DISCOVERY LEADERSHIP MASTERCLASS SERIES: building leadership inclusion for organizational transformation and change (Part I)

  • ….. managing the imperatives of inclusive leadership

The organizational agenda and commitment for inclusive leadership and action primarily facilitate positive intergroup interaction, reduce discrimination and generally foster harmony at workplaces. Building an inclusive leadership in essence is a critical leadership consideration and a drive for attracting and retaining productive employees, the maintenance of high moral and fostering of understanding among employees.

To talk about inclusion is to deal with the subject matter of diversity and equity in workplaces. To borrow the words of Verna Myers, “diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion being asked to dance”. The role of leadership to lead inclusively always has remained a challenge and almost impossible due to multiplicity of factors.

However, the pursuit for cultural change and transformation only become real when it is about the execution, the implementation and the understanding of the people within the organization for change and the reinforcement of discipline for leadership action. Obviously, remaining static is not going to make the business successful and if ever any organization needs to grow, adapt or change, sometimes a shift is necessary and this at times may mean a transformation from the top to bottom and inside to outside. As such, the best way to look into the future is to gain sense of where things are moving to instigate change. Changes could be as small as modifying processes and work design or as big as completely changing the direction of the company. Whichever way necessary, the strategy to get there is highly imperative.

Therefore, visible action taken by organizational leaders to move from the present to the future in order to achieve a specific outcome or benefit calls for creating a foundation to support the needs of the business infrastructures and a change in workplace conditions through the management of inclusive leadership imperatives. Any organizational change toward an open, evolving corporate culture is key that, opening up the way for leadership inclusion could lead to greater team alignment and achieving shared goals.

That notwithstanding, with businesses increasingly optimizing their diversity and inclusion activities, inclusive leadership is more relevant now than ever. No matter how great the company’s diversity metrics get, if leaders don’t have an inclusive environment that embraces all the differences of the employees and create a workspace where everyone can bring their true selves to work, great initiatives will fail.

Therefore, the need to establish the factors, the management and the relative impact leadership inclusion has for organizational transformation and success is what this article seeks to address. Let’s talk leadership inclusion for organizational transformation and change.

What is Inclusive leadership?

Inclusion is where people’s differences are valued and used to enable everyone to thrive at work. An inclusive working environment speaks about one in which every employee feels that they belong without having to conform, that their contribution matters and they are able to perform to their full potential no matter their background, identity or circumstances. An inclusive workplace has fair policies and practices in place and enables a diverse range of people to work together effectively.

The moral case for building leadership inclusion in organizations to champion diversity and equity inclusion is indisputable regardless of employee’s identity, background or circumstances because, it offers the platform for the development of skills and talents to full potential, work in safe, supportive and inclusive environment, fairly rewarded and recognized for work done and have a meaningful voice on matters that affect employees themselves. It is also vital for sustainability of businesses and economies because, everyone stands to benefit when the employees embrace and value the diversity of thoughts, ideas and ways of working that people from different backgrounds, experience and identities bring to the organization.

Why Inclusive Leadership?

We live in a diverse business world with diverse expectations from customers we want to attract, in the message we share or consume via various platforms and the markets we plan to expand. Inclusive leadership helps balance and adapt quickly to diverse scenarios and alternative perspective with an open non-judgmental mind to bring on the best results possible.

Leaders who are aware of their own biases and preferences, actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making. They see diverse talents as a source of competitive advantage and inspire diverse people to drive organizational and individual performance towards a shared vision. The inclusive leader is a loyal ambassador of diversity and inclusion, accept they are vulnerable and show it, they understand and adapt to various cultural norms, they are team players and eager to help and do what’s best for the team.

That being said, positioning organizational change and leadership inclusion within the wider context of diversity, equity and empathy initiatives is imperative. A well meaningful and sustainable transformation in individuals, teams and organizational culture underpin exploring the power of leadership inclusion in respect of diversity, equity and empathy in the workplace. Despite a common belief, every organization’s diversity and inclusion challenges are unique. Leveraging others’ best practices will only get the organization part of the way. And if you are a leader, it’s likely that not everyone who works with you will agree with.

