By Deb Pine, Executive Director, Center for Women and Business at Bentley University
My first job out of college was working for a consulting firm. My boss there was demanding, but she approached her teams with empathy and authenticity. From her I learned an important lesson about leadership: you can only become a successful leader when people want to work for you. At that first job, I was a part of a team where contributors were engaged and excited to make our projects shine.
Now, having spent years working for a variety of organizations, both big and small, public and private, I have also learned that the most effective leaders are inclusive ones. When you lead from a place of inclusion, your team members are happier and more engaged and the outcomes are more innovative. To become a more inclusive leader, foster a culture that values and supports diversity. Here is my approach:
#1. Make diversity a hiring priority. Research shows that the best teams are diverse teams. By hiring a team of people who are different from you, you are bringing together diversity of thought, background and experience, all of which lead to more innovative outcomes. If you have inherited a team or do not have open positions, seek diversity from within the organization and invite new colleagues from other parts of the company to join your project teams. If that’s not possible, engage with outside consultants and advisors who bring additional perspectives.
#2. Celebrate and leverage individuals’ strengths. Recognize what makes each team member unique, and put each person into roles that play to their strengths. This will lead to a stronger, more engaged team. Studies show that highlighting strengths rather than criticizing weaknesses is key to effective and inclusive leadership that maximizes results.
#3. Be authentic. People on your team are not just professionals—they are multi-dimensional human beings with interests, hobbies, families, aspirations, personal challenges and dreams. Engage them as individuals by both sharing your story and asking appropriate personal questions (and attentively listening to the answers). Not only will you be creating meaningful connections, but you will often learn something that will enhance team projects along the way.
#4. Give all team members a voice. Assembling a diverse team is just the starting point. Even the most talented and diverse team won’t be successful if voices are stifled or thoughts are suppressed. Gender and cultural differences can represent barriers for individuals to fully engage. Invite everyone to the table for idea generation and set ground rules for participation to ensure everyone feels comfortable to contribute equally.
As renowned diversity advocate Vernā Myers puts it, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” As an inclusive leader, you are creating a diverse party and asking everyone on your team to dance. You will attract and engage diverse people who will bring their best selves to work, and, in turn, your organization will produce better results.