If the last fad was for Authentic Leadership (great, until you realise that some people are being totally authentic, even as they harass, bully, or abuse others), then right now it’s all about Inclusive Leadership. I can almost guarantee that if you haven’t heard the term yet, you will.
When you look at the capabilities of the inclusive leader – a self aware and non-judgemental listener, who seeks out and includes opinions and values different to their own – it’s clear that these are desirable leadership skills for the complex challenges facing many organisations today.
That’s because complex problems have no easy answers, and organisations need leaders able to create an environment that fosters reflection and learning, not just planning and doing.
And so, whilst you won’t find any argument from us as to the need for Inclusive Leadership, there’s a risk in excluding the less obvious drivers of inclusion from the conversation.
For example, I recently ran an event for the NHS, where the Chief Exec of an organisation stood up in front of the room and asked everyone to be bold and speak up. I had to remind this leader that simply asking people to speak up was not likely to make them feel any more safe to do so!
So whilst positive intentions and encouraging words probably make leaders feel better, to foster genuine inclusion the leader must understand the need to create Psychological Safety – which refers to the conditions where people feel safe enough to take risks, speak up, disagree, and share personal vulnerabilities.
Leaders who focus on creating Psychological Safety understand that the ‘climate’ of a particular team or function is shaped by more than just their social interactions with others. For example the way that people are incentivised and rewarded, or cultural norms such as the way that meetings are conducted, all impact the level of Psychological Safety. Even the stories about leaders that get told (good or bad) impact the way that people relate to one another – whether that leader is present in the conversation or not.
Understanding these non-behavioural ‘levers’ – power and hierarchy; systems and reward structures; stories and culture – that affect Psychological Safety are essential for leaders who are serious about creating an inclusive environment.
Furthermore, it’s vital to recognise that everyone experiences Psychological Safety, irrespective of position or power. Many senior leaders at the top of organisations still struggle with feeling Psychologically Safe themselves. If these people don’t feel the permission (from themselves or elsewhere) to take risks, voice concerns and be vulnerable, it’s hard to imagine that other people will.
By working with this concept of Psychological Safety, leaders are better equipped to understand the barriers and personal challenges that may stop them creating an inclusive environment.
Ultimately our sense is therefore that these things can – and should – fit together. Understanding what Psychological Safety is, why it matters and how it is created is really the foundation for developing the skills of a truly effective Inclusive Leader.
We use diagnostic tools, one-to-one coaching, workshops and bespoke training to help leaders and organisations build Psychological Safety – chat to us if you’d like to know more.