Essential Steps to Inclusive Leadership

Today’s leaders are drifting further and further from the hero model of yesteryear where a ‘boss’ barked orders from the hierarchy’s summit to minions who obediently scuttled about below.

The best of our modern leaders are inclusive leaders.

An inclusive leader puts themself at the centre of everything rather than above it. They are ears as much as mouths, oiler of cogs rather than keeper of the keys. They delegate, admit to not knowing everything and create effective team environments where challenge is encouraged and group innovation is favoured.

What Caused this Change?

Has demand finally outstripped the productivity that can be directed by a single mind as we hurtle on the thrilling spin of progress?

Or has the sudden rise of the young start-ups choreographed a new way of working that suits the millennial context?

Whatever has caused it, there’s now more thinking, talking and researching going on to discover what makes a good leader in today’s world. So, what have we discovered, and how can it help you to lead better?

A diversity of ideas is overlooked by companies at their own cost.

Diversity, Diversity, Diversity.

Diversity is not just about having an office full of people of different nationalities and ages. Diversity extends to your customers, consumers, followers and fans, but also extends to the adaptive learning required to work across with different cultures and access international markets. Basically, what works in one place with one group of people won’t necessarily work elsewhere.

Yet the most crucial part of this for today’s leaders, and most often overlooked, is the diversity of ideas. This term comes from Juliet Bourke (Deloitte Australia) and essentially means that, in order to succeed, you must create a melting pot of innovation and ideas.

If we have learned anything over the last two decades, it is that no-one stands still anymore and nothing is really built to last. Like a shark, we must always be swimming forward, forward, ever forward. Constantly generating new ideas through a range of creative minds ensures that a diversity of ideas is maintained and we are never caught out for complacency.

This is supported by the leader who sits in the middle rather than up above. The leader’s role transforms from dictator to provocateur, stimulator and facilitator. The formerly obedient minions become inspired artists and inventors that drive a company that couldn’t be conceived by a single mind.

A successful leader knows that every detail matters.

Attention in the Detail.

Being at the centre means having your hands in the earth, without necessarily getting them dirty. Steve Jobs was an expert at this. It’s all about detail. From Alex Ferguson to Steve Jobs, examples of this proliferate our society.

Fred Vogelstein’s book Battle of the Titans contains such an anecdote. Vic Gundotra, who ran Google’s iPhone division (when the two companies still got on), reveals this hawk-like eye of one of this generation’s great leaders.

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, called Gundotra on a Sunday from home. He told him: “I’ve been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I’m not happy. The second O in Google doesn’t have the right yellow gradient.” Was this Jobs being unnecessarily pedantic or displaying the kind of attention that a truly attentive leader requires? Gundotra argues the latter.

Working for a leader that looks that closely at their work fills an employee with both a sense of pressure and appreciation. A crucial outcome is that everyone feels seen by the leader. In a world where we are in a daily fight for recognition, attending to the details is a way of making sure every employee is valued.

And when it comes to what details to focus on, the smaller the better. As Gundotra says, this should include: “[e]ven shades of yellow. On a Sunday”

It takes more than just many hands to make a great leadership.

The Six C’s of Leadership.

Inclusive leadership requires a holistic approach. It requires improvement across a range of self-reflexive disciplines that allow you to see the genuine context that you are leading, and the destination you wish to head towards.

Juliet Bourke defines six important traits (the ‘Six C’s’) that are crucial for a successful, inclusive leader to nurture:
• Commitment,
• Courage,
• Cognisance of bias,
• Curiosity,
• Cultural intelligence, and
• Collaboration.

To learn more about each of these traits, and why you should want to develop them, take a listen to Bourke’s excellent Deloitte Press Room podcast. They may feel exposing, but they are the keys to effective inclusive leadership.


Reduce your choices to conserve brain power for when it really matters.


Saving Your Decision-making Energy.

Finally, here’s some sound leadership advice, whatever type of leader you wish to be.

Making decisions, especially those that can lead to binary outcomes and fortunes, is an exhausting pursuit. You’ll probably know when you personally aren’t at your decision-making best and plan your schedule and environment accordingly. For me, it is early afternoon in an energised space or in the evening in quiet solitude.

Two of our most important leaders have shown how to take this optimising of decision-making one step further. They’ve removed choice from as many of the decisions that simply don’t matter enough to waste energy on. Basically, save your decision-making energy for when it really matters.

These leaders are President Obama and Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

While in office, Obama wore only grey or blue suits. Zuckerberg is rarely seen out of a grey t-shirt. By imposing this simplicity of uniform, they avoid ‘decision fatigue’ by making the trivial aspects of their days as untaxing as possible.

Obama says: “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

Stay focussed and trim any excess from your day, so when it matters, you can make the call that’s needed. The right one.

Time to focus on the leader you want to be.

You, the Leader.

Every leader, every context and every goal requires a different type of leadership. A good leader adapts to these situations one at a time; a great leader creates the environment in which the required diversity of leadership styles exist all at once.

Whatever type of leader you are or wish to be, consider taking on lessons from today’s leaders as you cut your own unique path.


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