What does an inclusive leader look like?

Suffering from burnout after 12-hour work-days? Trying to do everything but achieving nothing? Attempting to address diversity and the issues exacerbated by Covid19 in your organisation, but with little impact?

These problems have highlighted the need for a modern form of leadership: The inclusive leader.

Whether you’re in a position of management within your organisation or an employee looking to make a more effective impact in your organisation, here are four attributes you can start implementing today to become a more effective leader of self, and of others.

We’ve also added some film and real-life examples to spice it up a bit.


“Having an open mind; receptive to new ideas; unprejudiced.”[1]

Inclusive leadership starts with having an open-minded attitude. You have to appreciate that personal blind spots, outdated views and a fear of change can disrupt your ability to make decisions.

In today’s society, strong, stubborn leadership styles continue to warp our perception of how a leader should act for fear of coming across as a pushover. [2] 

Of course, as Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai’s cases demonstrate, this type of leadership does have its place.

However, if you want to harness the full creativity of your team when making key decisions,  it is important that you listen to them and make their voice heard

And that requires using a more impartial, non-biased approach to considering ideas.

Take the baseball film Moneyball. When Beane (Brad Pitt) takes on the challenge of rebuilding the Oakland Athletics squad for the 2002 season, he overlooks the traditional advice of his scouts and turns to Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a nerdy-looking Yale graduate, to create a winning team with cash-strapped resources.  

Beane’s open-mindedness allows him to find a goldmine of a resource: Sabermetrics, a data-driven analysis of players based on percentages, which enables Oakland Athletics to build a team of underrated, but also highly-motivated players at a bargain price. 

This would not have been possible had Beane continued to count on the unconscious bias of his scout team in recruiting players.

Note: Not giving away any spoilers, but Beane’s decision is worth it.

So how can I be an open-minded leader?

When listening to colleagues, focus on the point they’re trying to make, and nothing else; especially if it is constructive criticism.

Create an environment for new, creative ideas to flourish. This might be putting aside half an hour each week to discuss ideas, using interactive tools such as miro to coordinate activities, or creating a plan to eliminate any unwanted bias from leaders in your workforce.  

Anything that releases control and activates the subconscious thinking of your team.

Be constantly curious about improvement. Asking questions such as: How do other organisations and cultures approach tasks?  Why are they doing things differently? Is there something we can learn from them?

2. Inclusive Leaders are adaptable

Adaptability: “Capable of being applied or used in different conditions or contexts; capable of being modified, altered, or amended, esp. so as to be put to a new use or serve a new purpose.”[3]

If open-mindedness is allowing yourself to consider new ideas, adaptability is accepting that in fast-paced society, you should expect change and factor it in your plans.

There are various reasons behind these rapid developments: some are due to technology such as online shopping which has taken over the high street in recent years, whilst data and AI is used to understand consumer choices.

Another possible explanation is due to culture, as a new generation of consumers and workers choose to based on brands’ commitments to causes such as social justice, sustainable practices and flexible working hours.

Another possible explanation is a cultural one. As a new generation of consumers and workers put more importance on causes such as social justice, sustainable practices, flexible working hours and an overall better work/life balance.

These changes and advancements in recent years have led to the point where the average age of a company in the S&P 500 has fallen from 60 years in the 1950s to fewer than 20 years today.

For a good example of adaptable leadership, take New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her response to the Covid pandemic.

When the Covid19 virus began to spread internationally, her clear and drastic responses in closing the borders were not just agreed, but enacted before the rapid spread of the virus.

At the time of writing (12th April 2021), New Zealand has recorded just 26 Covid-related  deaths.

No need to hide the spoiler on that one.

How you can be an adaptable leader:

Act on decisions which have been agreed. Don’t just speculate about them.

In a world where a situation can shift in the space of 24 hours, create a process for testing and implementing decisions quickly.

If you or a colleague feel as if they their suggestion has been overlooked or ignored for whatever reason, encourage them to respond by leading with positive actions, rather than waiting around for an explanation.

3. Leaders are resilient

Resilience: “Rebounding; recoiling; returning to the original position.”[4]

If open-minded, adaptive leaders are experts at making quick, well-balanced decisions, resilience is about eliminating words such as “failure” and “doubt” from your vocabulary when making those decisions.

The subtle difference between “failure” and “reflection” is highlighted by the rise of Nadya Tolokonnikova, founder of the group P*ssy Riot, a political activist group in support of feminism, LGBT rights and anti-government reforms.

Many of her tactics have been controversial: from her arrest following her anti-government protest when storming into a Cathedral to “operation kiss garbage.”Nevertheless, these controversies never deterred her from following her well intentioned goals. Over the past decade, her movement has grown from just 15-20 members to an internationally-renowned force backed by Madonna and reaching millions on social media.[5]

How you can be a resilient leader:

Use setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve. Notice how Tolokonnikova used her experiences to evaluate her next steps.  What she didn’t do is fall into a spiral of negativity because the group’s success didn’t happen overnight.  

Take care of your well-being. As a leader, your ability to be inclusive comes from your ability to take time to self-reflect.We describe this as taking ownership of your needs so you can avoid burnout and negativity.

4. A leader is self-assured

Self-Assurance: “A feeling of assurance regarding oneself or one’s abilities, status
prospects, etc; self-confidence.”[6]

The final piece of the puzzle is self-assurance: having the confidence to realise you cannot do everything alone.

This is exactly how Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) operates in Oceans Eight when she assembles a team to carry out a heist at the annual New York Met Gala.

Whilst making each member of her team feel valued; encouraging and motivating them along the way, Ocean’s role as a leader is to keep track of the bigger picture. She uses the team’s main task of extracting a diamond necklace to distract the congregation from her own role; single-handedly ransacking of the rest of the museum. 

Ocean’s actions highlight the other element of self-assurance, which is to not forget your own value.  She manages to be effective because her skills complement her crew members, rather than competing with them.

How you can demonstrate self-assurance:

First of all, as a disclaimer, we do not recommend you go off and rob a museum, or any other place.

However, we do recommend you take the time to motivate, inspire and encourage the other members of your team, something we describe as harnessing your team’s collective intelligence.

While your team members may not explicitly express their gratitude for this, you will see it in their performance.

Ensure you make the effort to bring out the diverse talents of your team in solving complex problems. This includes your own skills.


So there you have it.

The ideal leader is open-minded, adaptable, resilient, and self-assured. 

When you begin to use these skills as a checklist, you will be able to balance the needs of your team with your own talents and wellbeing.

You’ll also see quantitative results as inclusive leadership harnesses your team’s diversity of thought to find innovative solutions to 21st century problems.If you’re interested in taking your inclusive leadership to the next level, take a look at our ROC Model for Inclusive Leadership.

[1] “open-minded, adj.”. OED Online. March 2021. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/259299?redirectedFrom=open+minded (accessed April 10, 2021).

[2] Dana Romaniote, The Best Leaders Keep and Open Mind, Harvard Business Review, April 13, 2016,  https://hbr.org/tip/2016/04/the-best-leaders-keep-an-open-mind

[3] “adaptable, adj.”. OED Online. March 2021. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/2112 (accessed April 11, 2021).

[4] “resilient, adj. and n.”. OED Online. March 2021. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/163621 (accessed April 13, 2021)

[5] For more information about the origins of Pussy Riot, see Nicholas Tochka (2013).  “Pussy Riot, freedom of expression, and popular music studies after the Cold War.” Popular Music.32 (3): 303-311

[6] “self-assurance, n.”. OED Online. March 2021. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/175116?redirectedFrom=self-assurance (accessed April 11, 2021).