Inclusive Leadership

7 Keys to Inclusive Leadership = A Winning Formula

High performance teams aren’t born, they’re built. They’re carefully crafted with help from leaders who understand how to position different talents to complement each other, how to communicate productively and encourage others to do the same, and how to get the most out of the diversity present. It can be useful to think in sports metaphors when exploring inclusive leadership – let’s dive in with how leaders can get more out of inclusive teams.

The 7 Keys of Inclusive Leadership

  1. Evaluate The Team: Long before teams take the field for a big game, coaches had to assess their teams. What do we do well? What don’t we do well? How’s our team chemistry? How do we compare to the competition?

Similarly, inclusive leaders must take the time to assess their teams. What business outcomes have we been generating? What strengths can we leverage? What challenges do we need to address? Are people clamoring to come on board or are they abandoning ship?

From bottom line analysis to engagement surveys to individual and group dialogues, there are countless tools leaders may employ. It is imperative, however, that leaders devote the resources, including time and money, to thoroughly and honestly evaluate their team.

  1. Find Individual Strengths: Who’s fast? Who’s strong? Who’s got a great arm? Who’s an emotional leader? Coaches must answer these questions.

Who are our thought leaders? Who thinks quickly on their feet? Who are our problem solvers? As an inclusive leader, you need to answer these questions and more. You need to know your team members, in some cases as well or better than they even know themselves.

A famous coach asserted, “If I’m going to be asked to cook the meal, I’d like to be able to pick the groceries.” Essentially, he knew what types of players he wanted on his team and he wanted to be able to choose the “right” players. To be sure, today’s business leader needs to effectively manage hiring processes. (Inclusive hiring practices could be the topic of another article, altogether.) However, it is equally if not more imperative, that every leader be keenly aware of what they’ve “got in the cupboard” in terms of experience, talent, and skills.

  1. Leverage Team Diversity: Some players are quicker than others. Some players are stronger. Some possess specific skills, like kicking. Without all 11 players who are on the field at any given time doing their specific job, it is less likely that the play will succeed or that, ultimately, the team will win.

Similarly, the inclusive business leader, rather than seeing diversity as an impediment to be overcome, sees diversity as a strength to be leveraged. Whether driving innovation, attracting the best talent, or capturing a new market, teams and organizations that leverage diversity outperform their counterparts. (Get actual stat and source on success of Fortune 500 firms that have more women on their Board.)

  1. Tailor Leadership Approach: While one player may respond to a coach barking orders, another may respond best to a quiet word of admonition or even a joke. The best coaches get to know their players well enough to know how to get the best out of them.

You must do the same. A “one size fits all” approach to business leadership is, quite simply, inadequate in today’s diverse workplace and marketplace. Motivations and styles will be as numerous as our team members. The incentive program that fires up the Baby Boomer on the team may do little for the Millennial. Conversely, the professional development initiative that engages the Millennial may seem an utter waste of time for the Baby Boomer.

Be creative. Be aware. Be a great and Inclusive Leader. Tailor your approach.

  1. Position Teammates Strategically: Remember how the inclusive leader needs to find individual strengths? Well, there’s a particular reason for that which separates great coaches from good coaches. Great coaches are consistently able to put their players in a position to win, to put their faster player against the opponent’s slower player, to put their stronger player against the opponent’s weaker player.

In business, we also need to position our teammates strategically. What sense does it make to put our “idea people” in charge of the details while expecting our best project managers to handle visioning?

Are you putting your people in a position to win? Because that’s something inclusive leaders do.

  1. Monitor and Manage Cultural Norms: “Do your job!” That is a mantra for one of the NFL’s leading franchises. The expectation is that each player will be accountable for their own responsibilities, but also that they should not concern themselves with the responsibilities of others. “Do your job!” pervades and defines their organizational culture.

What are the cultural norms for your team? For your organization? Are you aware of them? Are your team members aware of them? Could they articulate them, if asked?

Perhaps more importantly, have those norms been put in place consciously and intentionally? Inclusion is not a matter of isolated acts or even good intentions, but a matter of culture. Inclusive leaders create inclusive cultures.

“Do your job!” defines a culture that fosters high performance and accountability. Does your organizational culture do the same?

  1. Increase Cultural Competence: One of the beauties of sports teams is that they often bring together individuals of diverse backgrounds and varied experiences, compelling them to work together in pursuit of a common goal.

Sound familiar?

The key to aligning agendas and managing difference is cultural competence.

Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively across lines of difference. Whether the difference is one of race or cultural background or gender or educational status or work style, inclusive leaders consistently exhibit their leadership competencies well, consistently, and with everyone.

The ability to lead a group or team in a way that determines and maximizes the diversity and individual strengths of individual team members to exceed goal achievement.

That is The Kaleidoscope Group’s definition of Inclusive Leadership. And it’s a winning formula.


Orlando Bishop serves as the Vice President, Marketing Content, focused primarily on telling the KG story. Through articles, videos, webcasts, and more, he works with the marketing team to bring the power of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) to light and to life for everyone from individual contributors to the C-Suite. Orlando doesn’t just tell the story; he lives it,  working with prospective and current clients to assess the state of their organization, identify the role D&I in current outcomes, and collaboratively design engagements that leverage D&I to optimize business outcomes.