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What’s more inclusive: cultivating belonging or uniqueness?

May 14, 2015

It’s an interesting question, right?

We hear lots of talk about the importance of building inclusive company culture. And needless to say, we here at Linkage are very strong advocates of inclusive leadership and helping organizations develop more inclusive leaders. But the question still remains, what’s better for a company’s bottom line, a workforce where everyone feels that they belong—that they are “part of”—or a company culture that values and encourages uniqueness?

If you haven’t already guessed, this is a trick question. You can’t have one without the other. Well you can, but it just won’t work.

Of course everyone wants to feel like they belong, right? But too much “belonging” can breed an overly structured environment that will stifle the lifeblood of most modern organizations—innovation. Organizations that put a high value on “belonging” may be good at doing the same thing over and over, but will be unable to keep up in the fast-paced world of today.

Meanwhile, putting a high premium on the “uniqueness” of each individual contributor in an organization may make for a highly innovative organization. But too much uniqueness can also lead to chaos. An organization that strives to honor each individual’s unique abilities is on the right track, but could also be highly susceptible to suffer from poor discipline or unified goals. Organizations that put too high a focus on each worker’s “uniqueness” might be unable to actually execute any of the innovative ideas. And that, obviously, is not good for the bottom line.

The most successful organizations cultivate inclusive leaders who can strike a balance. Inclusive leaders make sure that everyone in the organization has a voice and has a stake in the success of the company as a whole. They foster an overall sense of “belonging” by helping their teams understand they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. And the paradox is: The strength of every organization comes from the uniqueness of the people that work there and the ability of the leadership to bring out the best in those people. That’s inclusive leadership.

The good news is inclusive leadership can be taught.

So first, take this free quiz to see how inclusive you actually are.

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