I’ve had the honor to be a part of some really great life-changing projects, events, and situations in my career. When asked about my proudest moments as a leader the stories typically go down a road of inclusion and helping break barriers for others to succeed in new ways. I simply love helping others meet and exceed their own personal and professional expectations.
Being inclusive not only accelerates your career, it also enhances your business and elevates others in the process. Today, we’ll dive into a couple of different ways to think about inclusion, how to care for it, and some of the common traits that are found in these types of leaders.
Inclusive leaders think about diversity in terms of demographics
The initial place that many people go to when they think about diversity is demographics. This can be a great starting point for a larger journey for you, your team, and your organization.
From a forward-facing perspective, your team should mirror the customers and community that you are serving. Reflect on those two groups. Does your team look similar or do you have some work to do? I once had a leader that recognized the gap on their team but didn’t know how to fill it. They weren’t getting a diverse group of people coming in on their application process. My advice to them was to connect with that community of people and meet them where they are instead of expecting them just to show up at your door. Mix up your recruiting efforts; how you publicize an opening and change your approach.
From an inward-facing perspective, look at the make-up of the team or organization. are there more women at the bottom of the chain and more men at the top? At what point does the dynamic flip? Run the same exercise from a cultural perspective. It can be an extremely eye-opening exercise that brings some strong data points as you begin to tell the story of the journey that needs to be taken.
Inclusive leaders think about diversity in terms of inclusiveness
An inclusive leader knows that being fully inclusive is more than a photo-op, or just getting the right mix of people on board. It’s the power of diversity of thought that really pushes productivity, creativity, and retention rates forward. Companies that rate high in diversity of thought also lower their risk of turnover by 30% (Deloitte Study 2018).
In order to foster, nurture, and grow an environment of inclusiveness, focus on these four things:
Fairness and Respect: People need to know that they will be respected in their work and that their opinion matters. They also don’t want to see signs of favoritism in projects or teams. People want to feel like they have an equal chance to be wildly successful in their roles.
Feeling like they are valued and belong: Associates won’t stick around long if they don’t feel like they can be their true authentic self. It’s not good for them or for your team if they feel like they have to put on a face or hide who they are. They desire to showcase their unique self and feel a part of the larger team.
Safety: In order for your people to be their most innovative, vulnerable, and open they need to feel safe. They desire a sense that what they share will not be used against them, impact them in a negative way, and are supported to openly share.
Empowered to grow: Once they feel safe, and respected and they know that they are valued, helping them gain a true sense of empowerment and then supporting that empowerment into real action is the next step on the journey.
Combining the sightline to demographics with the power of diversity of thought makes for a compelling team that will be highly effective and one that others will want to be a part of.
Traits of an inclusive leader
All great inclusive leaders share some common traits among them. Here are some areas to think about as you work to become more inclusive.
Curiosity: Curiosity in a leader is a great all-around trait to have because it ensures that they stay relevant as times change and have a personal and professional growth mindset. Curiosity leads an inclusive leader to seek out different ideas and experiences from others.
Cultural Intelligence: This is an understanding that your worldview is not the same as others and the ability to seek other perspectives for a larger understanding. I recently saw this in action at a local government meeting where one group dismissed another’s concerns. They felt that since the subject at hand wasn’t offensive to them, then by default it shouldn’t be offensive to anyone else. It was an obvious show of a lack of cultural intelligence.
Collaboration: This leader is aware of gaps in representation and is proactive to help fill those holes in meetings and projects. Are the right people at the table?
Commitment: Being an inclusive leader often requires a culture change, and that is something that takes time. These leaders are committed to a long-term vision, instead of seeing it as a check-the-box project that you move away from.
Courage: Along with commitment comes courage. It will take courage to step in a call out a situation, the current landscape, or have a difficult conversation with a co-worker.
Self-Awareness: We all have biases. Have the self-awareness to know what some of those are or where you have a tendency to let your guard down or go on auto-pilot is important to lower those blind spots.
Self-evaluation time! On a scale of 1-5, how would you rank yourself in each one? (Some categories may be difficult to self-evaluate) Ask a close partner or advisor about how they would rank you in each category to get a good understanding of opportunities for your own personal growth.
No matter where you are in your career or organization, you can become an inclusive leader and have a lasting impact on others.
