The business landscape is continually changing. Workplaces are increasingly full of diverse and vibrant talent, each with their own unique perspective and experiences. It is wonderful to see inlcusion being celebrated in this way, but it does raise a new challenge. How do you manage a team with such varying cultural needs? Whether you run your own business or are the leader of a global multinational, leadership in every workplace and business needs to be more inclusive in the future.

The kind of leader that can take charge in a 21st century business is a special type of leader – one that can make sure every single team member is valued, seen and works cohesively with other colleagues. Inclusive leadership is the new competitive battlefield, as the war for talent rages on. It is more than just breaking down barriers; it’s about attracting and then making your team feel like a part of something bigger.

In the current environment, it can be a critical competitive advantage. A diverse and driven team can support company innovation, offer unique solutions to problems, increase productivity, and so much more. With the right leader at the helm, a truly inclusive business will be able to see large returns.

Almost always, an inclusive leader will be one who has faced a similar struggle and will be able to really empathise with their team.

There are some amazing examples of people who have broken through barriers to achieve business success. For example, Arthur Young, the pioneering leader of Ernst & Young was inspired by his own struggles in finding work due to his deafness and low vision, and so started his own accounting practice; now a global business.

This is an example of how one man’s struggles shaped who he is and made it possible for him to then be an inspiring leader. However, it is not a requirement – one need only embody the right traits.

So, what does an inclusive leader look like? Here are 5 characteristics you should aim to develop:

  1. A collaborative mindset and spirit:

    A team is always greater than the sum of its parts and leaders must be able to see the value in each member so they can bring it all together. An inclusive leader must be a team player in order to bring together a team of such varied perspectives. This means empowering the team as well as helping them work with each other.

  2. Cultural intelligence:

    Every member of a diverse team will come from a different cultural background, be that ethnic or societal, and leaders must be attentive to the differences and the importance of each. Each person will see the world through a different cultural lens and it will be the leader’s responsibility to highlight the value of that unique contribution.

  3. Bias awareness:

    Even if a leader is from a background that relates to a diverse team, they must still be aware of their own flaws and account for how that can affect management. Unfortunately, sometimes biases can work on a subconscious level, arising in ways you do not expect. You cannot let a personal bias interfere in the way of appreciating merit and you must be able to identify these within your thinking.

  4. Resilience and courage:

    Be the change you want to see. Diversity in business is new and there are still barriers to overcome in the way that people view each other. Speaking up about your own struggles and issues could be the way to inspire your team and give them the courage to be themselves and appreciate their own value.

  5. Commitment:

    You must inspire more than just the team members who appreciate inclusion – you need to rally the whole company towards cultural change. This will require a clear show of commitment from the top-down level in holding yourself and others accountable.

In summary, we need more inclusive leaders who are prepared to promote diversity and encourage inclusivity. By aligning ourselves with inclusive leadership values as a community, we will not only be able to champion those that need it but also improve the way forward for all.