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Effective Leaders Are Inclusive Leaders — Organizations Navigating a World in Crisis Accelerate through Inclusion

June 16, 2020 Maria Howard

Is inclusive leadership something that can be quantified?and How can inclusion be embedded in leadership development? I have been repeatedly asked these two questions by leaders rising to the challenge of navigating a world changed by unprecedented health, economic and social crisis.

I recently met with HR, leadership development and talent management professionals during the HR Virtual Summit to illuminate some answers.

Here’s what I shared: The good news is that inclusion absolutely can be quantified. Linkage’s research has identified the direct correlation between effective leadership and inclusion.

Simply put: The better the leader is at inclusion, the better they are overall. Linkage’s Purposeful Leadership 360˚ Assessment includes the very behaviors that underpin what inclusive leadership looks like and the leaders who embody these behaviors are better at leading across difference and elevating every member of their team to their greatest potential.

As we work to address systemic inequality and racism in the United States, being able to define what inclusive behavior looks like in action is incredibly important.  

My friend Ije Nwosu, who is a fearless senior leader at Kaiser Permanente, recently summarized this idea perfectly, saying: “We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” It can be uncomfortable being receptive to new and different ways of thinking, being transparent and open about ourselves, and understanding how we impact others, even with good intent. We must be willing to take a critical look at how we create a sense of belonging for all to bring these behaviors to life as a standard in how we operate.

Inclusive decision-making can be the silver bullet for organizations looking to meet the demands of a changing and volatile environment. Consider the impact of inclusive decision-making on leaders:

  • Better decisions are made 87% of the time
  • Decisions are made faster, with fewer meetings
  • Decisions are executed with 60% more successful results

It’s clear that inclusion can be the accelerator to our success. So, what can we do to activate the power of inclusive leadership at our organizations?

1. Separate diversity initiatives from your inclusion initiatives

Diversity initiatives are critical and necessary as we strive to diversify our leadership pipeline to reflect the world in which we live and the customers we serve. But, diversity work is only one piece of the puzzle. We know that organizations that work to increase diversity levels without building the cultures of inclusion to support the workforce do not yield the better business outcomes that come with increased levels of diversity.

By separating these two initiatives, you can shine a spotlight on inclusion and measure the critical dimensions of how inclusion is demonstrated. At Linkage, we work with organizations to do just that through the Inclusive Organization Assessment, which measures the perceptions of leaders and non-leaders on how inclusivity shows up in Executive Action, Talent Systems, Culture, and Leadership Development. Gaining a baseline of data will drive you toward the inclusion initiatives that will make the biggest impact on your people.

2. Merge inclusion into leadership development.

Inclusion isn’t a special skill that needs to be independently developed through check the box exercises. Instead, inclusion must be embedded in how we define leadership and it should be part of ongoing expectations and measurement of leaders and leadership teams.

How can organizations achieve this? By defining, measuring and developing inclusion in all leaders of the organization. Leaders should be assessed based on the behaviors of inclusive leadership. Linkage’s Purposeful Leadership 360˚ Assessment has an embedded Inclusion Scale, allowing leaders to gain instant feedback on their own abilities and behaviors, and giving organizations important benchmarks to measure against in the coming years.

3. Diversify your leadership pipeline to bring women and underrepresented groups to the table.

Increasing diversity levels in your leadership ranks is an absolute business imperative, but the presence of women also has another important positive impact: It increases the overall level of inclusion at the organization.

Through our assessments, we identified that all raters perceive women to be much more inclusive than men.

Why is this so important? It allows for a cultural and leadership shift to an inclusive environment, by pushing more leaders to be inclusive through their example and actions.

Beyond women, other underrepresented groups must also be meaningfully supported. A client we’ve been working with for many years, who also has one of the few female Fortune 500 CEOs, partnered with us to apply the work we do with their women to other underrepresented groups within their organization, specifically their Black and Hispanic leaders. We’ve now put in place a systematic approach across executive sponsorship, individual leadership development, and organizational perception studies to ensure these leaders are being retained, developed and promoted.


We need to put an equal emphasis on creating the cultures of inclusion necessary to support a diversified workforce. And, we must put a common behavioral language behind what inclusive leadership is in action if we are to create a new standard of leadership that serves all people in our organizations.

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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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