Affording yourself self-compassion as a leader is essential for your personal and professional growth. Studies from around the world show self-compassion’s power to lower stress and anxiety while building resilience to successfully weather life’s challenges/.
Understanding your roadblocks to self-compassion
It’s important to have a good sense of what self-compassion is in order to get a firm understanding of how you can identify what’s holding you back. Self-compassion isn’t self-esteem. It’s not simply how you think about yourself, it’s really more about looking at yourself from the same perspective that you look at others.
Here are some of the reasons and roadblocks that you may have in place that keep you from that perspective:
You may feel the need to be harder on yourself in order to lead at the highest level of valued-based leadership.
You may feel like you don’t deserve the same break that you give others.
You may not feel like you need the same compassion and care that you offer others. There may be a deep level of feeling like you are better than the other person without even knowing it.
You may not see the disconnect because you don’t naturally reach out with care and compassion to others, so you don’t do so for yourself either.
Mindfulness and Compassion together for success
Kristen Neff describes mindfulness and compassion as “two wings of a bird” working together to bring you to new heights. I love that visual and it really drives home the point that you can’t have one without the other.
Mindfulness is the reflective focus that you have for yourself. You take in your thoughts and feelings without the extra baggage of judgment or condemnation.
Without having a healthy mindfulness approach to yourself it’s hard to have self-compassion. Think about this; how can you be kind and show care to yourself if you constantly judging and putting yourself down?
Put it into action
Here are some ways that you can apply mindfulness and self-compassion in your life today.
Be realistic with yourself. With all the competing priorities these days, you are going to fail and miss the mark. Understand that it’s ok.
Be a friend to yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to be a narcissist. Instead of going to the extreme of making yourself the main character in everyone’s story, be mindful to think about yourself as you would a friend. What advice or guidance would you give them if they were in the same situation?
Take a mindfulness break. My latest smartwatch came with a mindfulness reminder app. At first, I took it as a distraction, but now I do take advantage of those reminders when I can. It’s helpful to refocus during those tough times, and great to be reflective and thankful during the good times.
Self-compassion in leadership is a journey
Early in my leadership, I was extremely hard on myself and how I led others. If my leader came in and gave me some needed criticism and feedback, it would wreck me. The feedback was the right thing, but I would not give myself the same opportunities to learn and grow through missed expectations that I allowed for others. I’m certainly much better about it today. Criticism doesn’t destroy my day like it used to. That doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out or have it totally under control. I still get frustrated with myself when I shouldn’t and I push my body too far instead of giving it the rest it needs.
Nobody’s perfect. Know that your self-compassion is a journey and not a destination. You’ll have off moments and days just like the rest of us. Understand that it’s a part of your growth process and be intentional in mindfulness and self-kindness when you hit those challenging moments.
Your people need and deserve your care and compassion. Give yourself the same level of care that you do others so that you can be and more effective leader, friend, and family member.
The strongest people in life are the ones that are comfortable saying ‘I don’t know. -Patrick Lencioni
As a young boy growing up in the ’80s and ’90s there were plenty of heroes for kids to latch on to and look up to for leadership. While there were great leaders like Princess Leia, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, or even Optimus Prime, there was a lot of strength exhibited, but not too much vulnerability.
Today, employees and customers are demanding transparency from organizations and leaders alike. Portraying an exaggerated level of strength and power will not connect in a lasting way. Leaders and companies can longer hide behind policies and procedures without relational consequences from others.
So how should we leverage vulnerability in a way that feels real and authentic without giving everything away?
What is Vulnerability in leadership?
Brene Brown describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” It doesn’t mean that you have to immediately lay all your transgressions, personal failings, and fears out there for all to see. It does mean that you should let others see those moments when appropriate. It’s letting people you see authentically navigate uncertainty. It’s exposing some emotion to let people see that you are real. It’s installing trust and taking a risk by sharing things about yourself and what you are going through. Vulnerability is about being true to yourself and allowing another person to see into your personal journey.
How vulnerability impacts your life and those around you
Vulnerability is a sought out trait in personal and professional relationships. Here are some ways that it can impact you.
It can help lower turnover at work: People desire purpose and connectivity in the work that they do. (PTB 312: 4 ways to find purpose in work) The stronger the emotional tie that the employee has with their work, the less likely it is that they are going to go somewhere else. Leaning into your vulnerability furthers your connection with other employees in a meaningful way. Vulnerability makes it less about you and more about others, giving them a chance to shine and be recognized for their hard work.
