How to be a more inclusive leader

Do you find your team looking to you for the answers, rather than looking to you for agreement or support for their answers? If the former, chances are you are playing the boss card and making the decisions too often.

The key to building respect within a team, lies in how you, as a leader, make decisions and how much you include your team. It can either leave them feeling cast aside, or it can leave them feeling empowered. Which do you think is better?

Say for example you and your team have a problem, you ask your team to go away and think about the solution. Now they have a proposal for you, how does this conversation go in your workplace?

“I’m afraid you haven’t provided enough information to support the proposal.”

It’s ok to challenge the answer being put in front of you, is the answer reasoned? Is it well thought out? Is it backed up by data? If not, it’s ok to ask the team to go and get that information for you.

Hopefully what you will find is that the team has learnt and grown from this and will come to you fully armed in future. You have a happy team and they still feel valued.

Remember, your team are likely to be kicking themselves for not having the information you needed, they will feel like they have wasted your time. Reinforcing that they are here to learn and that is ok, is just part of being a leader who helps their team to grow.

“That’s a great idea!”

Credit where credit is due, give the team praise for their hard work or their ingenuity. Let them know that they have nailed it, let them get on with it but with the assurance that you’re there for them if they need you. You have a happy, empowered team!

“I don’t agree, and I don’t have to explain why.”

Doing this to your team not only leaves them feeling like they wasted their time but makes them feel like you only asked for their input as some sort of placation. Being overruled without reason leads to feelings such as; “I must be stupid” “my knowledge is irrelevant” “that research was a waste of time” and worse “my contribution isn’t valued here.”

None of that may actually be true but if you rule on a situation without due care to the people involved. You can destroy morale and support of that team or individual for a good while if not forever. You have an unhappy and demotivated team!

“I don’t agree for the following perfectly acceptable reasons”

This is where you, as a leader, go into teacher/coaching mode. If your team could genuinely not have come to this conclusion themselves with a bit of coaching, then you have identified an opportunity for training. Maybe it turns out they didn’t have enough information, or you can share the benefit of your own experiences with them.

Maybe they are more than capable, they just need an extra nudge to think differently. This is a great opportunity for you to facilitate a coaching session which you can read about here.

Either way, validating your decision will not only lead to them learning something new, it may refocus their viewpoint and who knows, they may be able to come up with an even better solution.

“I don’t agree but you seem sure it will work, so go ahead.”

Assuming the collateral damage is small enough to bear, why not let them proceed? If they fail, they learn, if it works, you learn. Seems like a win-win situation! Added to that, your business is now in a better position to tackle tomorrows problems. Your team feels like you trusted them, that it’s ok to fail and they may be more inclined to ‘innovate’ in future.

Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others

Here’s the million-dollar question, can you admit you were wrong? Remember to have the humility to admit that you were wrong and maybe let them know that you learned something. It’s not a sign of weakness, it is a strength.

“It seems we cannot agree, ultimately I’m accountable, so I want to go this way.”

If the collateral damage is large, of course there are times when you have to step in and be accountable. In those circumstances, are your decisions being made rationally or emotionally?

Rational decisions can be explained back to your team in such a way that, whilst they may not agree, they will support you anyway because you have been reasonable about it.

Emotional decision making is likely to appear irrational and be harder for them to support. Even if your answer is the best answer, it can turn out to be the worst answer if it is not supported by those who are going to act on it.

So, in reflecting on the effects of decision making on your team, make sure you take extra care before making decisions ‘for’ rather than ‘with’ your team. Think about the alternative ways that you could approach the situation; in the long run this could help you become a more inclusive leader and help to generate a loyal and happy team.

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