Embracing the Power of One: Inclusion and Collective Intelligence

A national narrative is rapidly coalescing regarding the critical need for unification—a chorus of demand for leaders who can bring others together and create a sense of inclusion, trust, and belonging within our organizations, institutions, and communities. In my last blog, I talked about the new ROI for inclusion and belongingness, which I’ve termed the “Power of One.”  There, I shared some facts that reveal how the high level of disruptive change in our organizations today is finally leading to the emergence of a new culture, where traditionally silent individuals and groups are starting to use their voices. As we embark on the New Year, I again challenge leaders to ask themselves: how can we be the voice of change and demonstrate inclusive leadership that unifies and harnesses the collective intelligence of all, while also holding others accountable to do the same?

As you review the new ROI for inclusion and belongingness that I shared in my last series of posts, let’s continue to explore how to provide greater support for gender balance and diversity across our organizations by finding ways to provide employees with a basic sense of common purpose and connectedness. At SHAMBAUGH, we’ve seen two key strategies that can assist leaders with this mission: being bold and disruptive, and holding managers and other leaders in the organization accountable for addressing gender balance and diversity. Below are two additional strategies that we have identified to help change the organizational conversation and mindset in this arena:

Give more than a pat on the back. Leaders need to rethink how they reward people, since the old assumption that money or even recognition for a job well done doesn’t get at the core of what people crave. The foundation of any organization’s success is the ability to give employees a sense of belonging and connectedness. Regardless of their title or where they sit in an organization, people have a natural human desire to feel that they are part of something larger than themselves. This sense of greater purpose at work is often achieved through connection to others, which creates something bigger than any individual.

Today’s best leaders think beyond diversity to incorporate “inclusion.” The goal here is to create an environment that signals all people are valued, and where everyone—regardless of their gender or problem-solving style—has access to the same opportunities. This starts with seeing your role as a leader as someone who creates a sense of belonging for all employees, fostering a culture where people truly feel they can be their authentic self within that environment. For example, Joelle Emerson notes in Medium that at LinkedIn, “belonging is now at the core of the company’s inclusion efforts.” Cultural shifts like this have helped more companies make huge strides in creating a work environment that promotes inclusion and a feeling that everyone can equally belong. This shift makes sense since it is based on a fundamental human principal: our brains are predisposed toward belonging and connection. In fact, research has shown that some people are more motivated by feeling attachment to a group of colleagues than they are by money.

Helping to create a sense of purpose, connectedness, inclusiveness, and belonging in the groups you lead doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, you can:

  • Ask others to express their ideas and opinions during meetings, and stay fully present while each person speaks.
  • Take the lead to make meaningful introductions between people that convey a sense of who each individual is as a person, not just his or her position.
  • Encourage personal storytelling (including your own) to help build trust and share vulnerabilities.

Examine your own mental buckets. No matter how great the leader, no leader is an island. On the contrary, for successful leadership, it is vital to move beyond a self-oriented mindset to embrace the power of collective intelligence—the Power of One—which creates a better outcome for all. It’s common, because it’s comfortable, for leaders to align themselves primarily with people who have similar preferences, thinking, and backgrounds to their own. This often results in hiring others who mirror back a leader’s own world view, creating a “group think” mindset that can stifle creativity. It’s critical that managers and leaders become relentlessly curious, expanding their lens to value different skills, views, styles, and experiences so that all voices are heard around the table.

This also calls for leaders to focus on eliminating measurable bias from all hiring and promotion practices, including leadership development, performance management, compensation, and succession. For example, several of SHAMBAUGH’s clients have started to experiment in this arena by ensuring that all personal details are deleted from job applications before managers review them. Concrete structural changes like these can help create expanded opportunities for new hires and provide people with a more equal playing field across gender and diversity lines.

As I’ve said before, it’s time to move beyond traditional solutions to address diversity—they clearly aren’t working well enough since they don’t help employees understand the why behind their efforts. It is only by embracing a new ROI for inclusion and belongingness—the Power of One—that companies can finally help create feelings of engagement and connectedness between people and teams to achieve our collective goals around gender-balanced leadership.

Rebecca Shambaugh is a contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results

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