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What does inclusive leadership look like?

Last updated

16 December 2023


Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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Leadership can make or break a team, so your company needs to invest in inclusive leadership practices to support and encourage every member of staff.

Inclusive leadership is essential for fostering a respectful, inviting, and diverse workplace. As a skill that can be taught and improved upon with training, respected industry leaders understand the importance of using inclusive leadership techniques to support their teammates and drive a culture that embraces diversity.

Learn more about inclusive leadership and discover the 10 most common traits displayed by inclusive leaders as they support and direct their teams.

What is inclusive leadership?

Inclusive leadership is the practice of managing and facilitating effective work between a group of people with different backgrounds and experiences. It aims to make each team member feel valued, included, and respected by encouraging idea-sharing and new ways of doing things in the workplace.

An inclusive leader will protect their team members from discrimination or bias relating to their age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical ability, and more. They will empower and inspire each team member to share their voices and engage in their work.

The most dynamic teams are made up of a diverse group of people who bring different skills and experiences to the table. To reap the benefits of a diverse team, companies need to hire inclusive leaders and invest in inclusive leadership training across the organization.

Why inclusive leadership is important

Workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices are at the forefront of modern work. Companies investing in these initiatives put themselves in a good position to improve their workplace culture, make better brand decisions, and boost customer satisfaction.

Teams of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences are known to create better quality work and more innovative products and services. Innovation and breakthroughs are only possible in workplaces where inclusive leadership is part of the day-to-day experience.

Inclusive leaders are an essential part of any successful workplace for the following reasons:

Improving employee engagement

When your team feels included and comfortable at work, they are more likely to want to participate and contribute at a higher level. This means they will be more present, productive, and efficient at work.

Increasing talent retention

Feeling dissatisfied with leadership and not having work acknowledged often cause people to seek employment elsewhere.

Use inclusive leadership techniques to support your team members. This will enable you to retain your best talent and create a more comfortable and effective working environment.

Encouraging workplace collaboration

Every team is made up of people with different perspectives, opinions, and backgrounds. It’s the leader’s job to facilitate effective collaboration between everyone on the team.

Inclusive leadership training reduces the risk of workplace conflicts, solves issues faster, and creates more compelling and exciting products and services with a more collaborative approach.

Common traits of an inclusive leader

So, what makes someone an inclusive leader?

When hiring or promoting someone to a leadership position, it’s best to hire people who display the following traits:

Commitment to relationship-building

An inclusive leader is a person who understands how to work with a diverse group of people, all while building professional yet friendly relationships with their peers and upper management.

Strong leaders know how to connect with their team by displaying an interest in individuals as people, valuing everyone’s contributions, and finding ways to resolve potential conflicts and issues between team members.

You want your staff to feel included and respected by your company’s leadership. People who naturally thrive at relationship building are more likely to have this effect.

Here are some examples of ways an inclusive leader can showcase a commitment to relationship-building:

  • Regularly checking on their coworkers’ well-being

  • Creating an “open door” environment for all members of the team

  • Encouraging people to set professional and personal boundaries


Empathy is an important trait for an effective leader. Empathetic people can put themselves in another person’s shoes to try to understand the situation from their perspective—an essential skill for improving workplace inclusivity. They can connect and relate to their team members through experiences and perspectives while providing a sense of belonging and trust.

Life happens. Not every deadline will be met, and not every project will run smoothly. An inclusive leader will not only understand this but will plan for it. And, whenever possible, they will display compassion and empathy toward team members who feel stressed or overwhelmed.

Below are examples of ways an inclusive leader can showcase empathy:

  • Checking in on a team member after a tough meeting

  • Listening attentively to a team member’s feedback

  • Encouraging teammates to share their stories and ideas (and giving them praise after doing so)

Appreciation for others

Have you ever worked with someone who didn’t appreciate your efforts or contributions? It probably made you feel quite disengaged from work.