It paves the way for authentic relationships: Think about the relationships that you have that are deeper than a “How are you?” Most likely they are meaningful to you because they feel real. They are authentic. Vulnerability paves the way for those long-lasting authentic relationships. It’s really difficult for relationships to care deep meaning if there isn’t some layer of vulnerability being shown from both parties.
It fast-tracks trust: Lots of companies exist with the sole purpose of providing teams and companies bonding experiences to build trust. A healthy level of vulnerability can fast-track trust just as quickly as a high ropes course or trust fall exercise. Being vulnerable with others shows them that there is a safe place to store their trust in you.
It breaks down barriers to innovation and creativity: Both innovation and creativity can be a fickle and challenging thing to manifest in a team environment. You can make distractions and barriers smaller by being vulnerable and authentic with others. When you admit your mistakes and acknowledge that you don’t hold all the answers, it allows others to step in a new and exciting way. Leveraging vulnerability as a strength also helps you acknowledge others’ achievements and take your ego out of the equation. This of course only helps fuel more creativity.
Tips to be more vulnerable with others
Being vulnerable to others can be difficult. Putting up a proverbial shield around yourself can make you feel protected. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. You may be unknowingly singling yourself out in a bad way from your peers and from the team that you serve. As competition heats up in business and in keeping great talent, it’s important to take small steps in order to be more vulnerable to others.
Don’t take yourself too seriously: Whether you are stepping into a new role, or a new company it can be tempting to try to impress everyone. Drop the veil of perfection and let your guard down a little bit with others. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with others. Have a great time while celebrating with others.
Share your personal journey with others: Hopefully, you have a good sense of the personal areas that you need to work on to grow as a person and leader. If you don’t, ask your team, they certainly know what those areas are! Even though they know your growth areas, it’s important for you to share those with others and tell them about your path to growth. It show’s your awareness of the topic and your willingness to discuss those with others will create a stronger personal bond.
Admit your mistakes and check the ego: Easy to say and often harder to do, admitting to your mistakes with others is an important part of being vulnerable. It also helps keep your ego in check as well. If you struggle here, start small and keep yourself accountable as you grow to own up to larger mistakes.
Continue to self-educate: A phrase my team uses often is “self-educate” This typically happens when one of us admits that we don’t know the answer yet to a challenge, but we commit to learning more and landing a positive outcome. I use this phrase just as much as everyone else! Acknowledge your knowledge limits and then be proactive in growing and learning. Something new and positive has always come out of the other end of one of these statements for us.
Great leaders understand the power of vulnerability. That leverage that power, without manipulating it, to grow personal relationships, builds trust and long-term buy-in from their team, and helps themselves stand out from the competition. Be a servant leader that is vulnerable in your daily walk in order to lift others up.
We should act with humility when things go wrong….and then make them right.
I get things wrong sometimes. Unfortunately, I’m not a perfect leader. There are times when I miss the mark and other times that I’ve outright blown it. None of us are perfect.
There are going to be times when you drop the ball as a leader and your team falls short. There are going to be occasions where you’ll have a big miss as well. It’s just a part of life! When you disappoint a customer or client it’s almost always in one of these three categories: Operational breakdown, service blunders, and widespread tragedies.
Three types of service failures that deserve an apology When you disappoint a customer or client it’s almost always in one of these three categories: Operational breakdown, service blunders widespread tragedies.
Operational breakdowns: These types of service failures occur when there is a breakdown in the process that causes frustration for your customer. Not having the right product for a sale, service, or product not arriving when promised or a policy that gets in the way of service are just a few examples.
Service blunders: We’ve all experienced these. People say one thing and then do another or they don’t answer your communications in a timely manner. Another obvious example is how a person treats the customer or client.
Widespread Tragedy: These are certainly out of your control. Think natural disasters, or a tragic loss on the team. While you can’t control when or how these occur, how you react and accept responsibility does matter immensely to the customer.
These types of service failures don’t just apply to your business life. Operational breakdowns happen as you lose control of your time management, service blunders happen as you drop the ball on a commitment and we all go through tragedies in life.
Tips to apologize in an authentic way
It’s easy to say the words, “I’m sorry.” It’s more difficult to believe it yourself sometimes, much less convincing the other person that your apology is truly heartfelt.
