C-Suite Agenda

You Are My Hero! An Ode to Inclusive Leadership

It’s all in the numbers, stories, and perspective: inclusive leadership is the key to unleashing the true potential of organizations

As organizations drive significant investments towards accelerating the charter of inclusivity and diversity within the cultural fabrics of their ecosystem – the leaders of tomorrow, are eulogized to lead from the front, which asks for the value recognitions across the layers and spectrum of organizational hierarchies. 

While defining inclusive leadership seems like a business behaviour that displays a diversification in the aspects of multi-gender, cross-locations, varied-ethnicities, and the associated human traits; it asks for the leadership approaches that embraces a diverse workforce which can take an organization to new heights. 

A paradox about inclusive leadership is also about the defining moments which turn the workplace into a more welcoming space where individual differences are embraced, authority to experiment and take risks are granted, and accountability and ownership is established. These characteristics of a workplace, whether physical, virtual, or hybrid – are even more important for organizations to create nurturing spaces where each employee can feel a sense of purpose and find meaning in their work. 

So, what does inclusive leadership look like?

Inclusive leadership: Beyond numbers

While the correlation between diversity and growth has been accepted and established over the digital decades & beyond, numbers also formulate a strong argument for inclusive leadership. Consider the following:

  1. Inclusivity starts at the top: Organizations with gender-diverse teams at the executive level are seen likely to create more value than their less diverse counterparts. 
  2. Inclusivity beyond borders: That inclusive leadership drives greater growth is not specific to geography or culture – the correlation holds across geographies and countries.
  3. Inclusivity broadens horizons: Inclusive leadership leads to inclusive organizations and work cultures, which are significantly more likely to capture new markets.

While numbers make a strong argument for inclusive leadership, there is a more direct argument supporting inclusive leadership – because every team member brings their own stories, and their identities are composed of varying approaches to nurturing and culture. In addition to endowing each individual with a unique set of traits that define their problem-solving capabilities and creative abilities, their diversity also manifests in their expression of their identity. 

Without making each individual feel comfortable in their own skin, leaders cannot nurture their teams to their peak potentials – which is why inclusive leadership is ideally a must-have for every organization that wants to foster a nurturing workplace for their workforce. In turn, this also helps the organization attract diverse talent, especially because a diverse set of individuals highly seek such work environments.

Inclusive leadership: Breaking it down

So, what does inclusive leadership look like? To begin with, inclusive leadership begins with a strong sense of self-awareness. To share thinking and working space with individuals with differences, leaders must first be aware that their pre-conceived notions regarding behaviour, self-expression and working might impede their ability to embrace difference in the first place. In turn, inclusive leaders learn to overcome their biases by learning behaviours, which are built on open-ended communication with their team members. Here are a few defining traits of inclusive leaders:

  1. Inclusivity is in the words: What leaders say and do, determine whether an individual feels included under their leadership – by 70%. In addition, inclusive leaders tend to make an authentic commitment to embracing differences and diverse individuals while establishing accountability.
  2. Inclusivity comes with humility: Inclusive leaders are not only aware of their biases, but they are also humble about the mistakes they make and ask for direct feedback – and this humility combined with cognizance of bias can increase the ability for individuals to feel included by 25%.
  3. Inclusivity calls for empathetic interactions: A number of teams conduct perspective-taking exercises. However, individuals feel included only when such exercises are conducted empathetically. This increases an individual’s feeling of being included by 33%.

When these numbers are viewed from a team member’s viewpoint, these characteristics emerge as self-evident: After all, inclusivity begins with truly connecting with a person’s viewpoint and understanding where they are coming from. As a result, inclusive leaders are curious about other people’s cultures and often inquire into their team members’ psychological well-being. In other words, inclusive leaders are great at connecting with people who are different from them in minor and major ways. This is a great point to segue towards the challenges of inclusive leadership in the virtual workspaces of today.

Inclusive leadership in today’s context

While the pandemic has left everyone across countries and cultures facing their own unique set of problems, it also created more space for empathy by uniting everyone with a common set of challenges and questions of psychological well-being. However, this was also a time of learning for leaders and show new horizons for building inclusivity in a virtual workplace, where everyone arrives from the point of social isolation. Inclusive leadership, therefore, became a necessity for individuals to feel more socially connected and individually empowered. Work created a space for finding meaning, and inclusive leaders leveraged this opportunity to build a sense of belonging and purpose.

In the virtual workspace, inclusive leadership took on new forms as online meetings opened a window into personal lives. Here are a few ways in which inclusive leaders made their team members feel welcome and united in purpose:

  1. They asked questions about the pets and family members that moved in the backgrounds of their team members’ video feeds.
  2. They were more tolerant of the home office’s restrictions on their team members’ working habits by creating more flexibility.
  3. They were inquisitive about their team members’ backgrounds as they joined meetings from their bedrooms, drawing rooms, or rooftops.

There is a connecting thread in these behaviors – inclusive leaders are inquisitive of the people they work with, without invading personal space. They recognize individual boundaries, but they also navigate such cultural and individual preferences while building emotional connections and empowering them to realize their potential – by discussing opportunities and bridging them by showing the steps towards growth. While the ability to nurture individual talent is a trait of all leaders, inclusive leaders can find that nurturing space with diverse groups too.

Future workspaces must be inclusive

Inclusivity is more important now than ever before – and it will be of even greater importance in the future. As organizations embrace hybrid work models, they will also open up to a more diverse, global workforce. Moreover, millennials and Gen-Z are bringing their values and cultural and individual differences to the workplace as employees and to the market as customers. Organizations need to be more than tolerant and accommodating of this diversity that is headed their way in the markets and within the talent pools alike – they need to be welcoming and recognize diversity as an asset. Inclusive leadership will be instrumental in helping them realize this vision, and this is precisely why such leaders like you will be the heroes of the growth stories of the coming decade.

As I welcome the new season of Year 2022 with all of you, here is my ode to all the inclusive and inspirational leaders like you, who are at the forefront of industrial revolution and bringing a change of positive inclusion, like never-before. 

So, you are finally here

Oozing with poise, breezing glare

What in turn, you aspire from me in reverence

A breezing mist of patience and perseverance?

Ok, I will not let you down – I make the vow

However high your expectancy be, I will sow

For you to witness me, the unequivocal Impresario

You will be my best pal – you will be my Mario.

Let me graciously confide, with élan

If you go in a stew and loose calm

Look at me – “hang on a mo.”

And the crowd will erupt, chanting – you are my Hero!


Written by Vijay Verma.

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Vijay Verma
Vijay Verma is an opinion columnist is Executive Vice President at HCL America, Inc. and currently heads the Retail and CPG business units for the North Americas. A global business leader with 25+ years of experience, Vijay has a proven track record of unleashing year-on-year profitable growth for his retail and CPG clients which include several F500 companies. Vijay specializes in creating business value for his clients through strategic transformation programs that increase effectiveness, efficiency, and customer delight.


Vijay Verma is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.