The Path to Inclusion and Collaboration--What Really Gets in the Way

I spoke at several national conferences over the last few weeks on the topic of 21st Century Leadership, which I call Integrated Leadership. The foundation of this leadership model is based on having an inclusive culture and rich collaboration that effectively taps into the rich and diverse spectrum of talent within an organization. As you have read in many of my previous posts, Integrated Leadership is what drives greater levels of performance, profitability, shareholder value, innovation, and engagement, to name just a few of the organizational and individual benefits.

When I speak on this topic, I've noticed a common theme across audiences: while leaders intellectually understand the importance of inclusion and collaboration, it's much more difficult to actually make the concept stick and have it truly become part of the leadership team's DNA and culture.

SHAMBAUGH continues to work with many clients on this important issue, helping companies reexamine their leadership models so that they can make the shift toward an Integrated Leadership model. What we consistently find as the biggest obstacle to this mission is not the business case, but rather the prevailing biases within the leadership team. A bias is defined as an attitude that favors one way or feeling over another. The consequence of bias is that it limits our ability to recognize and tap on the best talent, strengths, and diverse ideas on a team or within an organization. Such bias may also result in leaders treating some people on their teams more unfairly than others.

While many people feel confident that they operate free from biases, the bottom line is that if you have a brain, you have a bias. As humans, we all possess some biases, and in most cases these biases reside at the subconscious level. Remember that the brain can only process about 40 pieces of information--out of about 11million that we are exposed to--at any given time. The subconscious mind helps to sort and filter information like this through perceptions, selective attention, preferences, and interpretations. Our own internal filters can also cause us to make stereotyped judgments and decisions in a matter of moments.

Still not convinced that you have biases? Consider these examples of common biased interpretations of others: "He is a tall man, so he must be a strong leader," or "Women with children are less committed to work." Even your dress, management style, educational background, age, and gender can feed into how you view a person or situation.

When it comes to addressing organizational bias, it's important to remember that leaders play a key role in how bias is transmitted in organizations. Leaders should be mindful that subtle cues they give in their day-to day interactions can influence whose voices are heard and whose are silenced. Pay attention to whose opinions you value and whose you discredit, who you praise publicly and who you ignore, and if and how your entire leadership team ensures that everyone's diverse contribution is recognized and valued, versus heading down a path of group-think.

To take this a step further, the biases of individual leaders can negatively influence organizational processes. Therefore, it's important for leaders to rethink how their management processes may serve to reinforce organizational biases, including gender bias. Defining clear evaluation criteria and applying the same standards to all employees and applicants consistently can help reduce bias in talent selection and promotion, for example.

The good news is that more organizations are waking up to the fact that Integrated Leadership--and having an inclusive and collaborative culture--are not just nice things to have, but offer a compelling business rationale. Today's successful organizations realize that the primary issue is not about the metrics regarding their diversity numbers, but instead about having the type of culture, leadership mindset, and inclusive practices and systems in place to support fully integrated, cross-collaborative leadership talent.

There is clearly still plenty of work to be done--and that work starts with individual executives and leaders shining a flashlight on themselves. I frequently share with leadership teams how important it is to slow down, push the pause button, and pay attention to their own assumptions and biases.

Consider this your Call to Action for bringing Integrated Leadership to yourself, your leadership team, and your organization. To help get you started on this mission, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What are your assumptions? Where did they come from, and how do they show up in your day-to-day leadership style?

  • What specific behaviors and actions result--or don't result--when you are influenced by your bias?
  • What steps can you take to be more inclusive to everyone on your teams?
  • What information don't you know about individuals on your team that you could use to create greater inclusion and success for all?
  • Is my network diverse, or does it mostly mirror my own background and preferences?
  • What are the individual and organizational consequences for failing to closely examine my own assumptions and biases?
  • There are a number of specific behaviors and skills that can enhance leaders' Integrated Leadership skills and behaviors. Learn more about
    offering for your team or organization. Remember that your team, organization, and industry will be greatly enhanced when we are all in it together. It is only by recognizing our own biases and embracing an Integrated Leadership model that we will begin to see better outcomes, stronger partnerships, enhanced trust, and improved innovation across the board.