Getting your first leadership role is exciting, isn’t it? There’s the office with your name on the door. Being invited to meetings once closed off and mysterious. Getting to make the big decisions. People asking for your advice.
Heady stuff that sends the wrong message to people who think being a leader is all about them.
Being a leader is a little bit about you, but mostly it’s all about others.
One of my first bosses told me that it would be impressive performance metrics and my contribution to the bottom line that would determine my success. It took a while before I understood that his advice about results was only partially right. Managing just to the numbers only gets you so far.
A few epic fails highlighted the reality that results don’t miraculously deliver themselves. They’re delivered by people. Treat people well, they deliver—and everyone succeeds. Treat people like crap and, well, results falter.
Listening with the eyes and the heart, not just the ears and the brain, requires a deeper level of paying attention and understanding. It requires we hear the heart and soul. ~Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge
My way of describing the inclusive reality Kouzes and Posner defined was leading with your heart and managing with your head.
Inclusive leaders know the value of balancing opposing goods, rather than labeling one right and the other wrong. Inclusive leaders deliver results and maintain relationships. They watch both the bottom line as well as employee satisfaction and engagement. They think about today and five years from now.
How do inclusive leaders pull off this balancing act?
They are curious.
One boss I had worked very hard to fulfill the unrealistic expectation that he had every answer. Two sentences into describing a problem to him, and he had the solution—without bothering to ask a single question. Other bosses of mine had the inclusive thing down pat. They were knowledgeable and knew where to go to find answers to what they didn’t know. They openly asked questions, invited debate, poked holes in the status quo, and encouraged those around them to do the same.
That know-it-all-boss-with-zero-curiosity didn’t realize it, but he was conveying to his team that they were without skills, knowledge, and the ability to figure things out for themselves. Inclusive leaders surround themselves with bright, inquisitive people and trust them to do their job.
At one company, my boss assigned me the project of improving customer service. When I asked for specifics, he told me that since I had to ask, I obviously wasn’t as smart as he had thought I was. Because he couldn’t or wouldn’t or both clarify his expectations, my finished project didn’t please him, and everyone lost.
Organizational development and management consultant Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communications is hearing what isn’t said.” Employees perceive reality through their own filters, values, and biases. Deeply, empathically, and actively listening to what employees say—and don’t say—enables inclusive leaders to expand their perspectives, thus entertaining diversity of thought, opinion, and experience.
Years ago, a woman told me her boss treated her no differently than the file cabinet in the corner—both utilitarian objects there to do a job. Isn’t that a sad story? Inclusive leaders keep both logic and emotion in their management toolkits. They know both are necessary for success, satisfaction, and engagement over the long-term.
Our mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it. Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin. ~Hermann Hesse, poet and novelist
If asked, would those around you describe you as being curious, someone they trusted, a thorough explainer, a good listener, and a leader who cares about them as a person? Would they say you’re inclusive and can balance opposing goods? Ready to find out?