BLOG: Leadership Insights

Get Email Updates

Why Leading Inclusively Has Never Been More Important Than It Is Now

March 25, 2020 Susie Kelleher
Originally published on

With the ongoing spread of COVID-19 around the world, every day we wake up to new information and a new reality.

The number of concerns continues to grow: Those retaining their jobs are dealing with the layoffs of friends, sometimes experiencing “survivor guilt” and the tumultuousness that comes from evolving job descriptions. The daily decisions in our jobs are difficult, and often impossible to make, because we simply can’t predict the future. And, as we all adapt to working from home, we are desperately craving real social interaction with others (well documented as the key to longevity and good health!). On top of all this, we worry about the health of our loved ones and ourselves.

It is clear that many people are making decisions from a place of fear and uncertainty, rather than from possibility and optimism.

This means many of us are functioning from our “survival brain”—and not the smart and creative part of our brain. We are making decisions from the fight-or-flight system activated in times of stress and uncertainty or when we feel threatened or unsafe.

Most aren’t thinking: “How can I be extraordinary at my job today?”

Instead, they are thinking: “How do I get through another day? What will tomorrow bring?”

In times of crisis and uncertainty, those who can lead from a place of inclusion and high emotional intelligence will quickly differentiate themselves from those who cannot. In fact, these inclusive leaders will also likely be instrumental in their company’s ability to navigate crisis and ultimately succeed.

Linkage recently studied the specific behaviors in our 360˚ assessments that map to inclusive leadership. We examined data from nearly 19,000 assessments evaluating nearly 1,200 leaders. Here’s what we found: The most effective leaders are also the most inclusive, and leaders who are not inclusive will not be effective.

The time for thoughtful, inclusive leadership is now. Never have we needed inclusive leaders more than we do at this pivotal time.

In order to lead inclusively, leaders must:

  1. Create a safe environment where people can bring their full authentic selves to work. When we ask people to assimilate to the dominant culture, it can drive fear, uncertainty and exhaustion, and there is simply too much fear, uncertainty and exhaustion right now. Leaders shouldn’t add to it. Instead, they must shift their focus to creating cultures where every person feels safe to live authentically and express themselves fully at work.
  2. Find and shine a spotlight on the uniqueness and potential in others. As a leader, your job is to pull that out of them and lift every member of your team by helping them see what they are truly capable of.
  3. Make the effort to get to know everyone on your team well. Truly inclusive leaders understand the values, goals and fears of their people. They pay attention to how and whom they spend their time with and identify ways to connect with their teams on a deeper level. Download your own copy of Linkage’s Inclusion Reflection Planner to begin placing intentionality on your commitment to leading your team inclusively.
  4. Foster communities and teams where everyone feels they belong and has a unique and valuable role. Now that we are all participating in virtual meetings, the dynamic may have shifted—and not in a positive way. Is everyone on the video call speaking equally? Are you acknowledging their contributions? Are you using video to get face-to-face time with your people? Take an audit of how your in-person leadership style has evolved in the new virtual landscape.
  5. Understand that everyone is in a different place, mentally and physically. Inclusive leaders meet the employees where they are, without judgment. Compassionately coach your teams through this.
  6. Practice intentional inclusion and be aware of your language and choices, to avoid unintentional diminishing comments that may leave others feeling excluded or invalidated. This is even more important in a virtual environment. For an important refresher on microaggressions, listen to this interview with Dr. Derald Wing Sue, author of Microaggressions in Everyday Life.
  7. Be aware of how stress is impacting your actions. You may now be living the “stress-response cycle.” When we experience a stressful situation, either environmental or psychological, it can trigger stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. These changes can lead us to act in a highly reactive and exclusionary way. A critical part of leading inclusively is knowing how to manage our own stress response. (For more on this, be sure to check back for my next blog on maintaining an ideal performance state in extraordinarily stressful times.)
  8. Get feedback on how you are doing. Nothing can be more valuable than the gift of feedback. During busy or uncertain times, we can’t neglect to do the type of thoughtful thinking about our own limitations that can help us grow as leaders.

Good intentions are not enough. As leaders, it’s our job to get this right, which means continuing to learn ways to be inclusive and reflecting and assessing ourselves daily. Take Linkage’s Self-Assessment Quiz on Inclusive Leadership to begin your own reflection process.

As leaders, our teams and organizations are looking to us for inspiration and support during these critical times. How are we rising to the occasion? With these inclusive leadership practices, we can create cultures of inclusion where all voices are heard, and team members can realize their full potential.

Linkage’s Creating Cultures of Inclusion and Accelerating Purposeful Leadership solutions empower leaders to achieve their full potential—to lead inclusively and effectively and drive business impact. Available through innovative online learning formats, Linkage’s research-backed models and programs are designed to drive results.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

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.

Enrich Your inbox

with timely, relevant leadership insights

Join more than 15,000 others and subscribe to Linkage Leadership Insights: your resource for leadership development-related topics that matter to you, from the advancement of women leaders to diversity and inclusion and purposeful leadership. Plus, get all the latest Linkage news delivered to your inbox.

Related Posts

All Insights

Start Your Journey

Speak with a Linkage expert today