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What Effective Executive Action Looks Like | 6 Steps to Amplifying Inclusive Leadership

February 9, 2021 Susie Kelleher

Organizations and leaders have a responsibility to invite more people to bring their full, authentic uniqueness to the workplace every day, to fully realize the immense benefits of diversity. 

Linkage’s latest white paper outlines the three most important levers for leaders and organizations to focus on if they want sustainable and impactful change. One of those critical levers is executive action, which involves active and meaningful engagement of executive leadership in creating and fostering a culture of inclusion. 

What does effective executive action to drive inclusion look like?  

Here are two examples of exceptional inclusive leadershipone story from the national news and one story from my personal life: 

Driving transformative change for an industry  

Landon Donovan is one of the best US soccer players of all time and current coach of the San Diego Loyala United Soccer League team.  

Last year, his support for his players and dedication to inclusion was on full display. His team was winning a playoff game 3-1, when a player on the opposing team used a homophobic slur against one of Donovan’s players. Donovan and his team at once moved to hold the player accountable, requesting to the ref and the opposing coach that they provide a red card or remove the player from the game. When no action was taken against the offending player, Donovan and his team decided that they would walk off the field and take the forfeit.

Donovan was quoted as saying: “There are more important things than winning.” 

This was not the first time Donovan had come up against hatred, as one week earlier, one of his players was called a racial slur. In that moment, Donovan had resolved that his team would no longer continue to play a game unless immediate action wataken toward this type of behavior.  

Donovan has been a voice and champion for marginalized communities for some time. His continued courage and leadership finally prompted the US Soccer Federation to act, suspending the player for several games and taking on a broader commitment to address this type of behavior.  

The actions our leaders take matter. Executive action is about having the courage to do the right thing, the hard thing, the thing that will drive needed change. Sometimes, that means taking a short-term loss for yourself or your team in service of the bigger, more important goal.  

It also allows us to examine the broader, systemic issues that inhibit us from creating true cultures of inclusion. Like many organizations, the Union of European Football Associations has protocols in place like fines and stadium bans to manage racism from fans and players. Why hasn’t the behavior stopped? Because these protocols are rarely enforced. What can change behavior? Bold and courageous action. Team Donovan’s commitment is their team slogan: “I will speak, I will act.” This is step one in driving real and lasting change. 

Creating personal impact for individuals 

I have worked for 20 different leaders over my career. While I was motivated by many of them to perform, there is one leader who exemplified inclusion. In doing so, he inspired my highest discretionary effort and commitment. Within one week of working for him, I felt empowered and recognized for my unique value. This is how he treated everyone.

It has been many years since I worked for Scott Lynn, but his leadership continues to positively impact me.  

Scott would walk into a meeting and say, “What do you all think? You are all smarter than I am, that is why I hired you.” I remember being shocked to hear someone with greater positional power say something like that and mean it. Then he would truly listen, ask great questions, and let us work to solve the problem. He leveraged each of our unique talents and then used his talent and positional privilege to get us what we needed to be successful. He was our advocate. This is what executive action to drive inclusive cultures looks like. 

While I was interviewing to work for him, I was two months pregnant, but did not disclose thisa dilemma many women face as they work to advance their careers while starting families. 

Once hired, I nervously shared the news with him. I wanted the job and knew I could perform. At the same time, felt I was disappointing him since I would take a three-month parental leave only seven months into the job. 

He did not hesitate for a moment. He congratulated me with great enthusiasm, and I could tell instantly he was not concerned, nor did he regret the decision to give me the job. Scott is a visionary leader, like Donovan, who sees the big picture, the things that are most important to organizational success: peopleall people, not just those who fit neatly into a “box. 

Two years later, I made the difficult decision to step back from this leadership role, as I was balancing travel and motherhood. Scott had just given me an award for my leadership, and I felt terrible for doing this to him. But this was Scott Lynn, a Purposeful and Inclusionary Leader, and I should not have worried.

When I shared my decision, he flew to Minnesota to take my family to dinner to show his support for me. He continued to invest in someone who would no longer be on his team, contributing to his success. Why? Because he understood and recognized how incredibly difficult it was for me to step down. Scott wasn’t thinking about how this would impact himhe was thinking about how it was impacting me. This is how Scott leads and why he has had such an incredibly successful career. 

Scott and I were on opposite sides politically and had many conversations where our perspectives differed greatly. I never left those conversations feeling attacked or worried that sharing my beliefs or not aligning with his would impact my career. In fact, I felt the opposite: It felt completely safe to show up as my full authentic self, even if it included disagreeing with the boss. His reception of my and others unique points of view on all subjects made me feel deep respect for him as both a person and a leaderthe kind of leader you give your highest discretionary effort to and contribute your best work. 

Would the people who work for or with you today feel safe telling you their perspective on a potentially divisive issue? Do you feel safe sharing your perspectives with your own leaders?

Executive action is more than simply saying the right thing. Organizations need executive leaders who are willing to “pull their team off the field”potentially taking a short-term loss in service of the bigger picture. 

These executives recognize the struggles of their diverse team members, draw out their uniqueness, and create a powerful sense of belonging for all.  

Heres how:  

Practice internal exploration to:  

  1. Uncover your own biases. We all have bias; it is part of being human. The work to be done is for each of us to uncover our biases daily.
  2. Watch for these biases in your thoughts, words and actions. 
  3. Continually deepen your knowledge on things like microaggressions, privilege, uniqueness and belonging, and call upon experts like Linkage to help you. 

Take action to: 

  1. Demonstrate and role-model full commitment to these efforts.
  2. Notice biases in others and skillfully call them out to shift the culture.
  3. Pay attention to what and who is valued and what and who is not valued in your organization. Initiate dialogue to create awareness of marginalized groups or individuals to shift perspectives and expand thinking. 

To create a culture of inclusion that delivers the best results financially and personally, we must take bold, even radical, courageous steps. These steps must start with those who have the power and privilege at the executive level if we ever hope to drive real and sustainable change. 

How will you use your executive power to drive a stronger and more inclusive culture for all?


Now is the time for a new vision for inclusion in the workplace. Learn more about Linkage’s Redesigning Inclusion: Superpowers and Symphony and learn how you can bring this transformative solution to your organization.

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