Inclusive Leadership May Be More Relevant Than Ever

There is a popular “truth” out there that, in times of crisis, we need forceful leaders to independently make decisions.

People will often cite examples such as an impending crash to justify the pilot making decisions on his or her own, on the basis that seconds count (which is true) and that the pilot alone has the fast-thinking ability to avoid disaster (which is not necessarily true). Research evidence from flight simulators makes it clear that the pilot who takes a second or two to seek and listen to input from the co-pilot and/or navigator will actually make better decisions.

That said, I don’t want to suggest that every decision requires a committee.

In his work on adaptive leadership, Ron Heifetz makes it clear that when a problem is clearly defined and a solution is known and available, then individuals can and should make decisions. He would refer to that as a Type I problem and is really technical work, not an act of leadership.

However, when the problem is clear but the solution is not (Type II in Heifetz’ taxonomy) then a wise leader will reach out and engage with others. This has often been referred to as consultative leadership.


Photo by Poptech

More and more, leaders in complex, rapidly changing times face situations in which neither the problem nor the solution is clear. This demands a highly inclusive and adaptive form of leadership.

This is a Type III problem and the temptation is to slip into an insidious form of leadership: Type IV. These are leaders who want to apply simple answers to very complex problems. Heifetz would suggest that this is often driven by ego, pig-headedness or rigid ideology. To see how this can play out for people of faith, see Amy Francis’ previous post on simple, complicated and complex applications to theology.

Leaders need to embrace a much more distributed mindset when it comes to complex environments.

I had a hospital client declare that they wanted to develop 1,001 leaders: the 1,000 representing the broad plurality of leadership, while the “1” represented the power of an individual to make a difference. With each incoming of participants in the leadership program that I led, the CEL would say bluntly, “We have lots of problems in this place: big and small. I can’t possibly recognize them, let alone solve them. Only you can and that’s why you are here. You have an opportunity, regardless of formal role, to step and be a leader – and please know you have my full support.” It was heady stuff for nurses and porters who had never been given that kind of opportunity or support, and the culture was slowly transformed by people willing to step up.

As my old mentor, Dick Couto once said, “Any action, no matter how small, in pursuit of shared values and purpose is an act of leadership.”

It takes courage to loosen the controls and give people the opportunity to lead. It demands a safe-fail culture that allows people to try, fail, learn and try again.

When we are bound up by our own egos or our by our fears, then we are really letting down both the people and the organization. Inclusive leadership means just what it said: leadership opportunities that are available to all and draw on the best of each of them. Whether it is cultural, gender, age or cognitive differences, when we can draw all of that together around a common purpose then powerful things can happen.

Your Turn

If someone were to ask you, “How are you leveraging diversity in your leadership role?” what would be your response?

If you have been thinking about how to elevate inclusiveness for the good of your team and your organization, come to our next THRIVE Leadership Breakfast on Monday, May 4th. In this session, we’ll be having breakfast together and talking about inclusive leadership from a 21st century perspective.

The best part is that you’re the guest – you get in for free. This is our way of meeting women and men in leadership where they’re at while doing what we do best. Join us!

Peter_bio2Peter Dickens
Peter Dickens is passionate about leadership and change. He helps people and organizations that serve others to revitalize their leadership and ministry at Follow Peter on Twitter (@Dr_PeterDickens).

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