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Inclusive leadership matters

How important is inclusive leadership to effective leadership and business performance? 

When we’re asked this question, we encourage people to think of an inclusive leader they know.

Think of the most inclusive leader you’ve worked with – what were the special qualities that had a positive impact on you, your team and the broader organisation? 

What’s typically recalled is how supportive the leader was, their openness to new ideas and different perspectives, their openness of themselves, and their consistent focus on results. 

The common thread in these stories is leaders who’ve helped people feel valued for their differences and created a sense of belonging in the team. For them, diversity – of background and thinking – was not a threat, but an advantage.

Many of these leaders have actively sponsored people from diverse backgrounds and with different thinking approaches, typically drawing on their personal understanding of deep-seated challenges facing those who don’t fit the dominant leadership stereotype in Australia.

These characteristics have again been reinforced to us following extensive interviews and focus groups we’ve been conducting with employees of a top ASX organisation to understand the positive practices and behaviours that support women and employees from culturally diverse backgrounds.

With this research front of mind, we encourage every business leader to reflect on three questions:

  1. How are you actively promoting difference – whether that’s in approaches to work (e.g. flexibility), employee backgrounds, thinking approaches?
  2. How are you actively encouraging the careers of individuals from diverse backgrounds (e.g. providing stretch assignments, ‘nudging’ to put themselves forward for promotion)?
  3. How are you role-modelling your support (e.g. leaving the office ‘loudly’ for personal or family reasons to reduce the stigma associated with flexible hours)?

We want to stress these aren’t just ‘nice to do’ behaviours of diversity and inclusion champions; they are critical to leadership effectiveness, backed up by global research.

McKinsey’s Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters study in 2016 found four kinds of behaviour explained 89 per cent of the variance between strong and weak organisations in terms of leadership effectiveness:

·      Solving problems effectively: ‘The problem solving process that precedes decision making… is deceptively difficult to get right yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues (such as M&A) as well as daily ones (such as how to handle a team dispute).’

·      Operating with a strong results orientation: ‘Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results.’

·      Seeking different perspectives: ‘Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.’

·      Supporting others: ‘Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges.’

McKinsey says these core leadership behaviours will be relevant to most companies today, particularly on the front line[1]. And they’re integrally linked with the qualities expected of inclusive leaders.

The more that inclusive leadership is integrated with leadership curriculums, we start to see and appreciate the positive impact that diversity and inclusion can have on organisational culture, employee engagement, innovation and overall performance.


Diversity Partners offers a range of Inclusive Leadership programs by facilitators with extensive experience in leadership development, diversity and inclusion. We offer awareness sessions, skill-building programs, and individual coaching.

Contact us at for more information.



[1] The McKinsey research was based on surveys with 189,000 leaders in 81 diverse organisations. McKinsey found that leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 distinct leadership traits surveyed.


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