This is the final post in a series exploring how to move from “The Age of Engagement” to “Inclusive, Transformational Leadership.” The first three posts can be found here:
Anyone can be a strong, people-centered leader in good times. Truly inclusive leaders stand the test of time, of change, of competitive threats and economic downturns. You’ll need to commit, to hold your position, and, in the words of my late mother, Kaleel Jamison, a pioneer in organizational change, “you’ll need to eat your Wheaties.”
Leading inclusively can feel all-consuming. As an abidingly inclusive leader, you are responsible for caring about everyone—all people—in your organization. You are accountable for their development and access to skills, competencies, and promotional opportunities. You are the keeper of human talent, potential, and growth—for all people, not just those for whom that path has been easy, smooth or relatable to you. You can leave no one behind. And here you thought getting results was the hard part, and now you begin to see that one doesn’t happen without the other.
How do I get there, you ask?
1. Know People
Yes, all of them. It’s your job. Learn people’s names and something about them. Use flash cards with people’s pictures, and practice as if you’re studying for the big exam, because that’s what leadership is, every day—a test of the degree to which you are the person you say you are, who puts people first, who inspires and develops people toward accountability and results. Say “hello” to people, walk the floor, the shop, the globe. Greet people in their manner of greeting; take the time to be someone with whom they can identify. Your presence speaks volumes.
2. Unlock brilliance
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for unlocking the potential in others, which means you will need to experiment, take risks, and learn from mistakes. By “meeting people where they are,” you’ll come to understand the people in your organization more deeply, and you will fuel your own imagination about what becomes possible when you see people’s strengths and possibility.
3. Show People Who You Are
Be you—with your brilliance, and gifts and strengths, and your flat sides, awkwardness—be genuine. It takes courage to be simply who you are, but when leaders try to be something they are not, everyone knows. We all prefer someone show us exactly who they are, someone who is congruent in word and deed, than someone who is performing or trying to fake us out. Having honest and real conversations with the people you manage takes courage. Being transparent when you don’t know the answer, or letting people catch you with your guard down, is what allows people to feel closer to you and join you on the mission. As a leader, people are always watching you. So take a deep breath, relax, and let people see who you are.
By reflecting on these topics and imagining ways to integrate them into your leadership practice, you’ll take your first steps toward inclusive leadership. It's a worthwhile journey—one that will take your work and your relationships to the next level.