Inclusive leadership

There’s never been a more important time for organisations and their legal departments to embrace diversity and develop inclusive leadership skills. Here we look at the why and the how.

Traditional management and leadership models are no longer relevant in our modern, diverse organisation. Heading up teams of people from a wide range of backgrounds and with a variety of perspectives and insights calls for a new, inclusive leadership style.

Five signs that you’re an inclusive leader

Once upon a time leadership was about command and control. Company bosses would set the organisation’s course and lay down the rules - and the workers would follow.

Few people questioned this process. That the bosses alone had the clearest world view, the monopoly on creative thinking and all the necessary strategic nous was tacitly accepted. Encouraged even.

No more. Populations, and therefore workforces, are more diverse than ever, meaning organisations are made up of people from a rich variety of backgrounds. Meanwhile, a world of insight into social, political and economic trends and the freedom to connect with almost anyone on the planet is now available to anyone with a mobile phone.

The effects of these factors have been seismic and diversity is changing organisations for the better. Numerous studies have demonstrated that modern, diverse businesses understand their target audiences better, make better decisions, are more creative, more productive and enjoy higher levels of employee engagement than their now-obsolete predecessors.

No surprise then, that they’re also more profitable.

Leading a diverse team

Any organisation can benefit from diversity if it can embrace the leadership style that will unlock its potential. This calls for a departure from the outmoded command and control model to something far better suited to 21st century needs.

It calls for inclusive leadership.

Referring to its 2016 report on inclusive leadership, the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei), stated:

“Leaders who are aware of their own biases and preferences actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making. They see diverse talent as a source of competitive advantage and inspire diverse people to drive organisational and individual performance towards a shared vision.”

So how do you know if you’re an inclusive leader? Here are our five signs that will tell you if you’re on the right track.

1 You know yourself

As we see in enei’s statement, the inclusive leader knows what their default biases and preferences are. This knowledge provides the basis for seeking alternative perspectives and opinions. As well as demonstrating inclusiveness, this helps you learn from the diversity in your organisation and reflect on – and evolve – your leadership style. It allows you to make decisions based on evidence, not gut instinct. You can maximise the value of your self-awareness by encouraging colleague feedback and attending talks and events about diverse groups. Furthermore, you can promote a culture of self-awareness among your department through a programme of cross cultural discovery and learning events and initiatives, both formal and informal.

2 You’re an advocate for diversity

You champion diversity and open mindedness in your dealings with colleagues, your team members, senior management and other stakeholders in your organisation. You’re open to ideas from people who think differently to you and encourage input from everyone into key decisions. This means giving everyone equal opportunities to speak in meetings. You put diversity at the centre of your thinking when selecting members of team projects and use inclusion-based KPIs to advance under-represented groups. You also take an interest in people as individuals, offer personalised support where necessary and ensure employees from all backgrounds have access to personal growth and career advancement opportunities.

3 Your colleagues and team members trust you

If you manage a large legal team – and especially if that team operates across multiple jurisdictions and cultures - the onus is on you to win the trust of your colleagues as an inclusive leader as well as a competent lawyer.

You’ll understand, for example, that in some regions in-house lawyers are business facilitators while in others they’re risk controllers. Equally important, you’ll know how work patterns, statutory rights, lifestyles and social customs vary across your organisation’s geographies.

Winning trust is also about your behaviours. So you’re not afraid to put your hands up when you make a mistake, you’re happy for colleagues to challenge the established thinking and you listen to other people, whatever their role or level of seniority. That way, you influence people’s work without having to pull rank.

4 You break down tribal dynamics

You’re acutely aware that informal groups form within all teams, and that this gives rise to insider vs outsider dynamics. As an inclusive leader, you make it your business to break these dynamics down by treating people as valued individuals and building harmony across the whole team. You promote team events that remove barriers between people, encourage individual expression and creative thinking and steer away from any form of employee cloning. Even your office floorplan and cross-site working policy is designed to help prevent the forming of tribes.

5 You’re curious – and adaptable

As the world around us changes, so must we if we’re to stay relevant and of value to our employers. Curiosity and adaptability are the keys here. Your curiosity drives you to ask questions, seek out alternative world views and understand the perspectives of people whose lived experience is nothing like yours. It means you challenge unspoken rules and lazy assumptions, yet acknowledge tradition and cultural customs.

Your adaptability allows you to take these insights on board and adjust your approach and behaviours accordingly. It also helps to prevent you from judging other people against your own beliefs and standards. Similarly, you reward team members who embrace curiosity and adaptability.


Diversity is a great asset to an organisation. However, releasing its potential calls for excellent and inclusive leadership. Key elements of inclusive leadership are to know your biases and preferences, to champion diversity and to win the trust and respect of everyone across your team, your senior management and other stakeholders. You’ll also need to know how to deal with tribal dynamics and internal politics within your team from time to time. Perhaps most important of all, however, is a willingness to be both curious – so as to learn all you can about people as individuals - and adaptable – so as to keep your approach relevant to the needs and cultural make-up of your teams.

For further reading on inclusion and diversity our article can be found here.