Inclusive Leadership in Turbulent Times: A Framework to Guide Leaders

COVID-19 has resulted in simultaneous economic, health, and social crises. And as a result, leaders and their teams face unprecedented challenges that are creating added stress, pressure, and anxiety. The table below shows some of the top challenges reported by leaders in a recent webinar from our Power of Inclusive Leadership webinar series.

During this event, Stephen Bailey, CEO of ExecOnline, had the opportunity to speak with Sarah Soule, Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, to discuss how the combined crises are affecting individuals in different ways, and why leaders must be mindful of this as they lead their teams and build more inclusive workplaces. In particular, Sarah focused on the differential impact COVID-19 is having based on race, gender, and ethnicity. You can see those findings here.

“We have an opportunity as leaders to make our organizations better as we come out of this pandemic. To build more inclusive cultures. I think that if we begin to practice and model this as leaders now, we will begin to allow a groundswell of openness and dialogue in our organizations. We will begin to, I hope, turn these unprecedented times into an opportunity to make our organizations better.”  – Sarah Soule

How can leaders do this? Here are three competencies Sarah shared using the Stanford GSB Leadership Model to help guide leaders as they work to turn these unprecedented times into an opportunity to make lasting change.

1. Perspective-Taking

Understand how other peoples’ goals, beliefs, wishes, and drivers influence how they act in a given situation and how they interact with others at this moment.

“When we think about perspective-taking right now, what we really need to do is be leaders who put empathy and compassion first as we try to discern what it is that the people with whom we work with need, what their wishes are right now, what they’re going through, and how those wishes and needs are influencing how they act and interact with others in this moment.” – Sarah Soule

Tips to do this:

  • Practice active listening.
  • Check-in with, and show empathy toward team members who may be disproportionately impacted by the crisis.
  • Start meetings by checking in and acknowledging the challenges and struggles that we face right now.
  • Ask questions like ‘How comfortable are employees with conversations about race?’ ‘How safe do they feel speaking up about race?’ ‘Are there any incidents of bias in the organization?’

2. Awareness of the Context

Be sensitive to how each person’s unique situation influences how they are showing up at this moment.

Tips to do this:

  • Make virtual meetings unbiased. Turn on closed captioning, send documents, and collect input & feedback in advance.
  • Begin each meeting by acknowledging everyone there. Do not just acknowledge those with high status or privilege. 
  • Start conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion, and race. Structured questions can help provide this safe space for dialog. Brave Spaces is one tool Professor Soule recommends. 
  • Don’t make assumptions.  If someone does not have their camera on for a meeting, do not assume that they are checked out.
  • Model work-life balance and communicate any adjusted expectations about performance right now. 

3. Self-Awareness

Understand how your own goals and drivers, thoughts and feelings, influence your relationship to others, and how you are acting and reacting to this moment. 

Tips to do this:

  • “I think more important than ever is creating space and time for yourself and self-care. Making sure you are investing in mindfulness.”
  • Be vulnerable. Speak about your own challenges (or wins). Allow people to share their challenges and wins as well.
  • Reflect on your interactions and ask for feedback. 
  • Be very self-aware and maintain a growth mindset. 

“Some of the research on self-awareness is showing it’s less about asking yourself the question ‘Why?’ and asking yourself in a very introspective way ‘Why did this behavior go that way?’’ Why am I feeling this way?’ and more about ‘What can I do?’ This is how you create a growth mindset. Instead of thinking about why an interaction went that way, think about what you can do to improve interactions going forward.” – Sarah Soule

Interested in learning more? 

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