Companies increasingly rely on diverse, multidisciplinary teams that combine the collective capabilities of women and men, people of different cultural heritage, and younger and older workers. But simply throwing a mix of people together doesn’t guarantee high performance; it requires inclusive leadership — leadership that assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired.

Inclusiveness isn’t just nice to have on teams. Our research shows that it directly enhances performance. Teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. What’s more, we found that a 10% improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases work attendance by almost 1 day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism.

What specific actions can leaders take to be more inclusive? To answer this question, we surveyed more than 4,100 employees about inclusion, interviewed those identified by followers as highly inclusive, and reviewed the academic literature on leadership. From this research, we identified 17 discrete sets of behaviors, which we grouped into six categories (or “traits”), all of which are equally important and mutually reinforcing. We then built a 360-degree assessment tool for use by followers to rate the presence of these traits among leaders. The tool has now been used by over 3,500 raters to evaluate over 450 leaders. The results are illuminating.

These are the six traits or behaviors that we found distinguish inclusive leaders from others:

Visible commitment: They articulate authentic commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority.

Humility: They are modest about capabilities, admit mistakes, and create the space for others to contribute.

Awareness of bias: They show awareness of personal blind spots as well as flaws in the system and work hard to ensure meritocracy.

Curiosity about others: They demonstrate an open mindset and deep curiosity about others, listen without judgment, and seek with empathy to understand those around them.

Cultural intelligence: They are attentive to others’ cultures and adapt as required.

Effective collaboration: They empower others, pay attention to diversity of thinking and psychological safety, and focus on team cohesion.

These traits may seem like the obvious ones, similar to those that are broadly important for good leadership. But the difference between assessing and developing good leadership generally versus inclusive leadership in particular lies in three specific insights.

First, most leaders in the study were unsure about whether others experienced them as inclusive or not. More particularly, only a third (36%) saw their inclusive leadership capabilities as others did, another third (32%) overrated their capabilities and the final third (33%) underrated their capabilities. Even more importantly, rarely were leaders certain about the specific behaviors that actually have an impact on being rated as more or less inclusive.

Second, being rated as an inclusive leader is not determined by averaging all members’ scores but rather by the distribution of raters’ scores. For example, it’s not enough that, on average, raters agree that a leader “approaches diversity and inclusiveness wholeheartedly.” Using a five-point scale (ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”), an average rating could mean that some team members disagree while others agree. To be an inclusive leader, one must ensure that everyone agrees or strongly agrees that they are being treated fairly and respectfully, are valued, and have a sense of belonging and are psychologically safe.

Third, inclusive leadership is not about occasional grand gestures, but regular, smaller-scale comments and actions. By comparing the qualitative feedback regarding the most inclusive (top 25%) and the least inclusive (bottom 25%) of leaders in our sample, we discovered that inclusive leadership is tangible and practiced every day.

These verbatim responses from our assessments illustrate some of the tangible behaviors of the most inclusive leaders in the study.

  • Shares personal weaknesses: “[This leader] will openly ask about information that she is not aware of. She demonstrates a humble unpretentious work manner. This puts others at ease, enabling them to speak out and voice their opinions, which she values.”
  • Learns about cultural differences: “[This leader] has taken the time to learn the ropes (common words, idioms, customs, likes/dislikes) and the cultural pillars.”
  • Acknowledges team members as individuals: “[This leader] leads a team of over 100 people and yet addresses every team member by name, knows the work stream that they support and the work that they do.”

The following verbatims illustrate some of the behaviors of the least inclusive leaders:

  • Overpowers others: “He can be very direct and overpowering which limits the ability of those around him to contribute to meetings or participate in conversations.”
  • Displays favoritism: “Work is assigned to the same top performers, creating unsustainable workloads. [There is a] need to give newer team members opportunities to prove themselves.”
  • Discounts alternative views: “[This leader] can have very set ideas on specific topics. Sometimes it is difficult to get an alternative view across. There is a risk that his team may hold back from bringing forward challenging and alternative points of view.”

What leaders say and do has an outsized impact on others, but our research indicates that this effect is even more pronounced when they are leading diverse teams. Subtle words and acts of exclusion by leaders, or overlooking the exclusive behaviors of others, easily reinforces the status quo. It takes energy and deliberate effort to create an inclusive culture, and that starts with leaders paying much more attention to what they say and do on a daily basis and making adjustments as necessary. Here are four ways for leaders to get started:

Know your inclusive-leadership shadow: Seek feedback on whether you are perceived as inclusive, especially from people who are different from you. This will help you to see your blind spots, strengths, and development areas. It will also signal that diversity and inclusion are important to you. Scheduling regular check-ins with members of your team to ask how you can make them feel more included also sends the message.

Be visible and vocal: Tell a compelling and explicit narrative about why being inclusive is important to you personally and the business more broadly. For example, share your personal stories at public forums and conferences.

Deliberately seek out difference: Give people on the periphery of your network the chance to speak up, invite different people to the table, and catch up with a broader network. For example, seek out opportunities to work with cross-functional or multi-disciplinary teams to leverage diverse strengths.

