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4 effective ways to be a more inclusive leader

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Our country’s “diversity” conversation started when our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution. “Diversity” then became a common business term in the 1990's and has evolved from being “the right thing to do” into a business strategy that will positively impact the bottom line.

Most diversity efforts focus on hiring women or others who are underrepresented in corporate leadership roles to help achieve business goals. But here’s the problem: Merely hiring for diversity doesn’t work. We also need to create more inclusive workplaces.

According to “Inclusive Leadership: The View from Six Countries” by Catalyst, “being excluded can impair performance on cognitive tasks, reduce the ability to problem solve in the face of difficulty and may reduce creativity.” Unfortunately, when a diverse employee feels excluded and fails to live up to her potential, the word in the organization becomes, “We tried, but women [or other minority candidates] just don’t do well in our business.”

True inclusion goes beyond making an employee feel as though she is included and belongs. It means respecting her for her uniqueness. To nurture an inclusive environment, leaders at all levels must find ways to value the diversity each individual brings to the team, while finding common ground. This balance can increase innovation, productivity and engagement.

Inclusion expert Sandra Bushby encourages companies to weave inclusion into their organizational fabric. “Creation of an inclusive culture focuses less on a set of activities or techniques and more on the creation of an enabling atmosphere of relationships,” she told me. “Healthy relationships of mutual respect and honest communication are generally more dependable and sustainable, and produce results for the organization.”

Catalyst identified these four key leadership behaviors that are critical to creating an inclusive environment.

1. Empower others. Enable direct reports to develop and excel.

2. Humility. Admit mistakes. Learn from criticism and different points of view. Acknowledge and seek contributions of others to overcome one’s limitations.

3. Courage. Put personal interests aside to achieve what needs to be done. Act on convictions and principles even when it requires personal risk taking.

4. Encourage accountability. Demonstrate confidence in direct reports by holding them responsible for performance they can control.

We’ve seen that leaders who have charisma, are able to promote themselves, speak up first and talk the longest are often the most successful. But these characteristics don’t necessarily support an inclusive environment. What will create that inclusive environment is humility, being open to stepping back and allowing others to be in the limelight and ready to self-sacrifice for those on the team.

Michele Hanson was the founding Board president of the Network of Executive Women. She is CEO of ExecuInsight LLC, a resource for executive-level coaching.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.