Inclusive Leadership: a new imperative to succeed in today’s world

20 March 2018 Brijesh Mongia

Inclusive Leadership   Blog

Inclusive leadership is the critical skill needed for success in today`s world. A vital and powerful capability that gets the best out of a diverse organisation and of each individual. We need this to navigate and succeed amidst the complex and fast changing web of interdependencies we deal with.  

Today’s leaders need every player in their team performing at their peak, while the definition of “team” should be broader than ever. We have to realize that the interdependencies we rely on to achieve our goals, span many people e.g. our immediate team, the broader organization, customers, suppliers, partners and advisors or stakeholders. Some we interact with daily and others occasionally but even those rare interactions may be critical. 

"Diversity is a measure. Inclusion is a skill." 

Inclusive Leadership is not new to us, in P&G. In fact, Diversity & Inclusion has always been a conscious choice for how we do business, serve our consumers and develop talent. We understand that positive diversity measures are just statistics. It is inclusion that truly changes the game, gets the full value out of each individual and creates the environment for them to contribute as authentic selves, at their peak and bring the collective value we need. 

Sharing an authentic belief in diversity

I know from personal experience through 30 years at P&G that having and sharing an authentic belief in diversity is the starting point of the journey to become a truly inclusive leader. Nothing is more important to people than seeing their leader living these values. Demonstrate your passion and belief in diversity with every day inclusive interactions. Engage personally in Diversity initiatives. Have direct involvement in diversity groups, affinity councils, etc. Showcase diverse talent. Advocate for individuals or teams that are delivering results by leveraging diversity. 

Ensure you are being inclusive in tough situations and, most importantly, when things are going wrong. People can feel most abandoned at times of stress. These situations are a true torture test for any leader. The higher the risk and the stakes, the bigger the temptation to revert to the people and decisions you are most at ease with. That’s when leaders need to make sure they lead by example and demonstrate passion for inclusive leadership through their attitudes and behaviors. Show people you are there for them and wanting their input, especially when disruption is at its greatest. They will reward you.

Inclusive leadership needs to be fostered continuously. With an authentic and demonstrable belief in diversity we can create an environment for giving and receiving feedback, whenever we see behaviors that are not inclusive so that we can continually and positively dial up the skill level in this area.

Nurturing disagreement and the courage to change course

It is our role as leaders to question the status quo and encourage everyone to do the same. Staying still in today`s world is not an option. Accessing diverse points of view is vital in creating optimum strategies and plans. An inclusive leader creates an environment where disagreement is viewed positively. I have learned from experience that the more diverse the team, the more debate and disagreement we have and the better the outcome. As leaders, we should create a culture in which the team can hear and understand other people`s points of views or ideas that are different to their own. An environment where it is seen as positive to have the courage to publicly change course when someone else`s idea leads to a better option, or bring competing ideas together to find the better ‘third way’.

To nurture this culture, it is critical to ensure it is safe for our people to dissent. Leaders need to drive understanding that the value of someone`s ideas are not a function of seniority, share of voice or any diversity metric. I have often seen the quiet person or the person with the most different point of view having the breakthrough idea, but all too often going unheard for too long. 

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader " 

-John Quincy Adams-

The greatest enemies of constructive dissent are prejudice and bias, which hold our people back from contributing or having their contributions acted on. Biases such as “the individual with the higher status or length of experience must know better” or “this needs a tough person to handle it” - cue thoughts of physical characteristics. It is not enough to just be aware of these biases. As leaders, we must act to ensure these biases do not lead to people not being listened to or poor decisions particularly in challenging circumstances and when under pressure. As said before, it is in these situations that it is most tempting to go to one familiar person or revert to a known path, while it is exactly then when a different point of view or a fresh idea could be a turning point for the ultimate result. Leaders need to include and embrace all points of view, encourage dissent, and intentionally explore and understand what is the best route forward. 

None of us is as smart as all of us together

Finally, Inclusive leadership is about collaborating with everyone who can help deliver our goals. Increasingly not just with your direct team, but also with a variety of stakeholders within our organization and external partners. None of us is as smart as all of us together when it comes to finding the optimal way. Listening to people, understanding and solving problems collectively, taking advantage of all the diverse experience – this is what makes an inclusive leader successful.

In today’s rapidly changing world amid powerful forces of disruption, leaders will find it impossible to be successful based only on how good they are as individuals. It is how good they are at leveraging their whole teams that will determine if the organizations they lead will be able to succeed. Truly inclusive leaders #PressForProgress to make a difference and build a better world.