What is Inclusive Leadership anyway?

(submitted by Janice M)

IMG_4809Inclusive Leadership is founded on the principles of biodiversity; the idea that species thrive in diverse ecological conditions where many types of plants and animals intermingle. And just as other species benefit from such conditions, humans grow and develop in diverse social groups (some examples of social groups include age or generation, cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic groups, ethnicity, gender and ability).

monoculture 2Current, western lifestyles don’t actively encourage social interaction between these groups. For example; the rise of the nuclear family actively discouraged the multigenerational family groups that existed prior to the middle of the last century. In our current, time-constrained lives, we often find ourselves gravitating towards people who are ‘like-us’, where barriers to understanding are minimised, and conversations are ‘easier’. This, combined with a ‘fear of the unknown’ can result in us living in a monoculture (another biological reference – an agricultural method of growing a single crop).

choice 2Inclusive Leadership includes a set of skills that empower people to go outside of their comfort zone and get to know others who are different to them, combined with the belief that by doing so, stronger and more dynamic communities will flourish. As with any skill, starting off can be both daunting and challenging, and practice is necessary. By letting go of any notion of what ‘should be’, and being open to the imperfect process of learning we can all get more confident and comfortable intermingling with other members of our species.

Core skill-sets contributing to the development of Inclusive Leaders are listed on the Inclusive Leadership website. These Inclusive Leadership skills include:

  • Connecting with Differences, including the skills of relaxing, daring to be different, connecting with circles and leaving out losing.
  • Compassionate Communication, including attending to, listening to and expressing values and needs as well as facts and feelings.
  • Anti-discrimination First Aid, skills for safely witnessing and/or challenging discrimination.
  • Building Bridges, including skills for Networking in ways that invite and support diverse people to show up.

IMG_7161One of the initial activities and a method for introducing people at the start of an Inclusive Leadership weekend involves connecting with circles and this method of gathering is used throughout the weekend as a way of reconnecting the entire group.

In our first circle introductions take place as people are asked to stand up when they identify with a statement. The idea is that these statements are a fun and lighthearted way to allow connections to be made across diverse social groups. Through participation we see that we have things in common with people who are (up to this point) strangers. This is where we begin to stop being strangers and start to connect as we identify with or are curious about other people in relation to the statements. In this simple, introductory step we see Inclusive Leadership in action as each person stands up to be included and introduced.

participants6As someone who suffers from bouts of major depressive disorder and anxiety and who considers herself to be an introvert, large social gatherings are a challenge for me. At face value this type of event could seem too stressful and even detrimental to my health and well-being. In reality the opposite has been true. Being immersed in an inclusive and diverse environment, provided with the tools needed and being celebrated for my unique skills I find myself experiencing a type of healing. I have attended four Inclusive Leadership Co-operative events and each time emerge regenerated and engaged, ready to live the values and use the skills I’ve learned.

With reference to the skill of “connecting with circles” and in the spirit of Inclusive Leadership I offer this quote. Once you’ve read it please go and watch the entire Ted Talk – it’s wonderful!

We all live in some kind of a social and cultural circle. We all do. We are born into a certain family, nation, class. But if we have no connection whatever with the worlds beyond the one we take for granted, then we too run the risk of drying up inside. Our imagination might shrink. Our hearts might dwindle and our humanness might wither if we stay for too long inside our cultural cocoons. . . We should get out of our cultural ghetto and go visit the next one and the next. In the end stories move like whirling dervishes, drawing circles beyond circles. They connect all of humanity regardless of identity politics. (Elif Shafak, Ted Talk. The Politics of Fiction)