How To Be An Inclusive Leader
Lessons on leadership from our Emerging Leaders' Programme

Our Emerging Leaders’ Programme is an intensive development programme for high potential diverse talent. Alongside practical advice on building confidence and driving your own development, one of the key themes across the programme is on how to become an inclusive leader, and therefore a better leader. While barriers faced in the workplace sometimes differ between minority groups, often having faced barriers themselves, minority talent have a unique perspective on overcoming and addressing systemic bias  in business. This affords minority talent the unique opportunity to ameliorate such challenges for others.

However, the personal and business benefits of embracing inclusive leadership is not only relevant to those belonging to a minority. Any existing and future leader can, and should, utilise the key tenets of inclusive leadership to develop a more effective management style and drive positive cultural change within their organisations. After all, the evidence is indisputable that more inclusive businesses tend to outperform less inclusive businesses across a range of metrics, including financially. A leader who actively advocates diversity and inclusion will be enhancing both performance and lived experiences for teams and the business as a whole.

Our programmes delve into the key characteristics of inclusive leadership in detail, and work personally with current and future leaders in order to help develop them within their current work structure and leadership responsibilities. However, from delivering the programme with individuals from many different firms and industry sectors, five key recurrent themes have emerged. Having awareness of these can help any leader embrace difference and diversity within their teams and develop more inclusive leadership and higher performing teams.

Keep It Simple and Practical (KISP)

While there is nothing wrong with having bold ambitions for change, it is important to keep any commitments simple and practical to ensure they will be effective – at least at first. Remind yourself constantly of the areas you have influence and sway in and those you don’t.

In order to understand their own influence and those who influence and impact them, inclusive leaders will keep their eyes to the front, beside and behind them on their journey. Ask yourself what falls into your direct control, overall responsibility and general sphere of influence. In each of these areas, think about what you can do within each of them to promote an inclusive approach. It is very easy to get caught in targeting a headline issue for the business which exists outside of your control and influence, when more practical progress can be made targeting smaller issues closer to home.

The headline issues can be tackled as your influence increases to include them.

Engage In Real Listening

Active listening is consistently cited amongst the top desirable skills for inclusive leaders to possess. Genuine listening which takes on the opinions, outlooks and advice of others no matter their seniority, and is contextually and culturally aware will inevitably result in better informed and appropriate decision making across the board.

As a leader there will be many stakeholders you interact with; from board members and external stakeholders to fresh graduates and recruits. Adapting your listening and communications approach for each of these audiences is essential, allowing you to flex your leadership style appropriately depending on context.

Real listening means being actively curious and accepting varied viewpoints and opinions to shape your own.

Reframe Feedback

The neurological response to receiving feedback is the same as being attacked. When an individual is up for appraisal or receiving feedback, they are naturally on high alert. Being aware of this, one of the most important elements of being an inclusive leader is in how feedback is framed and delivered. If the natural response to feedback can be pre-empted and more positively framed then it becomes a constructive tool rather than one your team dreads, fears or resents.

Role Modeling

As a leader you will be someone’s role model in some way, shape or form.

Diverse leaders especially will be assigned the role of role model – people see the possible in those they have affinity with and will take a little bit of everyone to build their own professional style and behaviours. Recognising this as a leader is essential as you will inevitably influence the behaviour and actions of others in how you lead and act. It is therefore valuable to unpick your motivations, morals, code of ethics and values to orient your ‘self-compass’ and demonstrate an absolute congruency between your words and actions.

Bring D&I To The Fore

Leaders have a responsibility to actively champion the tenants of diversity and inclusion at their organisations. Culture is often driven from the top of an organisation, so leadership, from the executive level down to middle management, must be cognizant of their influence in this area.

However, cultivating a diverse and inclusive organisation isn’t just down to interventions and policy. You can weave inclusion into many different situations, your physicality, actions, cognitions and emotions on a daily basis. This includes actions such as challenging inappropriate or non-inclusive behaviour, promoting events related to D&I to your team, deliberately considering the diversity credentials of project teams when putting them together, and actively giving new opportunities to everyone.


These 5 simple lessons barely scratch the surface of what inclusive leadership means, or can achieve, for both individuals and the organisations in which they work.

However, simply becoming more aware of how our daily actions as leaders influence, affect and shape our teams and the wider organisation can be an important step towards supporting and developing diverse talent.

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