Wanted: Inclusive Leaders

Grow and innovate the business. Attract and develop the talent.

This global executives’ mantra is uttered in boardrooms, in business class and in hallways as corporate leaders carom around the world.

In Miami, nearly a dozen CEOs gather round a conference room table at our downtown Korn Ferry office. There they are, successful leaders in unrelated industries yet they all face the same challenge: how to grow in a hypercompetitive world. They wonder if innovation and inclusion hold the answer.

A few weeks later at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, a soon-to-be major spinoff company from a pharmaceutical firm gathers its global executive leadership team. The group carves out a half day from its weeklong meeting to build crosscultural agility skills to manage a 12-person team with eight different nationalities. The team will operate virtually as members crisscross global boundaries weekly.

Inclusive Leadership Competencies
Source: Korn Ferry, 2015

Swap out the industry, the meeting location and fundamentally the issues are the same. In each of these examples, globalization continues its unrelenting expansion, and companies keep putting processes, structures and training in place to ready themselves to manage these complexities.

But leading this brave new world has everyone facing challenges never before seen. In essence, the times require 21st century leaders with 21st century skills, and both are scarce.

This requires leaders to be inclusive. We mined the Korn Ferry normative database of 2.5 million assessments and found 21st century leaders need to exhibit four forms of leadership: change, global, results and innovation.

When we scan the required behaviors for each of these types of leaderships, all kinds of inclusive behaviors pop up: hiring the best talent in the midst of a talent war, penetrating new markets in the midst of the emerging market land rush, managing cultural differences in the midst of complex mergers and acquisitions, and being able to navigate brand positioning in the midst of touchy diversity issues and complex country politics.

But today’s leaders are mostly unprepared. Wherever I travel, leaders admit: They don’t need to be convinced of the business case for diversity. They get that they need diversity to attract the best talent. They get that market growth will happen in the diverse, untapped emerging markets in different countries. They get that they need to be inclusive to activate innovation. But they don’t understand how.

Smart, highly successful, financial wizards, supply-chain gurus and marketing mavens feel stymied by the fundamentals of listening — that is, listening to voices not heard or heeded before. The very voices needed to usher new imagination to the calcified “the way we have always done it.”

Leaders need to build collaborative relationships, optimize diverse talent, communicate cross-culturally, and be flexible, open and adaptable. Much of the “how” is based on being cross-culturally agile: curious about the unknown; humble enough to ask naïve questions; self aware about cultural beliefs and preferences; open to being a student of others cultures; and able to use this friction to ignite new and unexpected answers. Then show up as authentic and transparent, and inspire others to do the same.

Inclusiveness is the new currency of power, influence and effectiveness. It’s the catalyst to unleash talent to its full potential, which will allow companies to seize the world’s business opportunities.