The Number One Reason Inclusive Leadership Fails

When we bring in great talent, we must allow them to help us grow-not expect them to conform.
VIP Contributor

“You challenge my direction too much. You do more than I ask you to do.”

Those sentences were part of a performance review a manager received from her supervisor. Both statements, in case it is not abundantly clear, were delivered as negatives. If you think they sound like a joke, wait for the punch line: The person being reviewed was hired to do those things. The company had started an initiative to be more inclusive in the workplace and bring in talent that challenged the status quo. This manager not only did that but also tried to go above and beyond what she was told to get there, and her supervisor smacked her down for doing exactly that.

That manager now lives in fear of doing what she was hired for and going above and beyond. This says everything about why inclusive leadership in American enterprise often fails: fear.

How Leaders Hinder Inclusion

Of course, the problem started long before that performance review. Her boss was aware of the push to be more inclusive, but when I asked him what inclusive leadership solves for, I got the same four answers I usually do from leaders in his position: recruitment, engagement, advancement and leadership. These are not only the most obvious answers but also they silo the thinking into traditional templates or the status quo. 

What real inclusive leadership must solve for is satisfying people – making them feel safe and not judged and allowing them to influence more. When I push leaders to think beyond the obvious about what they really want inclusive leadership to solve for, I get bigger and better answers:

  • I want at least some of my leaders to look like me (i.e. I want my leaders to be Hispanic or African-American or women)
  • Comfort (i.e. people can be comfortable with being who they are)
  • Broader business perspectives (i.e. we can be more innovative in how we solve problems and seize opportunities)
  • Better results and outcomes (i.e. more sustainability and significance)

Getting to these answers required a different conversation, tone and intention to get there. It needed an approach that sees the power of inclusive leadership to maximize organizational and people potential and empower and comfortably guide individuals to influence the business.

Why Leaders Ignore Potential

We all know we need new talent to innovate how we manage and lead transformation. But if this is what we want from our talent – and we say we want them to innovate, challenge the status quo, and go above and beyond when they get inside – then why are we shooting down their ability to influence?

Because all that requires leaders to do more work – to think, be vulnerable, and be courageous. And as one leader told me: “People are tired. They are tired of the same old story around diversity and inclusion, the same old rhetoric, tired of not being valued, not feeling safe. They want opportunity, but because they don’t have the same experience and credentials, they shut down and push them to the margins.”

When we bring in great talent, we must allow them to help us grow not expect them to conform to what the organization is doing. Without that they will never evolve. They will come into the organization inspired and hopeful and soon find themselves feeling defeated and uninspired to perform – and just do what they’re told.

That’s what is happening with that manager after her review. She is saying to heck with it and doing what her boss wants to collect a paycheck. She has lost trust in her leader to see her as an individual and maximize her potential (and in turn generate growth for themselves and the business). Without that trust, nothing else matters. She lives in fear of doing anything more.

To solve for this fear in situations like this, leaders must:

  • Immediately identify, enable, and leverage the full potential of their people.
  • Let themselves and their people be courageous enough to see beyond the obvious.
  • Allow their people to explore endless possibilities in search of previously unseen opportunities.
  • Build new ecosystems to strengthen the organization’s intellectual capital and momentum; and lead to leave a legacy of significance and sustain success.

Inclusive leadership thrives in cultures that appreciate differences. Surrounding ourselves with people who think exactly like us does not lead to wisdom or make our relationships better. What we need is a new mindset – an innovation mentality mindset – that embraces individuality knowing that inclusive leadership propels abundance in opportunity to stay out in front of the market and continuously grow and evolve. And have our people stop living in fear to rekinde their hunger to do more than they are told.

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