The Real Leadership Essential of Creating an Inclusive Environment

By Dr. Peter Cheng

This article is the seventh of a 9-part series that discusses the Who-ness and What-ness of A Real Leader who Shapes Culture and Drives Performance.

If you have been following this series on the essentials of Real Leadership, you would remember that in the first article, “What Does it Take To Be a Real Leader?”, I shared on what has caused a crack in the trust in corporate leaders and how the business world has been tainted by countless and infamous corporate frauds over the last few decades, among which were the Enron (November 2001) case and Lehman Brothers case (September 2008) that triggered the global financial meltdown.

In the light of all these corporate frauds, stakeholders of organisations are demanding and expecting more transparency and able leadership to ensure that organisations and their leaders come clean and above board. Given these happenings, constituents now have a baseline expectation of their leaders. They want to see their leaders as being worthy to be followed, before they commit themselves fully to the leadership.

This seventh article of the series features Creating An Inclusive Environment, another essential of what makes a leader real, to inspire and engage their people.

There are many studies on how inclusive leadership impacts constituents’ engagement, productivity and loyalty. Carmeli et al. (2010) have shown that when organisations demonstrate inclusive leadership that is manifested by openness, accessibility, and availability of the leader, they engender the presence of employee psychological safety and involvement in creative works at the workplace.

In creating an inclusive environment, Real Leaders ensure that their constituents feel comfortable being part of the team, department and organisation. They appreciate the uniqueness of individuals that make up the collective team and look at what each individual brings to the mix and harness individual talents for the collective good. Real Leaders create space for individuals to have their own stories and to share their experiences, leveraging the synergy of their collective wisdom to derive creative and quality decisions.

The question is, “How do Real Leaders create an environment that is inclusive?” From our experience, observations and interviews with CEOs, these are the following effective behaviours demonstrated by inclusive leaders.

Seek to understand individual motivations in a team setting.

Abraham Maslow advocated that people have five levels of needs, with physiological needs being at level one and self-actualisation at the highest at level five. It is not surprising to see members of a team having different motivations in a diverse team with diverse backgrounds.

Real Leaders care about the different motivational levers that move the individuals. They are observant and sensitive to the differing motivations within the team and expend efforts to find the right mix of motivators to engage their people. In my decades of experience leading teams from various organisations and industries, I have seen all the motivational levers at work in different individuals and it was imperative to meet these diverse motivational needs before peak performance could be attained.

Do you know what motivates your team members? Unless you provide those motivational levers, chances are they would be disengaged with you.

Show respect towards individuals of diverse backgrounds.

With increasing talents and people mobility across globe, more teams will comprise people of different nationalities, ethnicity, and personality. Over the last 18 years, I have facilitated hundreds of workshops for multinational corporations and I remember there were many occasions that I had no less than ten nationalities in a single workshop. Imagine the diversity of ideas and creativity these participants brought to the workshop!

Real Leaders are mindful in dealing with their team of people from diverse backgrounds. They create space for the team members to express their views with much respect for all and the same time, reinforce a culture that respects diversity that includes nationality, ethnicity, qualifications, experience and gender.

Al Gore once stated, “I think that more diversity is a good thing, and fresh points of view articulated by people who are committed to excellence.” This is echoed by Martin Luther King Jr’s “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Real Leaders know the power of a having a diverse workforce. Think of how you might enhance diversity in your team.

Take time to listen to others.

The gift of time is one of the most valuable gifts a leader can offer to their people. Real Leaders recognise that they do not have answers to all the problems and issues faced in the workplace. They know that they are far from perfect and are subject to making mistakes. Such leaders realise that the team members have much to offer in solving team challenges and have the collective wisdom to bring their team to a higher level of excellence. They exercise intentional and deliberate efforts to listen to others, garnering ideas and suggestions to rise above organisational challenges.

During one of my consulting engagements with my client, I noticed that the Managing Director (MD) of this MNC deliberately took time to listen to people during their monthly “Meet-The-MD-Session”. He would take all sorts of questions, suggestions and feedback from the ground and implement those feasible suggestions to bring their organisation forward.