Check your impact: Look for signals that you are having a positive impact. Are people copying your role modeling? Is a more diverse group of people sharing ideas with you? Are people working together more collaboratively? Ask a trusted advisor to give you candid feedback on the areas you have been working on.

There’s more to be learned about how to become an inclusive leader and harness the power of diverse teams, but one thing is clear: leaders who consciously practice inclusive leadership and actively develop their capability will see the results in the superior performance of their diverse teams.

(This article was originally published in the Harvard Business Review, by Jouliet Brouke and Andrea Espedido, that reserves all the rights. To read the original article please visit here.)


Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of an incredible new frontier in Artificial Intelligence (AI). From fintech to edtech, what was once fantastically improbable is now a commercial reality. There is no question that big data and AI will bring about important advances in the realm of management, especially as it relates to being able to make better-informed decisions. But certain types of decisions — particularly those related to strategy, innovation and marketing — will likely continue to require a human being who can take a holistic view and make a qualitative judgment based on a personal consideration of the context and facts. In fact, to date, there is no AI technology that is fully able to factor in the emotional, human, and political context needed to automate decisions.

For example, consider the healthcare industry, where AI is having a huge impact. Even if AI can support a doctor in making a diagnosis and suggesting medical treatments for a cancer patient, only the doctor herself would be able to factor in the overall health condition and emotional context of the patient (and of the patient’s family) in order to decide whether to proceed with, say, surgery vs. chemotherapy. Most of what we do in healthcare is not simply about making a diagnosis, but working with patients to find an appropriate treatment that factors in a more holistic and empathic view of the patient’s circumstances.

AI technologies can provide managers and employees with accurate data and predictions at their fingertips to support and enable the right decisions in a timely way. But even if an AI system gives an employee super-powered intelligence, it won’t be enough to make a timely decision if the company’s internal bureaucracy requires time-consuming pre-authorization from senior managers before acting on the decision. To extract real value from AI, employees at all levels of the organization need to be empowered to make final decisions aided by AI, and act on them. In short, there needs to be a democratization of judgment-based decision-making power.

Much that’s been written about the decision-making impacts of big data and AI has tended to emphasize the importance of having centralized teams staffed with plenty of data scientists. This implies that companies with more data scientists have a better chance of generating business impact. My own experience as a consultant, supported by recent research, indicates a different view: firms that hire an army of data scientists do not always generate better bottom-line value. Rather, it is the democratization of access to AI tools and decision-making power among managers and employees which creates more tangible value.

Consider Internet platform companies such as Airbnb, where data is at the core of their business model. Airbnb believes that every employee should have access to its data platform to make informed decisions. This applies to all parts of the organization from marketing and business development to HR. For example, employees can monitor in real time how many of its hosts use the company’s professional photography services and in which location, with emerging trends, patterns, and predictions.

Data access is key, but it’s not enough. Employees also need to be given the skills to use and interpret data and tools. For Airbnb, it would not be possible to have a data scientist in every room, and the fast internationalization of the company makes the situation even more challenging.  Airbnb launched a Data University, which is split into three levels, with a curriculum of more than 30 modules. The goal is to build the knowledge and skillset for all employees to utilize and interpret data and tools. This enables employees to act swiftly on innovation opportunities. For example, product managers are learning to write their own SQL code and interpret their own experiments about whether to launch a new product feature in a certain city. The result: since launching the program in late 2016, more than 2,000 employees were trained, and the weekly active users (WAU) of the internal platform — a proxy of how “data informed” the organization is — rose from 30% to 45%.

Another case is Unilever. Orchestrated by the company’s newly created “Insights Engine”, the company introduced a number of AI-driven systems and tools that are accessible to all of its global marketers. The availability of real-time, frequent, data-driven consumer insights has generated even more need for distributed decision-making by the company’s marketers at all levels within the organization. One tool they use is People World, an AI platform able to mine thousands of consumer research documents and social media data. The platform is able to answer natural language questions that marketers may ask on a specific area. This addresses the classic problem “If only Unilever knew what Unilever knows,” helping to remove silos, increasing trust in “one consolidated source of truth,” and dramatically reducing the time needed to make informed decisions.

Over the last decade, the costs and time associated with organizing data and running analyses has dropped dramatically. But in many companies, AI use is still highly centralized. Corporate AI units often develop dashboards for senior executives which are used by them exclusively. AI democratization remains limited. But, by using AI to increase the effectiveness of the decisions employees are making, the need to control and centralize decisions essentially evaporates. Best practices show how democratization can bring about quicker and better distributed decisions, making companies more agile and responsive to market changes and opportunities.(This article was originally published in the Harvard Business Review, by John Coleman, that reserves all the rights. To read the original article please visit here.)
Now, imagine that the snow is the business environment, and the new car is your team. Whenever something happens in a business environment that you can’t control, and your team doesn’t adapt as quickly as you would like them to, you are considering if you have the team you need?


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