Shedding new light on inclusive leadership

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This leadership style can boost employee productivity, motivation and mental wellbeing, and some of the best examples are in fact found at British organisations

In 2012 a government report highlighted that 75% of organisations in the UK had a leadership deficit, and similar results emerge from US surveys.

Fortunately there is a solution: inclusive leadership. This is a style that boosts employee productivity, motivation and mental wellbeing while creating a mindset that allows products and services to be conceived around customer, rather than employee, preferences. This helps deliver an ‘outside-in’ perspective, a rarity judging by the number of surveys reporting customer dissatisfaction vis-à-vis products and services.

A British success story

Strangely enough given the high levels of poor leadership in the UK, some of the best examples of inclusive leadership (IL) are found at British organisations. These include at the recruitment firm PageGroup and Royal Mail Sales where MDs share offices with staff, listening and building what they hear into new ways of working. At 40,000-employee Network Rail this listening and inclusive mindset can build bridges with customers.

In terms of outstanding individual leaders, these include football legend Alex Ferguson who, in his 26 years as Manchester United manager, achieved twice as many domestic and international trophies as the next most successful English football team manager. Another remarkable leader was Colin Marshall, the person who turned around the fortunes of British Airways in the 1990s, creating a workplace that led a former customer service manager to speak of Marshall’s tenure as creating ‘the best working years of our lives’.

Marshall created a ‘Putting People First’ programme for all 40,000 of BA’s employees, personally attending 95% of the training sessions which, contrary to BA’s normal hierarchical culture, were organised as cross-functional and cross-grade groups. This formidable training programme helped transform BA from a loss-making public sector airline into one that was earning almost £500 million on revenues of around £5 billion by 1986. By December that year BA was the highest rated airline for customer service.

The essence of inclusive leadership

At the heart of inclusive leadership are 15 attributes, four from ‘transformational leadership’ models and 11 from ‘servant leadership’ (see table below).

Inclusive leadership attributes

Description

Whether from transformational (Tf) or servant leadership (SL) models

Individualised consideration

Showing individual interest and offering one-to-one support for followers

Tf

Idealised influence

Having admirable qualities that followers want to identify with

Tf

Inspirational motivation

Providing an appealing vision that inspires followers

Tf

Intellectual stimulation

Encouraging followers to develop their ideas and to be challenged

Tf

Unqualified acceptance

Being inclusive in considering followers

SL

Empathy

Putting oneself mentally and emotionally into the follower’s place

SL

Listening

Actively listening to followers

SL

Persuasion

Being able to influence followers

SL

Confidence building

Providing followers with opportunities and recognition

SL

Growth

Encouraging followers to reach their full potential

SL

Foresight

Having the ability to anticipate events and where they might lead

SL

Conceptualisation

Having a vision about possibilities and articulating that vision to followers

SL

Awareness

Being fully open and aware of environmental cues

SL

Stewardship

Articulating the belief that the organisation’s legacy is to contribute to society

SL

Healing

Helping followers cope with any burdens

SL

In my new book on this topic, you can see how successful organisations focus on perhaps six to eight of these attributes, creating an inclusive culture in which employees can grow, feel listened to and feel treated with empathic understanding – rarities perhaps in many organisations but essential in boosting employee productivity and customer satisfaction

A tried and tested method

The pioneering organisations that have embedded IL can be heard speaking of its abundant benefits for employees and customers in the video that accompanies my book. Not only that but they describe the process as relatively simple and involving the removal of barriers both physical (e.g. large offices for senior managers) and psychological (e.g. remote leaders who do not wish to change).

So a decision to create an inclusive culture is not only risk free but guaranteed to boost employee productivity and customer satisfaction. Who could ask for more in competitive times?

Gloria Moss is professor of management and marketing at Bucks Business School at Buckinghamshire New University. She has been a training and development manager in blue chip companies including Eurotunnel and is author of Inclusive Leadership

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