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How to Lead Inclusively Through Polarity


Fri Mar 15 2024

How to Lead Inclusively Through Polarity

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Amid increasing polarity and societal divisiveness, the role leaders play in shaping the employee experience has never been more vital. With increased integration of personal and professional identities, values, and perspectives, civility and mutual respect have become contentious terrain to thoughtfully navigate in the workplace. Several factors and conditions contribute to the experiences of employees; this article highlights four key opportunities that fall within a leader’s sphere of influence.

Organizations often outline shared core values to uphold their desired workplace culture, but leaders play an active role in determining how to maintain that culture and the various sub-cultures at a team level. Individual interpretations and expressions of a company’s values can lead to misunderstandings and incongruent perceptions. The age-old saying “people do not leave companies, they leave bosses” takes on a new tone in contemporary times as more employers are expecting employees to return to the office in hopes of increasing engagement and connection.


Today, more employees are seeking environments that allow for authentic expression and cultures of inclusion and belonging. The common denominator that shapes the employee experience in both scenarios is leaders. The role and influence of leaders has evolved, requiring refreshed competencies relevant to the current times and organizational needs. This includes taking stronger ownership of the experiences employees have and actively working to mitigate attrition.

Inclusive Leadership Tips for Navigating Polarity

Inclusive leadership is a style of leadership that seeks to include and value diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Embracing the various dimensions of diversity and insights on a team is essential to building and maintaining high-performing teams. Trust, communication, commitment, mutual respect, and the ability to manage conflict as it arises are foundational to any relationship. An inclusive approach to leadership prioritizes a deepening understanding of how each individual on the team experiences the aforementioned. Inclusive leaders have a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the uniqueness of each team member, are self-aware, understand their biases and cultural orientation, and actively work to be adaptive in their leadership approach. To become a more inclusive leader, focus on incorporating the following practices:

1. Model authenticity and humility by sharing details about yourself and conveying openness and curiosity about others. Examples might include sharing your previous personal and professional experiences, identity, and social conditioning. To objectively learn about others and minimize unintended consequences requires knowledge of where biases exist, sensitivity around stereotypes, and perspective taking, or the ability to step outside of your own frame of reference and see things through someone else’s perspective. It’s not about getting it right 100 percent of the time or saying the right things. Taking this step prioritizes accountability for the impacts of actions and messages over the intent of what was conveyed.

2. Practice the platinum rule by treating others how they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated. Inclusive leaders take an individualized approach to leadership and seek to understand each team member. They avoid centering their preferred styles and approaches and instead seek to understand how others prefer to be engaged, recognized, rewarded, and communicated with. There is an adaptive process to effectively engaging others in ways that honor all parties that is often refined over time and with the strengthening of relationships.

3. Mutual respect and belonging honors the views, perspectives, and experiences of others without minimization. One way to put this into practice is by moving beyond the binary “either-or” thinking and instead embracing a “both-and” mindset. Accepting that two things could be true versus seeking one definitive truth provides space to encourage collaboration and innovation.


4. Develop a heightened level of awareness about external events and a mindfulness of how team members might be affected. Although there may not always be company-wide acknowledgments of external events that are traumatic, violent, or fuel divisiveness, that does not mean that they do not affect the people you encounter.

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