Meanwhile, it is a fact that leadership involves making unpopular decisions while navigating complex relationships with colleagues, partners and clients. But often, one will need to get buy-in from the different people within the organization to convince them to change their mind towards a certain course. When individuals’ workplace experiences are driven by inclusive leadership, the result is a culture shift that reinforces diversity and inclusion, a powerful transformation and change. According to Dunne Moses, when organizations commit to merging empathy and inclusion and use that power to transform their organizations for the better, individual’s acts inclusive leadership and that, each has the ability to change lives, open doors and build bridges.

The Call for Organizational Transformation and Change

Businesses face challenges every day and so what would make the leadership think organizational transformation and change? The symptoms that may call for change may vary from performance related, culture-related and or leadership-related issues. Knowing what to look for and keeping a keen eye on those areas will provide insight into whether or not transformative change is required.

In every transformation agenda, a good plan is vital, and everyone involved has to be onboard for it to work. Rapid changing technologies and shifting business conditions globally are forcing organizations to rethink how they operate. Organizational transformation efforts are taking place at different levels of many organizations and this change efforts must seek to promote greater agility, faster innovation and increased engagement for the organizations competitive advantage.

The commitment to transform the organization means to embrace certain principles that reflect the values of transparency, inclusivity, adaptability, collaboration and community. In all transparent organizations, material decision and processes are open, collaborative and can be adjusted and revised if necessary. Organizations that are inclusive seek out diverse points of view and invite multiple perspectives into dialogue whenever possible. Flexibility and resilience are key elements of organizations that are oriented toward continuous learning and engagement which contributes to greater longevity. Shifting decision making to the frontline of business means teams can react faster to changing requirements and that, the employees in the organization would believe that work is better when more parties are involved and this lends the work to enhancements over time.

Meanwhile, maintaining a culture which supports the idea of employee voice is another challenge for diverse organization. When the organizational environment is not supportive of dissenting viewpoints, employees may choose to remain silent for fear of repercussions or they may seek alternative safe avenues to express their concerns and frustrations.

The role of leadership for cultural diversity, equity and empathy management

A study of successful multicultural organizations suggest that leadership is dependent on physical and social attributes of the individual , where the balance of managing relationship behavior and the task at hand underscore multicultural organizations. The combination of transformational leadership allows and encourages mid-level managers to use diversity as an influential resources in order to enhance organizational effectiveness. According to C.L Walck, managing diversity in workplace is the negotiating intersection across culturally diverse groups and contriving to get along in an environment characterized by cultural diversity.

The obvious questions are that, does the organization represent the diverse population at large? How diverse are the candidate being hired? Are the promotions doled out going to a diverse pool? How diverse are each of the teams and departments? What is the retention rate with diverse employees? To build a diverse leadership team is important to managing diversity in the workplace and to find answers to these loads of questions. Meanwhile, managing diversity is a deliberate effort to plan and implement changes to an organization’s systems and practices of managing people, so potential benefits from diversity are fully realized and potential disadvantages minimized.

Diversity inclusion must start from the top with a commitment from top leaders in an organization to change the existing culture to one of diversity inclusion. With that, the diversity change management processes would succeed. This diversity change management process includes analyzing where the organization is currently at through diversity audit, creating a strategic action plan, gaining support by seeking stakeholder input and holding individual accountable through measurable results.

Transformational change through inclusion management support covers an equal opportunity agenda for both the immediate need as well as long-term solutions. For short term, it implements new measures to minimize bias and procedures such as recruitment, promotion and communication. The long-term, however, is seen as a project of transformation for the organization. This transformation approach acknowledges the existence of power systems and seeks to challenge the existing hegemony through implementation of equality values. Through transformational change, the short term solutions affords the organization the time necessary to enact deep rooted culture changes leading to a more inclusive environment.

Empathy:

Empathy is the foundation of our ability to connect with each other on an emotional level and sets the stage for inclusion. Empathy is the ability to perceive and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experiences of others. Leaders with high levels of empathy are skilled at understanding a situation from another person’s perspective and reaching with compassion. Empathy in the context of the workplace simply means that employees are able to establish true, empathetic connections with one another that enhance relationships and performance.

