Inclusive Leadership: Affirming good and just work in organizations

Situational leadership; servant leadership; stewardship leadership; transformational vs. transactional leadership; tipping point leadership; shared leadership; salsa, soul and spirit leadership; multicultural leadership; feminist and feminine leadership; cross-cultural leadership; team leadership; charismatic leadership; principled leadership; everyday leadership; and so on.

It is hard to keep up with the latest leadership phrase. For example, I was recently asked to participate in a panel on “inclusive leadership.” I had not heard the term and except for my common sense association with “diversity and inclusion,” I did not think there was anything new that could be said about leadership. A quick search on the web confirmed my suspicions.

What is inclusive leadership?

James Ryan’s Inclusive Leadership, published in 2005, may have introduced the new leadership phrase. Ryan’s work in schools led him to postulate the importance of culture, gender, ethnicity and democracy on leadership. Inclusive leadership refers to the participation of many stakeholders and their values in the decision making process of schools with shared governance, community involvement, collaboration and horizontal relations. Two requirements for inclusive leadership are: the daily enactment of behaviors which include others and the focus on changing systems which exclude. To do inclusive leadership is to move from individualistic to community and collective approaches to leadership.

Another important book is Edwin Hollanders Inclusive Leadership: The Essential Leader-Follower Relationship (2009). One of Hollander’s arguments, that leadership is about the dynamic relation between the followers and the leader, is not new. What seems somewhat new and contradictory is his banking perspective on leadership. The leader builds “credits” by helping followers accomplish their goals and then he “cashes-in” those credits as political capital. Leadership is reduced to a small-bank transaction metaphor!

Other authors discuss inclusive leadership as a set of values such as “respect for the individual, the elevation of service above self-interest, restraint in the use of power, and not, least, a concern for sustainable development.[1] Involving all the stakeholders is a strong and common message of inclusive leadership. The Centre for Tomorrow's Company summarizes inclusive leadership as “one plus five:” employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and community, plus a vision and a leadership style which empowers people and the various stakeholder groups and enables them to focus on how to achieve, and share in, sustainable development. [2]

Inclusive leadership, plus one

In all, the principles of inclusive leadership are the principles of “just and good work” we at Chaos Management have been embracing for years:

  • There is no leadership without followership;
  • All the stakeholders must be involved and engaged;
  • Inclusive and exclusive behaviors are both interpersonal and group every day actions, as well as systemic and long term;
  • Leadership is more than pursuing the leaders’ goal or increasing shareholder value.

Inclusive leadership is about respect, recognition, responsiveness, and responsibility, says Hollander. We would like to add that inclusive leadership is also about managing differences and diversity. In other words, it is easy to include those who are like us; the challenge of inclusive leadership is to engage with and include those who are different from us. Inclusive leadership must also include collaborating and effectively working with differences.

[1] "Building Tomorrow's Company", Philip Sadler, 2002.

[2] "Leading and Managing in the New Economy", Centre for Tomorrow's Company.

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