Showing the proper amount of appreciation for your team is essential for creating a respectful and friendly work environment. People who find it easy to praise and appreciate their colleagues are a great choice for leadership roles, as they don’t need extra reminders or training to foster a more positive and collaborative workplace.

Here are some ways an inclusive leader can showcase appreciation:

  • Thanking teammates for helping them with a task

  • Remembering birthdays and other key milestones and encouraging team members to celebrate these events

  • Ensuring the correct people get praise for their contributions to a project

Cultural and emotional intelligence

Intelligence is a complicated, multi-faceted concept—especially in the context of emotional and cultural awareness.

While people can become more emotionally and culturally aware through training, some are naturally more able to connect with people in these specific areas.

Having a leader who is emotionally and culturally intelligent makes it easier to create a safe and inclusive workplace. Their natural ability to connect with and understand their peers’ needs and preferences goes a long way in making team members feel comfortable at work.

Here are some examples of how an inclusive leader can showcase emotional and cultural intelligence:

  • Knowing when to give a teammate space after a disagreement

  • Being aware of cultural holidays and practices

  • Having the skills to navigate periods of stress without lashing out


Self-awareness is understanding how you are perceived in a group or workplace setting. It’s not always the easiest skill, but it’s an essential trait for an inclusive leader as it will enable them to continually improve and grow.

An inclusive leader can showcase self-awareness in the following ways:

  • Asking for feedback on their performance (what’s working, what isn’t)

  • Not speaking over others or out of turn

  • Knowing how to set professional boundaries for working capacity

Open communication style

How a leader communicates with their team significantly impacts the workplace culture, the team’s productivity, and the level of inclusion.

Open communication is vital for an inclusive leader. It involves being interested in hearing diverse opinions, encouraging team members to ask questions, and ensuring that each team member feels heard and understood.

Here are some examples of ways an inclusive leader can showcase an open communication style:

  • Creating open feedback channels

  • Conducting regular one-to-one check-ins with team members

  • Being responsive and accessible during working hours


Being accountable, which involves taking ownership of your tasks and responsibilities, is a must-have trait in a great inclusive leader.

There needs to be trust between coworkers and their managers. The best way for a leader to establish this trust is by consistently showing up and staying on top of their responsibilities.

An accountable leader is someone who actually does what they say they will, whether that means completing work tasks or standing up for the team’s needs during larger company meetings.

An inclusive leader can showcase accountability in the following ways:

  • Meeting deadlines and completing the tasks they say they will

  • Attending meetings on time and being prepared for presentations

  • Continually advocating for their team’s needs and comfort

Best practices for fostering inclusive leadership at work

In addition to hiring and promoting people who display the traits of an inclusive leader, here are some additional things your company can do to improve the quality of its leadership:

Offer inclusive leadership training

Inclusive leadership is a learned skill that can be improved when you invest time and resources. Encourage your company’s managers to attend regular inclusive leadership training seminars, online courses, and conferences to learn more about social awareness, listening skills, and how to be approachable and open.

Encourage team feedback

During annual reviews or all-hands meetings, encourage your team to provide feedback about all levels of leadership in the company. Done regularly, this feedback can be used to streamline working processes, improve communication channels, and reduce the risk of workplace disagreements or frustrations.

For the best results, you can also send leadership surveys to your team to collect anonymous feedback about areas they can improve.

Connect with other inclusive leaders

Strong leaders understand the importance of learning from their peers. This is particularly true for anyone looking to gain insight into leading a diverse team more effectively. Speak to leaders in other industries about their best practices for inclusive leadership to get tangible, actionable advice that your team can implement in day-to-day operations.

Teams with inclusive leaders produce better work

Well-respected and sought-after companies understand the importance of inclusive leadership. This is an essential path forward if your company wants to create better products and services, hire better talent, and better serve your target audience.

Inclusive leadership is not a passing trend. It’s time for your company to invest the time and resources needed to create a more inclusive and inviting workplace for every member of your team.

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