Inclusive leadership makes powerful teams

Monday, 23 November 2020

Inclusive leadership isn’t just nice to have. It makes good business sense. Teams with inclusive leaders are more likely to be high performing, have less absenteeism, and higher staff retention rates.

We spoke to EPIC’s Chief Operating Officer Rick Staveley, about how to be an inclusive leader. Rick discussed how listening and reflecting are two very powerful tools when it comes to leading successful teams. Check out his strategies for inclusive leadership below.

What does inclusive leadership mean to you?

Listening with an open mind and heart. What I mean by an open heart is having empathy and putting yourself in the person’s shoes that you’re talking to. Thinking about what the situation looks like from their perspective, with all of the challenges happening in their world; considering that person’s circumstances.

What are the key qualities an inclusive leader must have? 

I believe you have to be a good listener. You’ve got to be empathetic. You’ve got to have morals and principles so that you can lead by example. You’ve got to be able to motivate people. That’s key to good leadership. To motivate people in an appropriate way so that they buy into the end cause of what we want to achieve.

A portait photograph of Rick Staveley
EPIC’s Chief Operating Officer Rick Staveley believes inclusive leadership is the key to success

What inclusive strategies do you practice in your leadership role?

  1. Collaborate with and empower staff. Take them on the journey and ask for their feedback. While this process takes longer, if you just tell staff how it’s going to be, you don’t have their buy-in. To be inclusive, you need to collaborate and inspire. Listen to your team members and motivate them to take ownership of the end goal. Don’t underestimate their ability to want to be involved with the strategizing process. If you’re a junior staff member and you’re listening to a leader talk about doing tasks XYZ to get to a certain position in a year, they may be exposed to another way of thinking and become more engaged with the bigger picture. Creating that journey of knowledge for staff members to grow, develop and understand is so important.
  2. Give trust. People make mistakes, but it’s about shifting those mistakes into a learning experience.
  3. Be authentic. You’ll get nothing from me but the truth, which is sometimes to my detriment, but it is what it is. I’d rather fly by the truth than anything else. I try to apply this to every situation.
  4. Be humble enough to challenge yourself. Ask for feedback on topics you have great knowledge on. Try to not let your own bias skew a decision-making process. Let others work through their thoughts and come to their own conclusions, rather than telling.
  5. Deliver messages with care. There’s a happy medium where you can be clear and direct and maintain staff buy-in. You can’t be too harsh, but you also need to not ‘dress it up’ too much.
  6. Know your weaknesses and actively try to address them.
  7. Create a safe place for staff to learn and allow them to explore. This is very important for personal development and growth, where staff know that you have their back, and it’s ok to explore. Create the time and headspace for your team to think, research and explore rather than being task-driven all of the time.
  8. Drive accountability and ownership from team members. Get staff to talk through their processes and reflect on their achievements. This builds confidence, capability and enables them to move forward.
  9. Recognise achievements appropriately. It doesn’t have to be bells and whistles. Just quiet recognition for a job well done.
  10. Show care about the individual person. Remember something about each staff member and bring it up when you catch up. Staff are more engaged when they know their leader cares about them on a personal level.

How does being an inclusive leader effect the culture of a team?

The power of the team is so important. If you’re inclusive and you’re leading correctly, they will grow, develop, take ownership and be accountable. Whereas if you’re not practising the key attributes of an inclusive leader, you’re going to have a group of ‘yes’ people, and when you remove the leader from those teams, they fall apart. I’ve seen examples of this where inclusive leadership develops a strong and collaborative team, and unfortunately, where we’ve not had an inclusive leader, the team has fallen short. It’s black and white.

Why is it important to lead by example?

We’re all human, and we all watch and listen. We form opinions based on what we see and hear and rightly or wrongly, these opinions form part of our decision-making process.

As a leader, you have to be on your game 100% of the time, and that’s really hard because you won’t be. You’re human, you make mistakes. But it’s about owning those mistakes, learning from them and applying the learnings.

I reflect on everything I do, perhaps a little bit much sometimes. My behaviour, from driving my branded car, to wearing my name badge in the office, is important. People judge and form opinions. You’ve got to walk the talk. People look up to that. If you’re authentic and credible, they’ll trust you.

What are three things leaders can do to ensure they are being inclusive?

  1. Reflect on what you’re doing to be able to improve.
  2. You can’t be arrogant. Sometimes it goes hand in hand with a strong leader, but if you don’t listen, it can be your Achilles heel. Don’t just listen to tick a box, take it on board, follow up, and then feedback to the original person.
  3. Be confident enough to know that all roads don’t point to you. In fact, all roads point away from you. Leaders need to be confident in their own ability that they don’t need the recognition and accolades. They just need to focus on doing their best job and being the best version of themselves.

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