The 6 defining traits of an inclusive leader

Inclusivity is way of doing, thinking and being, it must be intentional and actionable.

In a business context, inclusivity is now important than ever with the changing dynamics of teams, an increase in female participation in the workforce and a more global outlook on employment.  

An inclusive workplace sees that all employees feel safe, heard, respected and encouraged to voice their opinions. By creating a culture of inclusivity, employees feel empowered to share their ideas with team collaboration increasing by 29% according to a 2018 study by Deloitte. This study also demonstrated that a more inclusive workplace, driven by an inclusive leader, was 6 x more likely to be innovative and agile, and 2 x more likely to meet or exceed financial targets.  

Inclusive leadership is not about making grand all-encompassing gestures, but is best demonstrated by multiple smaller scales commitments and actions. As part of this study, researchers were able to identify the top 6 traits of an effective inclusive leader:

1. Cultural intelligence

Armed with comprehensive knowledge of different cultures, inclusive leaders are comfortable in unfamiliar environments, attentive to the diversity within their team and are able to adapt when required, enabling stronger interpersonal connections.

2. Humility

Creating a culture of inclusivity isn’t a defined process, and the best leaders are always open, humble and eager for feedback on the journey.  Leaders who demonstrate humility are those who can admit when they have made mistakes, encourage feedback and create a space for others to shine in the workplace.

3. Acknowledging bias

Unconscious bias can lead to incorrect judgements, groupthink or favouritism. Inclusive leaders are aware of how unconscious biases can influence decisions and behaviours, and work to acknowledge their own unconscious biases whilst ensuring diversity policies are implemented to help counteract any negative implications of these prejudices.  

4. Curiosity

Leaders who demonstrate a genuine curiosity about their team and seek out new learnings from books, media and those around them create the most inclusive team environments. Inclusive leaders are open to new ideas and ways of thinking, can listen without judgement and have a higher degree of emotional intelligence. 

5. Commitment to action

Effective leaders are vocal in their commitment to uphold inclusive values and create an action plan in order to implement cultural change in their environment. Accountability is a key aspect in ensuring a culture of inclusivity is sustained in the long term.

6. Collaboration

Taking the team on the journey to inclusivity is an incredibly important step in order to ensure diversity policies and practices are implemented. Inclusive leaders facilitate open conversations and invite team members to participate in planning sessions, creating a culture of inclusivity. 


The journey to becoming an inclusive leader starts with you.

Expand your skills in leadership by considering further study, surrounded by a diverse range of business leaders, all seeking to take their skills to the next level. The University of Adelaide offers a range of programs such as the Adelaide MBA or a short course in Developing Inclusive Leadership which will help you hone your inclusive leadership skills and create positive changes within your team.

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