VisionSpring’s Inclusive Leadership Competency Model addresses the concept of inclusive leadership from three main competencies: Leads Self, Leads Others; and Drives Results. This article focuses on the second competency, Leads Others, which we define as the ability and aspiration to develop, motivate and lead people toward common goals and objectives in a way that is inclusive and free from disparity. When we think about inclusive leadership the key words here are free from disparity. Most good leaders are adept at developing and motivating their team – or least part of their team. When we consider inclusion we must be aware of two little but important words – all and every. Is development offered to every employee equally and do all employees have comparable access to opportunities and to their manager? Or, are there some employees or even employee groups that are absent from the best opportunities?

It’s time to do a little soul searching and some investigative reporting. Think about the people on your team.
How many of those people do you have a close relationship with?
How many would you describe as your go-to people?
How many of those people do you ask for advice or feedback?
How many do you engage in regular conversation?
How many do you know on a personal level?

If you cannot answer these questions with “everyone on my team,” then there is some work to be done. It is very common for leaders, for all people actually, to develop close relationships with just a few people on their team. And furthermore, those few people tend to be most like them. We call this the like-me bias. It is easy to make connections with people you are comfortable with and people with whom you share common interests. There is also a tendency to welcome those people into your inner circle of trust – these are the people you are going entrust with the most critical important assignments.

Managers also tend to have more regular, informal conversations with those people in their inner circle. We are more at ease providing feedback and constructive criticism to those with whom we are most comfortable. As a result, the employees in the inner circle benefit from regular interactions while those outside the circle receive feedback maybe once a year during scheduled annual reviews. This leads to disparity in development, in access to high-profile assignments and in access to mentor or sponsorship relationships. As a result, marginalized employees are left feeling disengaged and disenfranchised.

In order to lead others inclusively, leaders and managers have a responsibility to confront the like-me bias head on. As a first step do that investigative reporting. Ask yourself those hard questions and take a look at the diversity on your team. Are there patterns that suggest a like-me bias is at play? Do you make assumptions about a person or people based on one characteristic? For example, college athletes are hard working and disciplined so I tend to populate my team with athletes. Or conversely, working mothers are unreliable so I tend not to include working mothers on those deadline oriented, mission-critical assignments.

Next make a real effort to expand your circle of trust to include everyone on your team. If you play golf or basketball with some members of the team, make an effort to find other ways to connect on a personal level with all team members. And avoid talking business in those more personal settings. Create opportunities for the team as a whole to engage more personally through a variety of experiences. Consider family field days or days of service in addition to the more traditional drinks after work type events. Make a conscious effort to regularly check in one-on-one with everyone on the team. An informal pop-in or how are you doing can go a long way. And most importantly look for opportunities to share something about yourself. It doesn’t need to be personal information if that is not comfortable for you – instead share articles or something that may have moved or inspired you that day.

Again, what is important is “free from disparity.” You must provide equal access and equal opportunity to every and all employees. If you make the effort to expand your circle of trust and get to know all your employees on a deeper level, you will see payoffs threefold. And over time that initial awkwardness will dissolve and you will just naturally lead inclusively – and that is the goal.

Robin Pedrelli is the co-founder and partner of VisionSpring, Inc. VisionSpring, Inc. is a women owned and operated diversity and inclusion consulting firm offering fully integrated strategy development, workforce planning, training and continuous learning solutions to leverage diversity and inclusion to drive innovation and improved business outcomes. We provide customized strategic solutions that address the specific needs of each client and blend workforce, workplace, marketplace and community related goals.