I learnt from my client that the MD was a very well-liked leader in the organisation. People were motivated to engage him freely and felt at ease to share their thoughts on how the organisation might improve. Many studies have shown that when employees are engaged, they will go the extra mile to strive for their teams and organisations.

George W. Bush said “Leadership to me means duty, honour, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time.” How often do you take time listen to others in your team?

Take deliberate actions to develop collaborative work relationships and collectivism.

A study by Gundlach et al. (2006) on the relationship between individualism-collectivism and team performance has shown that individualistic team members exert a negative influence on team performance. Real Leaders are builders of relationships and collectivism. They understand and appreciate that the foundation to effective leadership is having great relationships with the team and among the team members.

Dr. Bruce Tuckman has for a long time suggested in his team formation model that when teams have clear norms, they will perform what they have set out to achieve. Notably, norming is preceded by relationship building among the team members. Real Leaders are adept in facilitating collaborative relationships that engender team thinking and collectivism from which the wisdom of the team can be leveraged to achieve common goals for the organisation.

How is your team’s relationship at the moment? Are team members as collaborative as they should be? What would you do to increase collaborative work relationships and build collectivism?

Establish and maintain an open channel of communication.

Real Leaders are champions of establishing and maintaining a channel of communication with their team members. They know that to be inclusive, they need to foster open communication with their people and among their people. In doing so, they ensure that the people have psychological safety to communicate their thoughts authentically for the betterment of the team as a whole.

Culminating respect for each other within the team, the leader ensures their people have access to them to share their feedback, opinions and suggestions. To do this, Real Leaders take the lead by inviting their people to call upon them to discuss anything that they feel could advance their people and their organisation.

Stephen Covey once mentioned that “Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” In essence, communication begets trust that holds relationships and Real Leaders simply know the value of what open communication can do in maintaining a cohesive team.

Real Leaders make it a point to constantly communicate with their constituents. ‘Dialogue,’ as the word suggests, involves two or more people within a conversation. This means that communication has to be a two-way street between the leader and the constituent; an exchange of thoughts through thinking together. Leaders may have the tendency to take charge of conversations. In doing so, they block out opinions from their constituents, who may offer a different insight and alternative solution pathways.

Leaders who practise dialogue will find that there is an honest and effective exchange with their constituents resulting them being not be afraid to converse on the same level as them. How is your communication with your team?

Moderate and align OOPs and IPs to remain in the flow.

OOP means “Out of Pattern”; it is not surprising for leaders to experience diverse thinking from an inclusive team of individuals! Although these OOPs are capable of creating tension at work by being an opposing thought, they are also capable of promoting creativity and diversity in the workplace. Real Leaders leverage OOPs to generate the best of ideas with skilful integration of diverse points of view.

IP means “In Pattern” and Real Leaders are mindful that when team members show similar thinking, they could demonstrate groupthink - which leads to idea stagnation and “un-creativity.” Hence, they would do the necessary to ensure that team members are stretched to think and facilitate creativity within the team.

In brevity, Real Leaders create a platform for all to participate and moderate the OOPs and IPs. They make sure that all OOPs and IPs are moderated towards leading their organisation to excellence. How do you mange the OOPs in your team?

In conclusion, Real Leaders know the importance of establishing an inclusive environment for all in the team to feel valued and engaged. They harness the team’s wisdom by integrating diversity of the team members’ opinions and contributions. In doing so, they continue to maintain a platform that engages and inspires the team.

You can find out more about PACE's Real Leadership solutions here.

In the next article of the series, I’ll discuss the Real Leadership essential of Driving Performance. You can read the previous articles of the 9-part series here:

  1. What Does It Take to Be a Real Leader?
  2. What Does it Mean to Be Competent?
  3. The Formation of Character
  4. Conviction with Courage
  5. The Real Leadership Essential of Credibility
  6. The Real Leadership Essential of Compassion

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