Inclusivity Extends to Every Member of Your Team
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Inclusivity Extends to Every Member of Your Team

How to build trust in your employees and self-awareness in yourself.

I’ve spent thousands of hours with hundreds of leaders thinking about how they can best develop and leverage the talented humans on their teams to accomplish business goals and meet individual professional, and sometimes personal, goals. We discuss topics such as development, communication, building rapport, and giving tough feedback.  

Most of the time, these conversations start with a leader seeking counsel on employee or team development. Recently, leaders have been asking a slightly different question. “Stephanie, I want to be a more inclusive leader. Can you help me?”

The increased interest in inclusive leadership should come as no surprise. What might surprise you is that my answer is similar to the answer when leaders are dealing with a challenging employee, bringing on a new team member, or developing a high-potential leader. All of it is about inclusive leadership, the ability to lead a team of people who are different—with different needs, experiences, backgrounds, learning styles, capabilities. Being an inclusive leader is not a DEI exercise, it’s a leadership requirement. If you aren’t able to understand and then address the needs of individuals on your team, be prepared for employees to leave (including those you want to stay)and frustration from those who do stay but feel undervalued.  

Inclusive leaders value and seek out the unique perspectives and experiences each person brings to the team. They understand that their role is to create space for team members to feel valued, respected, and heard and to generate more innovation, better decisions, and strong results.

Let’s start with the basics. There are (at least) two fundamental principles of inclusive leadership:

Trust: This is the foundation of any meaningful relationship. Trusted leaders garner commitment and loyalty from their teams. These leaders may not always be liked, but team members know they will be honest, fair, and follow through.  

Self-Awareness: Taking the time to understand who you are as a leader helps you understand your leadership impact—the mark you leave after you have engaged with a team member or made an unpopular decision. Knowing your biases—who you prefer to work with, what you learned from your mistakes—can provide invaluable data. Self-aware leaders admit mistakes. They listen. They ask for feedback and act on it. And they speak with humility and confidence—yep, you can have both!

Here are three activities you can do today that build trust and self-awareness: 

Exercise 1: Build individual relationships with your team members  

Every member of your team has a unique combination of interests, skills, motivations, experiences, and goals. Even if two team members are similar in age, gender, or race, it does not mean their goals are the same.  

Activity: Meet with each person on your team on a regular basis. Get to know who they are, not what you perceive them to be. Address their needs with transparency and intention. For example, if you have an employee who asks about a promotion but isn’t ready, tell them—and offer the steps to achieve their goal.  

Exercise 2: Reflect on your leadership impact

Take time to think about the decisions you’ve made as a people leader and how they align with your stated values and beliefs. Growing as a leader requires honest analysis of your choices and the thinking behind them.

Activity: Ask yourself:

  1. How would I describe my leadership impact? How do I know?  
  2. What are my values and beliefs as a leader? 
  3. What do I want to be known for? Am I on track?
  4. When I think about my team, how do they lead? What behaviors do they reward? 
  5. Am I promoting/recognizing leaders who demonstrate my values or my company’s values? 

Exercise 3: Address issues directly

This is a tough one for many leaders. Addressing issues head-on requires getting comfortable with conflict and navigating opposing viewpoints. Leaders can typically handle business disagreements, but the conflicts that feel interpersonal or involve DEI can be challenging. Remember, issues that are ignored will fester, so step into them with intention.  

Activity: When you’re faced with an issue or concern around diversity, equity, or inclusion, take the time to understand what is happening by asking questions. Listen intently. Do not personalize what is not personal. Once you understand the root cause, work with your team member and other key stakeholders to address the issue at its core.

Remember, your own biases will affect how you build relationships, who you listen to, and the issues you choose to address. To be a truly inclusive leader, you have to be willing to confront truths about yourself you may not want to see. Your ability to understand what makes you tick will allow you to lead with more honesty and clarity. It will also allow you to better address the needs of each unique team member. Honored, respected, and valued employees stick around—and do great work.

Stephanie Pierce is a connector, coach, and founder of two Minneapolis-based businesses, KJP Consulting, a leadership development firm, and stephpierce.com, a community of diverse women inspiring each other to do the work they love. She co-hosts the podcast Her Next Chapter.

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