“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African proverb
by Sascha Siegmund
As a Transformational Coach, Speaker and Trainer located in Brussels I regularly talk to people, that are very well educated, have a good job with a good or very good income and that are heavily unhappy or unsatisfied with their professional situation. Very often this is linked to the fact that they have not found their ‘IKIGAI’ (reason for being). However, as the word goes “people do not leave their job, they leave their boss” and more often than not that is true – it has been for me.
We live in VUCA world, a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. To strive in such a world as an individual or a company we need to feel safe, but the people I talk to do not feel safe. Furthermore they usually feel not being seen as humans or appreciated. We need companies that speak of human assets instead of human resources and a style that is human-centered, that empowers and appreciates the individual. Inclusive leadership can lead the way, while addressing the challenges of a VUCA world.
But what does define an inclusive leader? Here are some core competencies or traits that are essential:
Believe that the core of the human nature is good
If you believe that everyone is just looking for his/her own interest and will stab you in the back as soon as the opportunity occurs, it will be difficult to establish an atmosphere for inclusive leadership. Trust is a basic principle for inclusive leadership, as only trust allows employees to speak up freely, propose new ideas and become innovative. Only trust allows employees AND leaders to admit that they have made an error. Only trust will make a leader implement forms of co-creation and collective intelligence. To have trust and to create trust does not mean that you are naïve, but if you put in place a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) or a policy for every tiny little thing that could go wrong, you spent more time on managing procedures for the 3% of employees, that anyway might try to betray you, than allowing the other 97% to create value.
Inclusive leaders use the trust in their teams to help them become responsible and autonomous actors. It should be considered a good sign, if they perform as good when you are not there, as when you are there.
Leaders do not just eat last*, they speak last too. A manager, director or CEO that goes to a meeting saying “XYZ is the problem, here are my ideas about it. What do you think?” has already lost. Even if his/her people have strong personalities and are willing and capable to bring up other points of views he already set a path of thinking and shut down parts of their creativity and problem solving capabilities. An inclusive leader spent by far much more on active listening than on speaking; and if he/she speaks it is to mainly ask questions.
To be willing to listen actively to others requires a good amount of empathy, another core quality of an inclusive leader. An inclusive leader genuinely cares about people.
* Simon Sinek: Why Leaders Eat Last
Being an inclusive leader means putting your ego aside. This is why so many people are fed up with current politicians. Today career politicians, who during school times have already joined a party, who never worked a single day in a normal job, take decision not based on what would be best for the country, the people in the long term, but who decide on what is best for them in the short term. This has nothing anymore to do with those politicians who really have their country’s and people’s interest in mind and that would go against their own party, if it was necessary.
Leadership requires to hold your ego back and to do what is right and necessary. The right questions to ask are: Is it good for the group, is it good for the whole (the company, society, the planet, etc.) before asking is it good for my career or does it make me look good. The same is true for companies; a good manager ensures that his team works at his best, so his/her role is to bring forward the strengths of each individual team member and the team as a whole. He or she has to defend the team’s interest in front of senior management and not just “selling” whatever makes the way down. This is why being a leader can be difficult and often unpleasant. You get a bigger office and a higher salary, but it comes at a price. Just as for Spiderman, it is true for you – great power comes with great responsibility.
As a consequence inclusive leaders are also very willing to give credit to the people who deserve it. And do not forget, if you make others shine, you shine too.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Inclusive leaders are very aware that his is true: especially in VUCA world. This one goes hand in hand with curiosity. Being aware that he/she does not know everything, an inclusive leader does not only ask a lot of questions and listens actively, he or she is also aware that the diversity in the team, the different experiences, knowledge and backgrounds create space for better and more innovative solutions. Put together they stand for a growth mindset, for the willingness to continuously learn and humility not to (have to) know it all.
As a consequence companies can stop promoting the most savvy IT person to team leader and the best account to head of accounting, they should rather look for the person that can run the team best in a human and sustainable way.
Be your word
While all of the above is true inclusive leaders are their word and are not a flag in the breeze. They are able to take decisions even if they are sometime difficult or hard, like firing someone, if it is for the better of the group. Finally, there is no stereotype of an inclusive leader. Inclusive leaders are authentic.
Mind the word
Some of these core competencies, such as empathy, listening, benevolence and caring are usually more associated with women, than with men. However, that kind of distinction might allow people to say “I am a man I cannot do this or that”. Furthermore it is a vocabulary of an old paradigm, a paradigm we want and we should leave behind us. By using the vocabulary of this old paradigm we give it power, just as we give power to the forces of nationalism, racism and homophobia by using their language. Why do we speak of homosexual or gay couples, does it matter, if the relationship is between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman? It is love. By using this vocabulary we confirm that there is a difference between these relationships. In the same way we should not speak of feminine or masculine polarity when it comes to leadership, either it is a human-centered, inclusive leadership or it is not.
Creating the context
Of course I understand that I describe here inclusive leadership how it should be; I explain the content, but not the context under which inclusive leadership can develop, which will be another article. ;o)
We leave in a phase of transition from an old paradigm to a new one. We leave in an era where we get educated in a school system of the 19th century to get work in companies of the 20th century while facing technologies and challenges of the 21st century. It is thus relevant to create the context in our societies, our education system, our companies and within us for inclusive leadership to strive.
Sascha wrote this article for World of Synergy as he fully supports our initiative. He is located in Brussels and works as a Life & Leadership Coach, Speaker and Trainer. He also hosts a monthly show on Almouwatin TV on personal development. For more information on his work check:
Join us at Experiential Conference World of Synergy: Inclusive Leadership, March 14th-March 17th 2019, Terme Olimia, Slovenia: www.worldofsynergy.com