Inclusive leadership - the power of authenticity

Source: CxO magazine (April 2015)

Diversity has become an increasingly important concept in recent years. It could be the key to improving the performance of companies and organisations. However, in practice this does not always seem to be the case. In this context, Vlerick professor Katleen De Stobbeleir is promoting inclusive leadership. As well as taking proportional diversity into account, this approach also involves asking whether the diversity is actually being utilised.

Katleen De Stobbeleir is professor in Human Resources Management & Leadership at Vlerick Business School. She lectures in leadership, professional management skills and feedback techniques. With her research centre Leading for the Future, she focuses on future-oriented leadership. For the past few years, she has concentrated on studying and researching inclusive leadership: “Diversity does not mean achieving the right proportions in terms of figures, but the perfect mix of personalities. As long as managers fail to realise this, diversity will never work”.

Greater diversity, better performance?

Not everyone is a natural born leader. But what does make someone a skilled leader? And will the strong leaders of today still be playing a leadership role tomorrow? Katleen: “In recent years, the concept of diversity has really been bandied about. Want to make your organisation future-proof? Ensure diversity within your team. In practice, however, it appears that proportional diversity is anything but a guarantee of success. Research has shown that diversity only leads to improved performance in 50% of cases. More women, different age categories, different nationalities… it's not about recruiting your employees in the right diversity ratio. Instead, it involves encouraging each of them to act as authentically as possible. This naturally requires a different approach from the management. Not ‘dictating’ but ‘asking and listening’”.

Listen to the employees

Merely focusing on the proportional aspect of diversity does not work. So what does work? Katleen: “The only factor that improves the performance of an organisation is inclusion: listening to what every employee has to say. Companies that work to improve their diversity but do not change their standards will not be able to capitalise on their diversity. An important feature of inclusive leadership is that all employees are given the chance to be themselves. Only then will new talents drift to the surface, leading to improved performance and lifting your company to a higher level”.

Improvising authenticity

It should come as no surprise to learn that inclusive leadership is not something that can be achieved overnight. Nonetheless, there are quite a few tools that can help a company transition to the new company culture. Katleen: “In the first place, you need to assess where you are today. Have you even started raising awareness within your organisation? Or have you already achieved some level of diversity, but the focus is still too much on the figures? An assessment can clarify this point. It is also possible to attend courses and training sessions. At the moment, for example, we are organising authenticity workshops. On the basis of acting techniques and improvisation, these workshops will encourage people to bring out the various aspects of their personality as much as possible. This will also help them to call on other strengths. Not only will this allow them to feel better about their job, it will naturally also enhance the entire organisation”.

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