A time to reflect on ‘Inclusive Leadership’ – My personal journey

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We all lead such “Helter-Skelter” lifestyles sometimes you just feel that life is passing you by at an alarming rate and you never have time to just stop and reflect on what’s actually going on. Today I was temporarily brought to halt after being asked to chat to British Council’s European Diversity Team at their annual meet-up in Belfast about my leadership journey. I was asked to consider the key traits of an Inclusive Leader.

When preparing for my session, and as a recent Clore Fellow, my first port of call was to relook at what underpins the whole Fellowship, the Clore Leadership Framework and its six core principles. In general, I agree that these are all critical to being an effective leader but what other traits are needed?

Here are what I believe are the eight key traits, some of which, you will note, overlap with the Clore Framework:

  1. Awareness: being aware of what is going on around you is essential. But being aware of the people around you is more important. How can you lead if you’re not in tune with your colleagues and partners and appreciate their diversity of thinking, as well as lives?
  2. Curiosity: In 2015, Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Inc., stated that curiosity will be the most important future trait of inclusive leaders. A few years ago I read a book by Alan Greenspan, the former Head of the US Treasury, who set aside one hour every day to read. I’ve tried to follow his lead by setting aside time early in the morning or at night to read, monitor websites and trawl Twitter. My email inbox is overloaded with links to fascinating articles on literally everything. You never know where that next big idea will come from.
  3. Passion: All I have to say here is, if you not passionate about what you do, why do you do it? I’ve sat on numerous panels and listened to pitches when the presenter is just going through the motions and you just want to scream in a Jerry Maguire voice “PLEASE SHOW ME THE PASSION!” Recently I had the honour of being on the selection panel to interview the next wave of Ashoka Fellows for the UK and Ireland. One of the interviewees was an outstanding guy called Mark Swift with an unbelievable backstory. Mark runs his own social enterprise called Wellbeing Enterprises CIC, he is truly inspirational and oozes passion!
  4. Authenticity: Along the same lines as passion, if you can’t be yourself and come across as authentic, other people will see straight through you.
  5. Courage: Without courage, you won’t be able to move forward. And this isn’t all about the courage of taking risks but also about having the courage to defend your colleagues, defend your values, and admit when you’re wrong.
  6. Collaboration: Here I mean true collaboration and not “glorified cooperation”; when organisations pay lip service to each other just to download information and use it for their own means. Trust me over many years of observing our esteemed third sector, and from painful personal experience, I’ve fallen for the “let’s collaborate” routine only to find out a few days later that they’ve set up meetings with your partners, what I term: “Death by a Thousand Cuts Culture”. Coming from a private sector background you know who your competitors are and you’re always on guard, in the third sector, however, it’s more difficult to work out who your competitors are. This is a sad reflection on the sector. If we want to create a truly collaborative environment we need a mix of transparency, trust and inclusive leadership.
  7. Values: Don’t think I have to say much more here, to me, values are the most important trait to becoming an inclusive leader. They should be honesty, trust and a militant transparency. Enough said.
  8. Perseverance/Commitment (Never give up!): If values are the most important trait of a highly inclusive leader, then perseverance should come a close second. Highly inclusive leaders are fully committed to diversity and inclusion because they align their values with their objectives and preserve, no matter what, with – John Wayne style “True Grit”. Like values, perseverance comes from your core. As a boy from the country, and from a family steeped in traditional farming values, the foundation blocks to everything I do are honesty and integrity. This has been passed down by my parents and by my grandparents to them. With that, there also comes a determination to not quit come what may. In social enterprise and social innovation world especially, quitting is not an option. As Douglas McArthur once said: “Age wrinkles the body, quitting wrinkles the soul.”

So, thank you British Council for allowing me to reflect on Inclusive Leadership, to tell my story and to air my views. On a final note, know yourself, be yourself and look after yourself.

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