Recently I went to my physical therapist, Dr. Patel. I was suffering from pain in my knee and back. Dr. Patel analyzed my body movements for a while and then explained to me how I can heal my pain without drugs. His method was simple to understand and graceful to execute. His strategy, that I finally implemented to manage my pain, was to work multiple muscles in unison, in a coordinated manner — to lower the load on my knee and back muscles. Turns out not all my muscles were doing the work to move my body in a coordinated manner. The knee and back muscles were doing more than their fair share of work, resulting in the pain. Dr. Patel taught me a few personalized exercises to “recruit” multiple muscles. We included the glutes, the quadriceps, the hamstrings, even my arms, to move my body. Once all the individual muscles worked in unison, the work of walking became efficient, engaging, and graceful. My body healed.
The physical therapy not only healed the pain but also taught me a lesson that I apply to my day to day leadership in business. When I am running a business, I need to recruit different team members and create an environment that enables them to work in unison – this is the essence of inclusive leadership. All of us are valued for our unique strengths, irrespective of our backgrounds. It takes all the team members working together to make progress on a project, just like it takes all the muscles to efficiently move our body.
In an inclusive culture, all the team members are valued, and in turn feel engaged. You, the team leader, stand to gain immensely by practicing inclusive leadership skills. You would retain team members longer, improve team productivity, and might even build a better product.
Why do I say that the team members will stay longer (than the average length of time a worker stays with a leader) with an inclusive leader? Because they will love working where they are respected for their expertise. Have you worked for a boss who did not listen to your ideas to solve a problem while the problem kept getting worse? I have. We all want respect and recognition for what we bring to the table. When your team members are respected and feel engaged at work, they are less likely to look for other opportunities elsewhere. That means they will stay with you longer. That also means you don’t have to spend time and money to hire and train new employees. Recruiting a new team member can cost thousands of dollars ($4129, according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM.org)). As a business leader, you are responsible for using money wisely and efficiently. Practicing inclusive leadership is a win-win solution for you, the team member, and your organization. What is not to like?
So, how can you Improve productivity through inclusive leadership? By enabling every team member with their unique strengths to connect and coordinate well. Imagine everybody Pitching in – John, Maria, Vishnu, Jose and Lashawn. They will not only bring their strengths but also compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Your team will increase the chances to cover their individual blind spots. As the team leader, you will increase the quality by decreasing the blind spots: this is really the name of the game. The overall errors go down and the team productivity goes up.
There is a side benefit. You also grow as a communicator, increasing your ability to communicate to different team members. I will cite my own experience. I am an engineering and business management professional. It’s easy for me to communicate to the engineers and business professionals – I am on my own turf. I must work harder to explain myself to people who tend to have different communication style, say, someone from social sciences. But doing so helps me grow as a communicator. This growth prepares me for more complex leadership assignments.
An inclusive leader also enables her team to build great products for her customers. Let’s say you are a manager of a team that is building a medical device product for new mothers. The product also comes with a service component. To be successful in building a product that works, the team needs different perspectives – of a mother, of a doctor, of a nurse, of a buyer, of a health insurance firm etc. To be good in all aspects of business, you need a team that is diverse, works well together, and creates great products. Do you want to end up with a device that looks good but does not work mechanically? Your customer does not. I am sure you don’t either. We all want a product that functions well, looks good, and works till the end of its shelf-life.
Not only my experience tells me that inclusive leadership creates a win-win experience for you and your team, but research also supports these benefits. A team with an inclusive leader is 20% more likely to say that they make high quality decisions and 17% more likely to report that they are high performing (Espedido, 2019).
Some of you might be thinking it is a lot of work to practice inclusive leadership. I agree. It is a lot of upfront work. But that is true about anything worthwhile you do as a leader – to set your team up for success, to craft and communicate the vision, to course correct early when the team is not moving in the right direction. You might also think that practicing inclusive leadership is not necessary. Of course, it’s not. It is also not necessary for you to future proof your leadership career. If your current leadership role is the last one in your career, you can totally ignore my advice. But if you want to be a leader who is ready to take on increasingly rewarding assignments in the future, you should practice inclusive leadership. The world is getting more diverse, your customer base is getting more diverse; being an inclusive leadership practitioner will prepare you to take on the leadership challenges of the future and keep on growing. I am here to nudge you, to prepare for that future.
To me, it just makes sense to practice inclusive leadership – for you, your team, and the market. It’s not easy to be an inclusive leader who creates an engaging environment. But when you create that kind of environment, the rewards are well worth the investment of your effort. When you do so, you win, your organization wins, and we all win – by bringing our best selves to work.
Espedido, A. a. (2019, March). Why Inclusive Leaders Are Good for Organizations, and How to Become One.
SHRM.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/about-shrm/press-room/press-releases/pages/human-capital-benchmarking-report.aspx