Inclusive Leadership: Aligning the Different - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #415

Inclusive Leadership: Aligning the Different

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Globalization, advances in technology, and the impact of emerging markets have made the leadership of organizations increasingly complex. To address this complexity leaders need to embrace the ‘different’ and to become ‘inclusive’.  Inclusive leaders have the skill to engage with people with different backgrounds and outlooks, are willing to adapt personally, and are able to create a shared vision which brings diverse individuals to a collective focus on a coherent end-goal. Organizations should follow the advice from Apple and their strapline “Think Different.”


There are three key contexts driving the need for ‘inclusive leadership’:

1. Globalization
Increasing globalization demands a new global mind-set from leaders, team members and organizations. The ability to engage with people from different cultural, social and educational backgrounds, is an essential skill for any leader. 

For multinational corporations developing business in emerging economies, the need to be increasingly inclusive of the customs and preferences of those they seek to attract as customers and employees is paramount.

Inclusive leaders recognize that people from different backgrounds approach work with a different perspective. Without ‘capitulating’ to alien working practices, inclusive leaders find an approach that takes the best of each ‘culture’ to create something unique. Attitudes to hierarchy, deference to superiors, time, work/life balance, and gender equality are just some of the differentiators between cultures. Inclusive leaders create environments where all cultures find their contribution welcomed and valued. Inclusive leaders give people a fair hearing without treating all contributions as equal. 

2. Individualization, ‘segmentation of ONE’ and diversity
Increasingly sophisticated consumers are demanding customization and personal specification – the ‘segmentation of one’. We customize our LinkedIn profile, our Twitter account, our iPad and our mobile phones, etc. 

To engage us as individuals, product and service offerings need to be customizable. Leaders too, without losing their authenticity, need to be to an extent customizable or adaptable, and to influence their teams and organizations to be adaptable, too.
3. VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous 
Another layer of complexity comes from the ’known and unknown unknowns’ of the modern world, which bring the old VUCA challenge including issues such as:

  • Financial interconnections redefining the future of sustainable banking, 
  • Geo-political shifts which destabilise the security of global markets,
  • Global warming and environmental pollution threatening the viability of communities and markets,
  • A demand for new products and marketing approaches for serve emerging markets,
  • And the need to localize employee value propositions due to diverse and varying expectations amongst employees and stakeholders.

What then is inclusive leadership?
Inclusive leadership is a style of leadership that demonstrates: 

  • ENGAGEMENT: where the leader proactively involves others in purposeful cross-boundary conversations, and incorporates their ideas and input to build into high-performing teams.
  • ADAPTABILITY: where the leaders is self-aware, open about and manages own personal natural biases. And is curious, interested in and enjoys the company of different others.
  • FOCUS FOR RESULTS – VISION: where the leader directs diversity to one purpose to provoke fresh thinking, creativity and innovation and aligns people towards clear deliverables by focusing everyone on a coherent vision.

The business case for inclusive leadership
These are several ways in which inclusive leadership benefits bottom line success:

  • To be the best: we need to attract, engage and retain the best talent  
  • To be credible and convert opportunities: we need to connect with and adapt to customers/clients
  • To make robust decisions: we need to include in our thinking the perspective and knowledge of others
  • To be ahead of our competitors: we need to think more broadly by engaging those with different views and adapting our thinking to include new alternatives
  • Corporate reputation: diversity and inclusion are increasingly seen as demonstrations of corporate effectiveness 
  • Innovation and creativity are the product of diverse teams, collaborating to attain a shared goal.


For leaders to become more inclusive, they need to make a point of soliciting the opinions and contributions of people with whom they would not normally engage.

And for organizations to encourage inclusive leadership, they need to create environments that reduce social isolation, allow the safe expression of different views, where relationships of respect predominate, where the value of diversity and its impact on the bottom line are strategically imbedded, and where shared goals are transparently pursued.

In practical terms leaders should:

  • Ensure they choose people with complementary/different skills and experience to ensure their teams challenge unknown biases.
  • Consider changing who they sit next to at meetings and engaging with different people in such places as the lift to alter the ‘power dynamics’.
  • Reserve judgment on those who look or act differently and ask themselves: who else might have that view?
  • Purposefully try to get to know people who don’t 'look like/think like' themselves to broaden their own thinking and terms of reference.
  • Expand the conversation when someone says something that jars, by inviting the other person to say more without taking offense, to voice their different perspective.
  • Invite feedback from resistors as well as supporters, to confront their own ‘brand’ issues and to feed their personal continuous growth.
  • Recognize and provide for paradoxical realities: “In sameness we connect. In difference we grow.”  



Inclusive Leadership: Aligning the Different. Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone. Developing Leaders Issue 15 (April 2014).

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Idea conceived

April 1, 2014

Idea posted

Jul 2014
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