This quote from Brené Brown defines leadership, and it sounds like an easy formula for leading people. If that is the case, why is so much talent and potential left untapped?
Why do so many people still hold part of themselves back at work?
Why are many people overlooked, stereotyped, or categorized?
What does this quote mean if we strive for inclusive leadership?
Here are four steps you can take for personal growth to be an inclusive leader, followed by four actions to develop potential in those you lead.
1. Start with self-awareness.
Like it or not, self-reflecting on beliefs, behaviors and blocks/obstacles that prevent anticipating and seeing the potential of everyone you lead is important work. Beliefs/biases will either cause you to lean toward or away from someone because you rely on positive thoughts or negative thoughts, often unconsciously. The result is that people are put into categories based on prejudices (“a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”) that drive the leader’s process. Even if there has been a personal experience that did not go well, no leader should ever have a “one-time, you’re out” approach to talent development. Period.
2. Challenge your biases.
The journey of discovering biases (conscious and unconscious) that impact how you lead and develop people does not have to be difficult. When you set an intention to be aware of your biases, you can not see them. Commit to challenging them by discovering where you learned the belief; questioning if it is true – always true; and questioning limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are often learned, then held as true and they hold people back, including yourself. Effective leaders cannot afford to hold back the courage to get out of their comfort zone. Drop the bias and work toward developing talent.
3. Identify behaviors that result from your biases.
These could be microaggressions or microaffirmations. A microaggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group” which includes, but is not limited to race, gender, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, religion, and age. Microaffirmations are “small acts, which are often ephemeral and hard-to-see, events…often unconscious but very effective, which occur wherever people wish to help others to succeed” (Mary Rowe, MIT). Behaviors are messages we send whether we know it or not and they have impact – positive, negative, or neutral. The key is to recognize specific behaviors; determine the impact; and consciously choose the most effective behavior.
4. Address any blocks that prevent behavioral change.
Sometimes, along the way, we can get stuck on a belief or an experience that makes it challenging to shift behavior. This may take deeper work to identify the nature of the block, the “why” and origin of the block, and any fear related to the block and/or a behavioral shift. This work may require a deeper dive into beliefs that perpetuate racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and xenophobia.
The above four steps clear the way for leaders to take “responsibility for finding the potential in people.”
From this point, the work you do toward people development can fall into four categories:
Development needs to be based on what someone needs to succeed, and it can be different from individual to individual. There will be certain criteria that are equally a part of the process. Development needs to be equitable, which means it is based on what the individual needs.
This requires supporting, encouraging, inviting, advocating and when relevant, sponsoring individuals so that they have the opportunities to exhibit their talents, skills, and potential.
This is a skill that effective leaders develop so that they can be the “leader as coach.” Coaching skills of powerful questioning, effective feedback, career planning, goal setting, measurement and accountability will help you develop those you lead. Listening is one of the most important skills – really listening, rather than directing and only focusing on your agenda.
This simple act lets someone know they are valued, have been seen and have a sense of belonging. This applies to performance reviews and everyday actions that are intended to acknowledge someone. It is also good for a leader to learn how people want to be recognized, rather than one size fits all.
If you are able to courageously delve into the four discovery actions outlined here, you are well on your way to being a consciously inclusive leader. When leaders are inclusive, the rich diversity of the organization can thrive and help the organization thrive. Inclusion promotes engagement, which fuels motivation, drives innovation, and creates performance excellence.