Inclusive leadership: leading inclusion through listening
Monday, June 5, 2023
RightBrains is proud to feature thought leadership pieces and role model stories of experts within the industry, and is honoured to open the floor to Jos Groen this month. Jos equips leaders and management teams with practical guidance for creating a more open organisational culture to stimulate more creativity, inclusivity and joy for better results in a constantly changing business landscape and increasing shareholder demands. He also focuses on change management, executive coaching, team building, and management consulting. We asked him: how can leaders focus on honing the skill of listening to promote the inclusion of diverse voices? Jos unpacks his thoughts:
Table of contents:
- What is inclusive leadership?
- Inclusive leadership and listening
- Practicing inclusive leadership
What is inclusive leadership?
Inclusive leadership refers to a leadership style that fosters a work environment where diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences are valued and integrated. Inclusive leaders promote a culture of respect, equity, and belonging, ensuring that all individuals feel welcomed and valued for their unique contributions.
Inclusive leadership and listening
As an inclusive leader, are you prepared to include all voices in your decisions, plans and actions? In other words, do you really listen intently to everyone, or do you only hear the confident employees who drown out the soft-spoken? It’s tempting to limit yourself to the vocalists, because it’s often the quickest way to complete an action and move forward. But, unfortunately, only responding to the vocal employees excludes others. And I see this happening in practice so often.
Believe it or not, but research by Deloitte indicated that behaviours of leaders can drive up to 70% percentage points of difference in setting inclusive culture. According to the research, the goal should be to create workplaces that leverage diversity thinking because it is a well-spring of creativity, enhances innovation, and enables groups to spot and reduce risks. Lastly, it smooths the implementation of decisions by creating buy-in and trust. In short, my take-away is this: diversity thinking is critical – and listening is how we get the ball rolling as inclusive leaders. If you want to create a diverse environment within your organisation, it is important that everyone has a voice -- also the minority groups. And this is why I am a stout supporter of RightBrains, who helps to increase and retain women in the field of digital technology, thereby adding more diverse voices to a traditionally male-dominated industry.
Winner of the RightBrains Leadership & Diversity Award in 2017, Mimoent Haddouti, Chief Information Security Officer at Rabobank, articulates this sentiment quite well: “Diversity and inclusion are critical for teams to succeed. It is amazing to see how much can change in only a short time when inclusive leaders commit to change.”
Practicing inclusive leadership
Personally, I had to take a conscious step towards leveraging the power of inclusive leadership when I was responsible for an IT-organisation in the field of software development. The organisation was performing poorly and people were not being managed by strong, effective and transparent leadership. Consequently, there was a culture of mistrust, inequality, ambiguity and low self-confidence – and people were not enjoying the culture. Embracing inclusion ended up being one of the game-changers for this organisation.
It does something to employees when you find that the leader is genuinely willing to listen to you. Not to hear, but to listen. Even, or perhaps especially -- those employees who are naturally less inclined to speak up and express themselves in a group. I noticed that in my approach, I could consciously make time and consideration for the more introverted employees. This starts with a personal approach and a sincere intention in the contact, driven by curiosity in people’s passion and potential. When an employee feels heard and safe, ideas and suggestions come up naturally. And I must honestly say that those very ideas contributed enormously to accelerating change and developing new ideas for improvement.
In an article that I authored, titled ‘Opening up to leadership talent’, I delve into passion as a catalyst in terms of performance. What it comes down to is that passion and performance can go hand in hand. Listening can help to spark passion. That’s why opening up an organisation to embrace leadership talent is critical to the future—not just to your organisations in general, but to your role as a director of it specifically. The process begins with you. Exploring the pathway to openness and inclusive leadership takes courage and curiosity. But it also leads to great ideas, new possibilities, and amazing results.
I would like to invite all leaders to consciously think and act inclusively. Only when you invite all perspectives to contribute will you arrive at the right decisions, actions and results. Make inclusion non-negotiable and hone the skill of listening. No matter how difficult. Openness takes courage!