Imagine this scenario: Your team has several employees who constantly question your direction and the organization’s but are willing to go above and beyond what they are told to do to achieve their goals and objectives. What do you tell them in their performance review?
If your answer was anything but “Embrace both the questioning and willingness to go above and beyond as part of an overall strategy for growth,” then you are like most leaders I survey. This scenario says a lot about why inclusive leadership in the American enterprise often fails. It also explains how lack of that leadership in the workplace impacts marketplace performance.
Inclusive leadership is about fostering an environment where all people, including leaders, are growing and evolving together. Doing that requires three things:
- Creating genuine inclusive environments where leaders allow employees and customers to influence the future.
- Redefining accountability metrics for how we measure and reward high performance cultures.
- Placing inclusive leadership in the center of growth — in corporate strategy and transformation.
This is not where most inclusion initiatives are placed. Most of them are viewed as cost centers — fringe activities associated with compliance, representation and reputation management — rather than profit centers that enable sustainable growth through opportunities previously unseen.
We can no longer solve for inclusion through historical perspectives of diversity. The multitude of differences in our employees, clients, products and services has made it more challenging for leaders and organizations to predict performance outcomes and the ability to drive growth. We must be less prescriptive and more open-minded to the unique needs and differences of how all people — as individuals — want to be served. To disrupt the status quo, organizations and their leaders must get beyond diversity and focus on creating inclusive environments to increase performance predictability with their employees, clients, products and services.
The problem is most leaders and organizations refuse to allow diversity of thought to touch their businesses and leadership every day, let alone serve as a competitive advantage to stimulate new growth, attract new talent and generate new marketplace opportunities. However, they may think they do. According to the data taken from my organization’s “Diversity of Thought Assessment,” taken by more than 12,000 senior executives — many of whom lead diverse groups of employees — at more than 100 companies including 65 Fortune 500 companies, 81 percent said they “always” embrace diversity of thought and utilize one’s individual strengths.
Do you think the people they lead agreed? Of course not. When we asked employees if they share the unique ways their cultural values influence how they think, 69 percent said “sometimes.” This is why even the most innovative and disruptive companies are often more like-minded than we think: They focus only on what makes them comfortable and struggle when there is genuine discomfort about issues such as diversity and inclusion. As a result, they can’t break free from the thinking of the past and continue to use the templates of old to create well-meaning but ultimately ineffective inclusion programs.
Business today is becoming less about defining the individual and more about the individual defining the business. That’s how people will feel they are making contributions to drive change and foster growth — as individuals who have influence. Moving people to the center of our growth strategies gives them that influence. Until initiatives like diversity and inclusion are redefined this way, inclusive leadership cannot happen. We will discover like-mindedness through forced assimilation not embracing individual differences. We will fail to break down silos between teams and departments to create shared cultures.
True inclusive leadership requires us to embrace a new mindset. I call this mindset the innovation mentality. It involves:
- The inspiration and courage to see opportunities beyond the obvious to avoid complacency.
- The flexibility to anticipate the unexpected to ensure that circumstances don’t force your hand.
- The freedom to unleash your passionate pursuits and explore possibilities.
- The room to live with an entrepreneurial spirit to build new ecosystems and strengthen intellectual capital and momentum.
- The trust to work with a generous purpose and invest in relationships.
- The respect to lead and leave a legacy of significance to sustain success.
In a time of great uncertainty, inclusive leadership through these six strategies for the innovation mentality are about seeing differences as growth opportunities, rather than negative disruption that slows progress down. These strategies use the power of what makes us different to create something new that impacts the business rather than minimizing or trying to assimilate those differences. Thus, they allow us to create high-performance leaders and teams focused on inclusion and the power of individuality to consciously cultivate innovation and initiative by choice, not by accident.
Glenn Llopis is president of Glenn Llopis Group LLC and author of “The Innovation Mentality.” Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.