The Five Inclusive Leadership Hallmarks

Inclusive leaders are self-aware

Inclusive leaders outperform non-inclusive leaders.  They get more done quicker and better than leaders that tell vs. ask, inform vs. discuss, and fail to inspire their teams.  Being a leader means being inclusive.  Inclusive leadership is not a nice to have, it is a must have in today’s competitive talent war.

In my research for my book Lead Like an Ally, I found some of the hallmarks of inclusive leaders.  Those that lead like allies do these things really well.  They:

  • Assess the employee experience
  • Have candid conversations
  • Stretch talent equally
  • Promote a culture of belonging
  • Measure success

The employee experience

The employee experience is highly correlated with the customer experience.  The employee experience ranges from recruiting to hiring to performance management to promotions and pay increases to separation activities.  As many of these processes were built by non-diverse talent, despite the best of intentions to be inclusive, they tend to be exclusionary for diverse talent.  Micro-aggressions such as interruptions, over/under explaining information, or being excluded from meetings or team outings happen at a much higher rate to women and people of color in the workplace. These subtle signs exist through the process.  Inclusive leaders take a hard look at the full process and insert themselves in diversifying and welcoming talent in every step of the experience.

Candid Conversations…

Diversity and inclusion do not happen without candor.  Allies know this.  They are quick to address the biases of others as well as themselves.  They surface issues up front, discuss them openly, and insist that a resolution (not a band-aid solution) is made to address issue.  They do not kick the can or sweep conflict under the rug, or accept the status quo.  They are decisive and bold and do what is right, even when it is hard.

Stretch Talent Equally

This hallmark is really important.  Research shows that diverse talent is far less likely to get constructive criticism or challenging assignments.  This is likely due to our bias and limited exposure to seeing people like them lead or succeed in these assignments.  Allies challenge this norm.  They give feedback focused on behavior (not personality traits) and explain the impact of that behavior continuing (in a way that promotes positive change).  They seek out those that are different and high performing for stretch assignments.

Belonging at Work

Knowing that the workplace was built by the majority group for the majority group to succeed (white, male, etc.).  This means that others outside of these identifiers are less likely to see themselves reflected in the organization.  This is intensified with subtle signs that they do not belong.  Not seeing yourself represented in leadership is a bit of a chicken and egg problem.  To overcome this, allies invite all voices to be heard, ensure all people are seen, and that a culture of belonging is felt amongst the full team.  Inclusive leaders create space for others that are different to engage.  They seek out diverse perspectives.  They call out non-inclusive behavior rather than let it persist.  If they see something, they say something.


Anything that is important is measured.  To say we do not measure diversity and inclusion is the same as saying it is not important.  It would be like saying that we do not measure profitability or return on investment.  And, diversity and inclusion absolutely can be measured.  From perceptions on the hallmarks outlined here, to diverse representation at each level of the organization throughout the employee experience, measurements can and need to be taken.  And, leaders need to be held accountable for the diversity of their teams.

Want to know how inclusive your team is?  Take my complimentary 20-question assessment and find out how your team fares on diversity and inclusion.

Already read Lead Like an Ally?  Check out my ally, Jennifer Brown’s work How to be an Inclusive Leader too.

Like this content?  Learn how to be an inclusive leader and lead like an ally at  There, I have complimentary workbooks, a podcast series, and a video series to lead more inclusively with your team.