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The Power of Coaching in Inclusive Leadership

A relevant question, that some people may ask is “why does a strong leader nowadays need to focus on soft topics like feelings?” Many of us have grown up thinking that a strong leader commands the troops and establishes an appropriate hierarchy to control things like a general at war. Survival of the strongest… or was it the fittest i.e. the one who adapts the best.

A shift in the content of work and the evolution of our needs

As humans, we have evolved over the past thousand years, and we continue to evolve. Over the past century, we have seen two shifts in the workplace: 1. The industrial revolution (early 1900’s) and 2. The digital revolution (late 1900’s). Each of them had a big impact on how we work and with both have come significantly increased wealth and thereby new possibilities. It is here we find the answer to why a strong leader needs new tools – strictly speaking, have needed these tools for more than 20 years.


Content of Work

Maslow’s needs pyramid

Pre-dominant values (1)

The generations (baby boomers and generation X) in management positions today

  • The industrial revolution put people working at machines.

  • You needed to know how to operate the machine, i.e. needed instruction and mentoring.

  • Knowledge was often scarce and with management.

  • The predominant leadership style was “Command and Control”(2)

  • Work tasks and the environment remain stable

Focused on the needs of “self-esteem” and “social” as they were moving through the corporate hierarchy. Shifting to “self-actualisation” as they prospered and grew

Competition, discipline, teamwork, creativity, work/life balance

Work hard, play hard

The generations coming into the workplace now (generation Z) or moving into middle-management positions (generation Y)

  • Knowledge work (3) can be differentiated from other forms of work by its emphasis on "non-routine" problem solving that requires a combination of convergent and divergent thinking (4)

  • Knowledge is plentiful with the employee

  • Work tasks and the environment changes quickly

Focus much more on “self-actualisation” from the beginning

Inclusivity, flexibility, collaboration, technology

I need it now and I will find it

A leadership style to match the new generations and the work environment

As we become more affluent, we focus less on the inferior needs (food, protection etc.) and more on self-esteem and even self-actualisation.

The Command-and-Control management style may have matched well with people focused on self-esteem but strongly conflicts with self-actualisation.

Self-actualisation also brings out an important element: namely that we permit ourselves to be ourselves. This in essence brings out the diversity that may previously have been repressed or even oppressed.

This diversity may have been counterproductive in an “industrial” efficiency-focused work environment but is essential to a “digitalised” work environment, where creativity and perspectives support value creation.

What is needed to match this evolution is a management style that is human-centred, i.e. empowering and supporting diversity – namely inclusive leadership.

Inclusive leadership – why is it so vital

In a changing world where our next generation of leaders realize the importance of a human-centred approach to leadership, it becomes even more apparent that inclusive leadership needs to be second nature in how we are, how we operate and be embedded in our DNA as professionals and organizations.

Inclusive Leadership is vital as without diversity, we limit ourselves, our own growth as individuals and our organizations. Coaching as a tool is a powerful method to allow people's inclusive leadership abilities to foster and flourish.

Inclusive leadership - empowerment

Borderless leadership underpins this concept – the fearless art of empowering self and others to create dynamic and inclusive cultures, where everyone thrives because of their difference is key. Coaching empowers individuals to be borderless. This identifies, reduces and removes barriers that can be in the way of inclusion, equity, diversity and also the things that make us the same but uniquely different. Unlocking this dynamic of difference, to build a world where we are all truly connected opens doors and builds much-needed bridges.

Inclusive leadership - bias

Coaching allows values that are affected by biases to be surfaced and explored. Biases have a huge impact on our decision making as we have two discrete systems that form our decisions. System 2 looks at what we should do (process, multiple perspectives, analysis of the problem and taking action). System 1 is concerned with what we actually do (often making decisions based on intuition in a fast, automatic and effortless manner) The challenge with this is that the results can contain confirmation bias, in-group bias, status quo bias and the halo effect

As we can see, biases that can affect our decisions come in many forms and coaching as a tool allows us to unpick these, understand where they come from and allows us to grow as individuals to raise and challenge them appropriately.

As a coach, look deeply at how inclusive leadership is being used or exhibited

When thinking about inclusive leadership, it's important to look within what opportunities do you or your coachee have to use inclusive leadership in day-to-day roles? What situations would better benefit from a more inclusive leadership type approach? What borders do you need to cross? What assumptions do you need to challenge? What mindset do you need to unlock? Where do you notice exclusion, stereotypes, presumptions, microaggressions, bias or privilege limiting your own, your teams or your organization's performance?

From all of this, coaching will allow you to explore your leadership response and help you define how you will disrupt the status quo. It will allow you to help create the right conditions where everyone can thrive, irrespective of their point of difference, their dimensions of diversity or any other aspect that means they may be disadvantaged through non-inclusive leadership.

To bring inclusive leadership to life there are many coaching skills, that can be used to galvanize the importance of inclusive leadership. Be this through using powerful questions to explore these themes, understanding the coachees' values, assigning metaphors, exploring perspectives and bringing to life the biases that may exist that are inhibiting the coachee from truly empowering those around them. The transformation one identified will be incredible.

As you can see the evolution of leadership has changed over the last century. As different generations arrive; different styles and approaches are created, and as leaders, we must adapt and respond to these changes. For us to conquer the challenge, we must change our mindset and style to allow us to be successful in the diverse world we live in.

Inclusive leadership also means that leaders commit to ensuring all team members: Are treated equitably, feel a sense of belonging and value, and have the resources and support they need to achieve their full potential.

One thing to say is Diversity and Inclusion have never been more important and the style we adopt today will continue to evolve when future generations bring with them a new perspective, creativity, and styles.

  1.  Tim Elmore, Generation iY, 2015, Poet Gardener Publishing

  2. Frederick Winslow Taylor “The Principles of Scientific Management” 1911

  3. The term knowledge worker comes from Peter Drucker “The Effective Executive” 1966.

  4. Reinhardt, W.; Schmidt, B.; Sloep, P.; Drachsler, H. (2011). "Knowledge Worker Roles and Actions – Results of Two Empirical Studies". Knowledge and Process Management. 18 (3): 150–174. doi:10.1002/kpm.378. hdl:1820/3523.

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