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Inclusive Leadership, Like Adulting is Hard - 3 Tips for Success

If you are a leader who survived and thrived in 2021, congratulations! You deserve a hug. Happy 2022! Like the song, Adulting, by Jonathan McReynolds and Mali. Inclusive Leadership isn’t easy. The very things I often felt overwhelmed by in 2021 was exactly what I wanted. Like, getting married, listening, practicing inclusion, empathy, courage, continuous learning, failing forward and helping people & teams learn, increase awareness and practice becoming more inclusive. 2021 was a year of change, joy, frustration and growth. All ingredients for a great year. As I prepare and you prepare for 2022 here are 3 inclusive leadership skills that helped me succeed professionally and personally in 2021.

1. Know how to make an effective apology. I read Why Won't You Apologize? By Harriet Lerner to help me increase by apology competence. We are imperfect and will make mistakes. It took and takes work to own mistakes. The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown might be my favorite book to help embrace the human condition of Imperfection. In the work I found the need to develop more humility. But I digress. We can talk more in depth about humility at another time. A good apology requires humility. A good apology inspires loyalty & engagement. A bad apology often creates more ill will, resentment & need by the person you owe the apology to, to cover and armor up. The Art of an apology is simple. I am sorry for XYZ. Going forward I will ABC. Admitting you the ball on something does not diminish your ability to lead, your strength or vision. It actually increases your leadership equity.

2. Cultivate greater emotional intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence increases with work. I've written and shared, listened and apologized. Sat still, prayed, reflected and dissected my assets and liabilities. Asked for help and benefited from humility. Write your life story. Identify your own points of pain, triggers, patterns, source of story & resentments. Now rewrite the story. You are the author. This is not that. A situation can trigger a feeling. However, great leaders can distinguish between the past and what is happening right now. Great Leaders are present, open, curious. Not reactive to situations and feelings triggered from past, or unresolved pain. Remember, This is not that! Breathe, don't react. Increasing your EI (self-awareness, self-regulation, other/social awareness, relationship-management) requires an anchor. What calms your spirit? Where do you feel the least need for armor? This is a journey best taken with a Power Greater than Yourself.

3. Create psychological safety for your people. I highly recommend reading The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: by Timothy R. Clark. Inclusion, Allyship, our ability to surface & manage our unconscious biases doesn't happen when people are afraid and armored up. Psychological safety is required. Innovation and agility, key requirements for surviving and thriving in today’s rapidly evolving workplace & world happens when everyone feels that he, she, they has a voice and is comfortable making that voice heard. It is an environment where voices, ideas and perspectives of all types are free to come together, disagree, discuss and eventually gain new ideas and insights. In short, it is an environment with psychological safety. If failure’s not an option, innovation’s not an option. People have to feel comfortable taking a risk. Comfortable in a culture of continuous learning. In his book The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety,” Timothy R. Clark defines psychological safety as “a condition in which human beings feel:

(1) included,

(2) safe to learn

(3) safe to contribute, and

(4) safe to challenge the status quo — all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way.”

What really happens in your organization when dissenting points of view are expressed? When minorities in your organization seek equity? Are these voices heard? Is there action? Does inclusion happen? How can you help create psychological safety within your team and organization in 2022? I had a leader say to me after a Managing Bias course, "This was a good course but we are already an inclusive organization." I said, “Thank you. It’s great to hear you are having an inclusive experience here. That is certainly what we want. If I was in your organization and was not feeling included how would you know?”

Leaders who can receive new information, feedback that may be in direct opposition to their lived experiences, yet listen, accept, and act upon the new information with belief, curiosity, and humility, position themselves well for 2022. The work is not easy. Resisting the urge to categorically reject contrarian points of view and people who are different is a skill set. A practiced behavior, often in opposition to your instinctive reaction. Responding versus reacting requires EI and is the hallmark of inclusive leadership. It's not easy to lean in sometimes. But the more we expose ourselves to diversity, the more we recognize behavior comes from somewhere, the more empathy you are able to lean into, the better you position yourself as an inclusive leader. I personally recommend a meditative practice to help slow the brain down enough to do all of this.

You made it to 2022. That is a gift. How will you open it? I encourage you to use these 3 tips. Continue being a continuous learner, allowing yourself Grace, and have an amazing 2022!

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