The ability to be compassionate and connect with others is critical to our lives, both personally and professionally. Demonstrating empathy in the workplace is a key part of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. Empathy however improves human interactions in general and can lead to more effective communication and positive outcomes in both work and home settings. Empathetic leadership means having the ability to understand the needs of others and being aware of their feelings and thoughts.

Effective empathy and inclusion in the workplace can change the game, shifting mediocre performance to a variant work culture that fosters the willingness of employees to invest discretionary effort and gain a sense of belonging. With increased levels of empathetic inclusion, all employees can experience enhanced curiosity, agility and innovation. The task is for leadership to set the right environment and demonstrate empathetic leadership to reap the benefits thereof.

Diversity:

The business case for diversity stems from the progression of the models of diversity within the workplace. Diversity represents the varied individual and collective identities and differences of the people who form the organization. Fundamentally, one of the greatest challenges any organization has when trying to adopt a more inclusive environment is the assimilation for any member outside the dominant group. Everything from organizational symbols, rituals and stories serve to maintain the position of power held by the dominant group. Nevertheless, when cultural diversity leads to conflicts, employees can be mentored and coached to adopt the necessary traits for inclusion into the privileged group as opposed to being embraced for their differences.

Clearly, managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people. It is suggestive to note that, work-teams which are highly diverse can be difficult to motivate and manage and cited miscommunication as a major fact. Meanwhile, the ability to recognize equality of opportunities in practice when all employees are enabled freely and equally to compete for social rewards is deemed necessary if any organization is to champion change in respect to inclusion. Another exciting viewpoint for managing inclusion is to compensate for actual barriers that prevent the marginalized employees from attaining their fair share of any benefit.

If diversity is better managed, it is shown to bring substantial benefits such as better decision making and improved problem solving, greater creativity and enhanced innovation, which leads to enhanced product development and more successful marketing to different types of customers. It equally affords the organization the opportunity of an enhanced abilities to compete in global markets whiles it allows for employees to feel a sense of belonging which increases their commitment to the organization and allow for unique contributions.

Equity

The quest for leaders to create more equity within their organizations by embracing and celebrating differences is critical for business success. The question is, does the organization realizes the need for additionality that can be brought by consciously searching for equity and inclusion?

According to Sadhguru, a seminal thinker on transformational leadership admitted that, when leaders truly are inclusive, they would naturally have an insight about everything. Then the right kind of people will naturally gather around the leader when they see a certain level of integrity in him or her. Indeed, to truly ensure equity and excellence, there needs to be a shift in thinking, mindset and systems.

Speaking about the concept of equity lays emphasis to fair treatment, equality of opportunity and fairness in access to information and resources for all. To achieve equity in the organization is to build the organization on respect and dignity. It is clear that the promotion of equity in organization supports the nurturing of excellence when more diverse pool of perspectives is available, therefore greater room for innovation.

In summary, to hold emphasis on intentional leadership inclusion practice is to push the discussion that, building inclusive leadership can assist organizations facing rapid demographic changes in their local consumer market and labor pool helps employee work and understand one another better. Diversity, equity and empathy inclusion initiatives therefore must start with the commitment from the top leadership to change the existing culture to succeed.

Discovery….Thinking solutions, shaping visions.

Written By:

Frank Adu Anim in Collaboration with Dr. Genevieve Pearl Duncan Obuobi (Banker/SME Consultant and Leadership Strategist)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The writer is a holder from University of Ghana and GIMPA BA in Political Science and MBA Finance respectively. He is the CEO and Strategic Partner of AQUABEV Investment and Discovery Consulting Group. He is an Executive Director and the Lead Coach in Leadership Development and best Business Management practices for Discovery Leadership Masterclass. He has authored several articles in Leadership, Business Strategies and Organizational Planning under Discovery Leadership Series. Frank has significant experience in Business Development, Strategy and Finance, Deal Origination, Transaction Advisory, Investment Consulting and General administration. He has interest mentoring and coaching young business entrepreneurs through Discovery Business and Entrepreneurship Program. He is a nominee for Global Excellence Business Leader Award by the Swiss School of Business and Management, Switzerland.

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