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Above All, Inclusion Is a Leadership Challenge


Above All, Inclusion Is a Leadership Challenge

CEO of Above Difference, Jennifer Izekor explores the five value proposition statements that underpin the work of her Award-winning, Inclusive Leadership with Cultural Intelligence business and led to the launch of a new UK-wide, inclusive leadership movement #ToSeeAndHearYou

“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening”.

Edgar Schein

This week, I reflected on the fact that over the last three years, in leading Above Difference, my expert facilitators and I have facilitated workshops with over 3,000 leaders across the public and community sector.

I still never tire of what we fondly call the “lightbulb moments” and the excitement I see on the faces of leaders who leave our Masterclasses with a better understanding of how they can make a difference to the lived experiences of their diverse teams, peers and colleagues. They get the “how to make inclusion work”.

As an Inclusive Leadership and Cultural Intelligence facilitator, leadership coach and speaker, I know that the best theories/models in the world mean nothing, if they do not engender a deep personal transformation that in turn, creates leaders who walk away feeling empowered, engaged and aware of their own ‘power and influence’ in creating inclusive spaces where everyone feels valued. Leadership, John Maxwell says, “is all about influence, nothing more, nothing less and everything rises and falls on leadership”. 

Leaders play a key role in creating the ‘feel’ of spaces where individuals of all backgrounds work. Wittingly or unwittingly, they create or facilitate team and departmental cultures. As Edgar Schein says “The only thing of real importance that leaders do is create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this happening”.

These cultures, shaped and facilitated by leaders, are unelected rulers of the workplace. They define who belongs and who doesn’t, who thrives and who just survives in the workplace.

Often, the most powerful moment in our programmes is when a leader realises the power of these visible and invisible ‘cultures’ and the potential they have as leaders to shape and influence them. When they realise, that by having a limited view of what the word ‘culture’ encompasses, they can limit their own ability to be effective, inclusive leader. Inclusive leaders are grown, not just sown and watching those seeds germinate and green shoots appear is as they say, a blast!

Yet the best thing about every leadership programme and Masterclass I facilitate is the learning that I take away from the diverse leaders I get to engage with.  Over the last three years, that learning has led me to Five Value Proposition Statements that now underpin all the work Above Difference undertakes with our partners and clients.

Value Proposition Statements

When good leaders lead well, they lead all people (irrespective of their backgrounds) well

If a leader isn’t leading all their people well they aren’t leading well. Inclusion is a leadership challenge.

All people, irrespective of their backgrounds, deserve to be well led

Also a core value for Maxwell Leadership. Access to good and inclusive leaders should not be an optional extra for any employee

Leaders need to be Culturally Intelligent, Value Driven and Effective Change Leaders/Managers to lead all people well

Leaders need to be able to adapt their leadership style across diverse contexts, individuals and situations. They need to be change makers and innovators.

Equipping and Upskilling Leaders to lead all people well, is an organisational challenge and an organisational necessity

It’s not enough to just ‘expect’ leaders and managers to lead inclusively, organisations need to invest in upskilling and that means more than one training course.

Developing Oneself as a Culturally Intelligent & Inclusive Leader is a personal growth challenge and a professional growth necessity

If you lead people who are different from you, in any way then you have a responsibility to equip yourself with the best tools, skills, knowledge and capabilities to do it well.

I believe all five statements point to one clear fact;

Inclusive leaders create inclusive cultures which provide the right environment for inclusion and belonging to grow and flourish. Inclusion is a leadership challenge.

Over the next few weeks we will launch our Inclusive Leadership Movement #ToSeeAndHearYou. It’s been a long time in the making.

#ToSeeAndHear you is a call to action for leaders who understand that Inclusion is a leadership challenge and want to work with other likeminded leaders to do it better. It’s for leaders who are tired of the polarisation, negative dialogue and just want to understand how and what they can do differently, how they can lead difference well.

It’s about organisations who want to find a simple but powerful focal point for all their inclusion strategies – a commitment to individually ‘See and Hear All’ and a commitment to do what it takes to create an organisation where all are ‘Seen, Heard and Valued’.

Organisations that want to simply and powerfully say to their diverse staff and stakeholders – “We see you, we hear you and we will get this right for you. It is for all of you, for all of us.”

Join the #ToSeeAndHearYou conversation and be part of the movement:

Watch the space each week exploring each statement in more detail and inviting you to engage. We believe Inclusion is above all a leadership challenge.

To join me on one of our acclaimed “Leading Inclusively With Cultural Intelligence Masterclass Programmes: