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Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: A Guide to Inclusive Leadership

October 19, 2022 | Katie Aldrich

Katie Aldrich is the Director of Program & Coaching Strategy at Fringe PD, where their mission is to help people communicate better and create more human workplaces.

Take a second to think about the different teams you’ve been a part of at work. Chances are some were great – you loved working with the group, you felt respected and heard by your leader, and you felt motivated to do your best work. And some of the teams you’ve been a part of have probably been…let’s just say, not so great. The question we spend a lot of time asking is, what makes the difference? And can we use that answer to ensure that every team we’re on is one of those great teams?

Here’s some good news – we don’t have to leave team dynamics to chance. As a leader, we have the ability to determine how our teams function and how people feel as part of them. By engaging in some key behaviors, collectively known as inclusive leadership, we can help ensure that we’re creating a great team atmosphere for everyone involved.

Inclusive leadership is a way of leading and managing where every team member feels motivated, valued, and like they belong. Not only does this create positive feelings and a sense of cohesion, but these are also the conditions needed for people to feel motivated and able to do their best work.

So what are some of the things that inclusive leaders do differently? Here are a few key practices:

Increase your self-awareness.

Most of us don’t wake up in the morning with the intention of being jerks to our teammates. But we all have moments when we’re not at our best – when we’re stressed, tired, or feeling underappreciated. And unfortunately, we can take those feelings out on each other – often unintentionally. The first step in being an inclusive leader is to become more aware of the impact of your behavior and how it may not align with your intentions. (Check out this tool to quickly gain some insight into how others view you.) Once you know how others perceive you, you can adjust your behavior to be more in line with your goal of inclusivity.

Be curious.

If we want our teammates to feel understood and included, we need to make an effort to understand them. The easiest way to do this is to get curious and ask folks questions. Not only will this help you understand them better, but it sends the message that you value their opinions and experiences. Catch yourself when you make assumptions or judgments about others, and instead, get curious and ask some questions, instead.

Engage with the whole person.

Often when we’re at work, we see our colleagues very one-dimensionally. We are the star of the movie, and our colleagues are supporting actors, only as deep as we need them to be to fulfill their role in our story. In reality, our colleagues are just as complex and complicated as we are. And if we don’t see that, we risk alienating them and making them feel like they’re not valued as individuals. Instead, take the time to get to know your colleagues as people – what are their interests outside of work? What motivates them? What makes them tick? When we engage with the whole person, we create a much more inclusive environment.

As team leaders, our behavior has a disproportionate impact on the team dynamic. So if we want to create great teams, it starts with us behaving in ways that encourage everyone to feel motivated, valued, and like they belong. When we do that, we set the stage for teams that can achieve anything.

And for those of you who don’t lead teams, don’t think that you’re off the hook! By engaging in these behaviors yourself, you can help move the needle not just on how your colleagues feel but also on how you feel about your team. We all have the ability to lead, no matter our title!