Have a swift response: A disgruntled person only gets angrier if they feel like they are being ignored. Think about a time when you experienced a service issue and no one gave you the attention you needed. You likely felt your patience wear thin pretty quickly
Show humility and empathy: This is one of the key actions to turn around a bad situation. If your apology is authentic, you’ll be on a much quicker road to resolving the situation. if your apology is perceived as fake or just lip service, then the situation may escalate even further.
Accept responsibility: Avoiding responsibility is one of the quickest ways to dig yourself into a deeper hole with the person you let down. Take responsibility to fix the problem even if it wasn’t your fault. Own the issue that is being communicated to you.
Provide an honest explanation: Truthfully share how the failure in service or commitment occurred while avoiding making excuses. Don’t hide behind a policy; it’s an easy out that no one likes to hear.
Extend an olive branch: Right the situation and rebuild the relationship. You should feel empowered to take care of concerns and complaints as they happen. If you don’t feel empowered, let your leader know so the two of you can work on a potential solution together. Do what needs to be done within reason to amend the mistake.
Instead of running away from responsibility and trying to push blame elsewhere, step up and own the mistake. Apologize with sincerity and authenticity and work to make things right with the other person. This is a lost skill in today’s public eye. Stand out above the crowd by turning your apologies into a strong point of your leadership.
Feedback in life and in work is essential for our personal growth. It’s important for you as a leader, friend, and family member to share feedback that adds value to the person that you are giving it to.
Equally important to the actual feedback that you give is the setting in which you give it. I know I have been guilty of mentally shutting down in the past when the feedback was given at the worst time and delivered without much thought put into it. I’ve also mishandled giving feedback because I was more concerned with the delivery instead of how it was delivered.
When to give feedback in a group setting
There are times when giving feedback in a group setting is your ideal option
More than one person on the team was involved in the problem or issue that the feedback is about.
The issue involves the majority of the team.
People want to hear feedback from the source and not 2nd or 3rd hand from someone else. Do your best to give feedback directly to the group that is involved so that they can hear it straight from you and seek any further clarifications.
When the team falls short, a coach huddles the team up and talks through the play. In the military, your squad or platoon is often given feedback together because of how close they work together towards a goal. At home, maybe the kids collectively didn’t meet your expectations. When the group is involved, share it with them as a whole.
When to give feedback one-on-one
There are other times when giving individual feedback is the appropriate setting.
The feedback is meant for an individual
The feedback is of personal nature
People hate it when their time is wasted. When you pull in a whole team to give feedback in a general way that was caused by one person, you aren’t being effective with anyone. The ones not involved will see this as a waste of their time and it will hurt your credibility. The person that actually needs the feedback, may either be embarrassed, which hurts your trust level, or they feel anonymous and don’t take your feedback to heart. You lose all-around in this scenario!
Have the managerial courage to have a one-on-one conversation with the person and address them directly. If the feedback is personal in nature, always take time to address it directly instead of using someone else to give the feedback.
Be sure to give one-on-one feedback in a setting that is quiet and non-distracting if possible and away from other curious ears.
When not to give feedback
Some of the best feedback I have ever given was not actually giving it to the other person. Counterintuitive? It may sound that way, but you need to check the reason behind the need for feedback.
You don’t want to let your emotions fully drive feedback. You’ll only offer feedback that pushes the person away, potentially damaging a relationship and giving your feedback a 0% chance of acceptance. Think about all the viral videos of people in full rage mode yelling at someone in public. Obviously, emotions have gotten the best of the person, and without a doubt, whatever they say is not going to change the situation for the better. Perhaps you are not going to go viral in fits of anger, but your emotions are clouding your thoughts on feedback. Take time to settle down, reflect and then determine if the feedback is worth giving.
We have said before that it’s important to give coaching and feedback as close to the issues or occurrence as possible. There will be times where you’ll want to give instant feedback, but maybe you take a step back and see the fuller picture and consider what else is going on. Feedback given from a very narrow perspective is rarely taken well and actioned on even less than that.
Reflect on the why behind your feedback. Are you giving it to make the person better or because it makes you feel better? If it’s for yourself, it may be best to not give it at all.
Think about your feedback and the setting that you are giving it to the other person. Maximize your gift to others by giving it in a thoughtful and caring way in the right setting. They will be more likely to appreciate it and take it to heart.