be the end. Humble leaders demonstrate a willingness to learn. Expose yourself to new ideas, cultures, and ways of thinking. You can learn a lot about and understand a different perspective without changing your own. In the process of learning, you'll make mistakes which is to be expected. No reasonable person expects you to be perfect.
When it happens and you make a mistake, just admit it. Learn from them and grow. Try to avoid making them in the future. Be willing to accept feedback, even criticism, without getting defensive. By modeling these behaviors, you're setting the stage for an inclusive team climate and your employees can follow your lead. Now let's shift to courage. When you hear this word, you might automatically think of a superhero or first responder. That isn't the type of courage I'm thinking of.
Being honest about who you are takes courage. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines courage as the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. You may or may not face physical danger in your workplace, but your challenges can nevertheless invoke feelings of fear or be extremely difficult. And the desire to lead inclusively is a challenge that requires courage to take on.
Just like humility, courage is a characteristic that inspires trust in employees. Some tips to help you with this. First, let your guard down. Your employees want to know you, the real you, not the 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. professional you, the authentic true person you are deep down at your core. Give people a window into your values and give them the opportunity to get to know you. Second, state your values.
Most people admire leaders who unapologetically share and live their values. This requires courage and gets noticed by your employees. There are lots of great examples of people doing this. I recently saw a video from 2017 when Lieutenant General Jay Silveria, the superintendent of the US Air Force Academy delivered a passionate message about racial slurs found written on message boards at the academy's preparatory school.
He boldly stated that this type of behavior was unacceptable and unwelcome in the organization. Listening to his speech, it's very clear where he stands. This isn't necessarily going to be easy, but like other skills, leading inclusively is something you'll get better at with practice. Remember to be humble and courageous as you go forward.
- Creating a shared understanding of why inclusion matters
- Establishing trust
- Using inclusive language
- Providing feedback in diverse teams
- Discovering implicit associations
- Delegating work and opportunities equitably
- How unconscious bias creeps into the hiring process