Leading for Inclusion

We were proud to be hosting this event with John Ameachi OBE during the NHS Equality, Diversity & Human Rights Week. John is a respected organisational psychologist, best-selling New York Times author and non-executive director of a £2.4bn healthcare organisation and CEO of a coaching company.

What is Inclusion?

Beginning a powerful and thought provoking session, John clearly defined the parameters, saying:

Inclusion is determined by the worst behaviour that you will tolerate, culture is defined by the worst behaviour that you will let go.”

It is down to us as leaders to demonstrate inclusive behaviours and it is the responsibility of all leaders to tell their teams what they stand for. He stated,

“As leaders we must not tolerate any behaviour that undermines the dignity of our people”

John took a deep dive into the behaviours that we need to demonstrate as leaders and how to create inclusivity through our leadership actions.

How to deal with unacceptable behaviour

John suggests intervening in the moment, being courteous, clear and aware of the consequence. Calmly and responsibly callout those whose actions and behaviours harm others and remember,

“Be clear about what you will stand for, sometimes you are the only mirror by which others judge themselves.”

Really get to know your people

To be a fully inclusive leader you need to treat people how they would want to be treated not as how you would want to be treated. The only way to do this is to get to know them as people.

John explained:

“When you are different, you are a stranger, as leader, take time to learn about people who are different to you. Its energy expensive but it is the only way to be an inclusive leader.”

Addressing inherent biases

John read six words. The audience knew he was describing a woman. These negative words associated with women are gathered from across different cultures and counties the world over, pejorative, shocking but all very familiar along with the judgment and limiting views implied.

He then read six words that are associated with black people, again negative, pejorative, insulting, from the same international survey. He then described his own experience of living as a black man with an imposing physique, seeing how people who didn’t know him, made assumptions, and treated him differently, behaving cautiously around him, clearly fearing him.

So, how do we deal with our own negatives biases and how do we as leaders ensure that the behaviour in our teams and our organisations does not exclude anyone? John is a realist, he knows we all have biases either conscious or unconscious, but he stated:

“No one has ever been hurt by a thought, but they have been hurt by actions and unintended consequences.”

Avoiding unintended consequences

He explained that sometimes we don’t realise the full impact of the things that we do. Sometimes not until a long time afterwards and sometimes we never realise the unintended consequences of what we have done.

The challenge is the lack of thought and consideration of people whose experiences and lives may be different from our own and who may be impacted differently by our actions, by a decision, by a rule arbitrarily made without wider consideration.

These unintended consequences are a flaw in leadership because people believe that because their intentions are ‘good’ any collateral damage from decision making or actions is acceptable.

Leaders need to consider the distinct and discernible difference between the intent and the impact. John stated:

“As leaders, all we can focus on is the impact. We can’t use noble intent to assuage our guilt or pretend that it undoes the damage.” He continued: “Leaders are giants who need to be self-aware.”

Finally, self-care is an important part of the leadership equation with John reminding us of the adage that

“you can’t pour from an empty cup”.

Why diversity and inclusion important?

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are no longer seen by colleagues as a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘soft skill.’ They are an expectation. When it comes to diversity and inclusion initiatives, organisations can ‘do something,’ or they can do something effective. Recent events mean that colleagues are watching closely to make sure that reactive rhetoric is matched with strategic plans for change that represent ‘something effective.’

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