Inclusive Leadership and the Elephant
Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations

Do you ever wonder why some people just won’t play ball? Get on board the bus? Just get over themselves and fall in line?

Life, you would be so much easier if people just got on with the programme.

Very often we experience resistance in others and then lazily make assumptions about why they are behaving they way they are. But why are they resisting? William Bridges points us in the right direction. It might be a fear of a loss. A loss of routine, of competence, of relationship, of status or even identity. The list goes on and on.

And here’s the thing: even if you ask people why they are resisting a change or innovation, they may not tell you. Why?

More passive resistance you might surmise.

But what if the problem wasn’t them, but you?

What leaders experience as resistance to change is, from the perspective of the employee, often a symptom of an absence of psychological safety. 

Psychological safety means someone feels that they will not be punished nor humiliated for making mistakes or speaking up with ideas, questions or concerns.

There are four questions someone needs to say YES to in order to feel safe:

  • Do I belong? This question is about diversity. When I look around, I wonder “Are others like me, or am I the different one?” I wonder “Is it OK for ME to be ME, HERE?
  • Is it safe to make mistakes and learn?
  • Does my contribution matter?
  • Can I challenge the status quo?

Resistance to change can come from a place of fear, an attachment to the past, resentment or disengagement, and also from having a different perspective on the efficacy or ethics of the proposed change or innovation.

Leaders often need support to become more inclusive because the way we are socialised is to think and behave like others – we are conditioned to conform, whereas inclusive leaders foster a sense of uniqueness and belonging in their people, which means that people don’t have to “fit in” to the status quo. And meaningful inclusivity means embracing diversity, both surface diversity and deep diversity.

Embracing diversity requires the valuing of other’s ideas, opinions, backgrounds and experiences. It is about valuing difference. An inclusive leader gets curious and asks questions to discover what makes their employees unique. It is easy to assume that others have had the same experiences as you.

And, an inclusive leader ensures that difference is part of the team – s/he ensures that difference is recruited, selected, and promoted. 

The greatest benefit of diversity in a change and innovation environment is that it enables the leader to work with those who are of the system and thus can reveal its patterns and behaviours.

John Godfrey Saxe’s famous poem points us in that direction:

Six blind men hear that there is an elephant in the village, so they decide to go and discover what an elephant is as they have never seen one.

The first one touches the trunk, and says: an elephant must be like a hose.

The second touches the tail, and says: an elephant must be like a whip.

The third touches the ear, and says: an elephant must be like a palm tree.

The fourth touches the leg, and says: an elephant must be like a tree trunk.

The fifth touches the side, and says: an elephant must be like a wall.

The sixth touches the tusk, and says: an elephant must be like a spear.

The system you want to change or innovate from within is the elephant. The lesson is that you can only discover and know the system by having perspective from all its different parts. 

The possibilities for innovation and change arise when someone sees something that others don’t see, and when that someone feels safe to share their perspective and insight.

Inclusive leadership and a deep appreciation and respect for diversity increases the possibility that this will happen.

Contact us to find out how we can support you to grow inclusive leaders.

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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