On Becoming That Truly Inclusive Leader
The most successful entrepreneurs have a natural curiosity to ask others for thoughts and feedback on their ideas. Simply put, they’re inclusive. Yet as businesses grow and functions become more siloed, the idea of pinging others for their insights, usually dissipates.
But there are certain realities in today’s new business normal that suggest that business leaders ought to do more listening than talking:
Every business is now global. Even if you don’t plan on selling any goods or services beyond your geographic region, you will still compete with those who do. Selling products or services to divergent markets requires diverse insights that can be gleaned from a diverse workforce. If you shut yourself off to the groups that make up the new global consumer landscape, you will fall behind your competitors.
Plus, innovation is imperative. Competitors are constantly finding new and better ways to reduce costs, reach newly defined customer cohorts and improve products. It’s not enough to stumble onto one game-changing innovation. Companies must anticipate new markets by harvesting multiple sympathetic insights.
An inclusive leader is one who seeks and integrates the input of all stakeholders. The culture that is created as a result of inclusive leadership is the most adept at confronting challenges to find new markets. According to a recent Ernst & Young study, 85 percent of the business executives surveyed agree, but less than half of them said their organizations lack inclusive leaders.
To get your team operating in high gear, put some of these strategies into action:
1. Crowdsource. Actively seek ideas from employees to improve your knowledge of business issues through the use of online forums, live chats or other communications technologies.
2. Listen in. Be alert to the leadership potential within your own work team. When someone leans in (a term popularized by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg), be there to pay attention.
3. Host events that attempt to solve problems by small incremental improvements. Leverage employee insights and inputs to make positive change.
This can be your new model: When a problem arises, a diverse and independent work team should assemble, throwing ideas on the table: The concept most likely to solve the matter can be put into action immediately.
Most importantly, begin to embrace a mind-set that encourages cross-team collaboration and that takes everyone’s ideas into consideration, not just those of a select few. Inclusive leadership works.
Shirley Engelmeier is the founder and CEO of InclusionINC in Minneapolis. She champions workplace initiatives that improve business results through employee engagement and inclusion. She is the author of Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage and Becoming an Inclusive Leader: How to Navigate the 21st Century.