It’s no secret that humans are an extremely social species. In The Psychology of Leadership, David Messick explains, “Allowing people to be a member of a group is to permit them to share vicarious pleasures of others’ successes. We all experience a satisfaction when the strangers who represent our team are victorious over the strangers who are their team….But the underlying psychology remains the same. People want to belong, and good leaders provide inclusion” (p. 86). Isn’t it a thrill when your department meets a stretch goal, your favorite sports team makes the playoffs, or a political candidate who you back wins an election? Feeling involved, even if only from afar, simply feels good.
In the context of organizational leadership, leaders can do a lot to make people feel like important players on their teams. In our leadership model, we call this area of the circle the Inclusive Dimension. Inclusive leaders get a variety of people involved in the decision-making process and show concern for their opinions and feelings. Specifically, Inclusive leaders are good at:
- Staying Open to Input
- Showing Diplomacy, and
- Facilitating Dialogue
I’d like to focus on the practice of staying open to input. Many top leadership experts have cited this as a differentiator between average and top-notch leaders.
Inclusive leaders show that they’re open to input, and I think it’s safe to say that nearly all people want their opinions to be taken seriously. In On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis writes, “Leaders need people around them who have contrary views, who are devil’s advocates, ‘variance sensors’ who can tell them the difference between what is expected and what is really going on.” Wow. Bennis suggests that leaders actually seek out contrary views. This certainly requires leaders to check their egos at the door! And this isn’t a new concept. In Diane Coutu’s Harvard Business Review interview with Abraham Lincoln historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, the biographer describes how “…Lincoln surrounded himself with people, including his rivals, who had strong egos and high ambitions; who felt free to question his authority; and who were unafraid to argue with him.”
Working in product development has really pushed me to exercise the Inclusive Dimension, and specifically, to stay open to input. In fact, that’s the name of the game when it comes to creating high-quality products! By the time a product makes it to market, hundreds of people have usually provided some form of input that has helped to create the end result. Not only is the product better for it, but people feel like their voices have been heard. This process has taught me to be much more open to input and criticism—constructive or otherwise—and I know that this increased sense of openness has helped me in other areas of my life as well, from my personal writing to my marriage.
- Have you had to learn to be more open to input? If so, how did you do it?
- What teams do you feel like you belong to? What role does that identity play in your life?
- How can we help other leaders see the importance of being more Inclusive?