If you are a mid-level training manager at your organization, odds are you were thrown into the role with minimal, or no, training on how to be an effective leader. And odds are even greater that you’ve been asked to take on some diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) responsibilities without proper training on inclusive leadership. You might understand that DEI and inclusive leadership are important, but aren’t sure how to put the concepts into practice.
To quickly review, Korn Ferry claims that organizations that are truly diverse and inclusive are 70% more likely to capture new markets, 75% more likely to see ideas become productized, 19% more likely to see higher innovation revenue and 87% more likely to make better decisions. And an inclusive culture can’t thrive without inclusive leaders. Thus, inclusive leadership underpins business advantage.
So, how do you become an inclusive leader? Consider these four tips:
1. Use inclusive language.
Inclusive language is defined as “finding ways to name and show respect for all people’s experiences and identities. It means making intentional word choices that are respectful and welcoming.” For example, instead of addressing your team as “you guys,” address them as “everyone,” “team” or “you all.” Using “you guys” may insinuate that men are the preferred gender on your team. Also, steer clear of “ladies and gentlemen” and other binary language that may exclude non-binary and gender fluid folks. Rather, opt for gender neutral or gender-free terms.
The examples above are just the tip of the inclusive language iceberg. There are guidelines for all identity groups as well as many everyday words and phrases that have exclusionary backgrounds. Opting instead for language that respects everyone creates a culture where everyone feels free to be themselves.
2. Be aware of your own bias.
Everyone has unconscious biases. At its root, bias is our brain’s way of processing information quickly and filling in the gaps. Having biases doesn’t inherently mean you are a bad person or don’t care about DEI. It just means that you’re human and will have to work to ensure your biases don’t influence your language and actions. For instance, if you have an unconscious preference for people of your same gender identity, you may need to ensure you aren’t giving stretch projects or promotions disproportionately to one group versus others.
Need help identifying your biases? Try using Harvard’s Project Implicit tests or the Trusted Ten exercise. Then, once you know which biases may be impacting your decisions at work, fight to mitigate them using the PAUSE method or another methodology.
3. Implement inclusive feedback processes.
One of the hardest skills for new leaders to learn is how to give feedback effectively and inclusively. The “sandwich method” is one of the past and you want to give transparent feedback while maintaining collaborative relationships. In order to ensure feedback is viewed positively, give feedback often and encourage reciprocal feedback.
Many leaders make the mistake of holding onto feedback until formal reviews. Then, when it comes time to discuss an employee’s performance, there’s a long list of accumulated complaints, which can feel discouraging and hurtful. Rather, if you provide feedback on an ongoing basis, formal reviews can focus more on professional development and goal setting. Small corrections in the moment are much more easily digested than a pile of constructive criticism given all at once.
Additionally, encourage your direct reports to provide feedback to you as well. That way, feedback is a two-way street. Asking for and responding positively to feedback also sends the message that egos won’t get in the way of the best work possible and models a growth mindset for your team.
4. Foster psychological safety.
Psychological safety is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes” according to Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard University, who is largely accredited with coining the term. It also means being able to show up in any space as your authentic self and be seen, safe and heard. Psychological safety leads to a lot of desired behaviors in the workplace, including owning mistakes, sharing ideas and increased trust. Without psychological safety, you are more likely to see employees competing, blaming each other, withholding ideas and fearing consequences. Thus, in order to have a highly effective, efficient, innovative and collaborative team, psychological safety is critical.
The good news is that leaders play a large role in fostering psychological safety, and all it takes are a few small mindset shifts. For example, move from critical to curious and approach conflict as a collaborator rather than an adversary.
Being an inclusive leader is a prerequisite for being a good leader. Thus, middle managers new to their roles must focus on implementing inclusive best practices. Fostering a team centered on trust, collaboration and self-awareness will in turn lead to a high-performing team bound for success.
Register for the next virtual Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE), happening October 12-13, to hear Susie Silver’s session, “Mid-level Inclusive Leadership: How to Lead a Team With a DEI Lens.”