Coaching for Inclusive Leadership: 3 Questions to Help Leaders on their Inclusive Leadership Journey

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When coaching CEOs and C-suite executives, we often get asked about how to help someone become a more inclusive leader.  This heightened sensitivity has grown more in the past few years as there are more calls for social justice, gender wage, opportunity parity, and the full array of necessary changes for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

Summit Leadership Partners recently conducted our 2023 Global Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Survey in partnership with Signature Leaders. As part of the survey, 254 female leaders were polled across various industries, including operations, technology, finance, and accounting.

In this research, we specifically wanted to find out what female leaders, those who were likely to have both experienced exclusion and inclusion, thought about how to develop both themselves and others as inclusive leaders.

The results highlight three different experiential learning activities that the respondents believed were the most likely to help a leader become more inclusive:

In the context of coaching, we ask people questions designed to get them to think more broadly about their own experiences and to expand out of their comfort zones so they may learn more about people with whom they may not normally socialize in this way.

A recent example from coaching a male executive in a technology organization.  He was struggling to understand how to increase the attraction and retention of women in his team.  Technology has traditionally been a tough place for women to find success.  I asked him when the last time was that he had sat down with a few of the women he respected and just listened to their experiences.  He, like many people, said that felt like a hard topic to broach.  I suggested he start small, lunch with just two or three of his most trusted female leaders. I coached him to think of just three questions to start the conversation:

  1. What is it like to be a woman leader here?

  2. How is it different for you than other leaders because you are a woman?

  3. What could I do to help?

I asked him to reflectively listen, in other words really listen and reflect back on what he heard and how it seemed to feel.

He tried this exercise and came back to our next coaching session with an array of new ideas that might make things better for women and others in his organization.  This close group of female colleagues thanked him for taking his time to ask and listen. They told him that they felt like they could trust him even more with their careers after that one conversation.

Imagine what would happen if all leaders did something like this with a regular cadence.  The impact in an organization would be palpable.  Even if we are a minority ourselves, there will always be other groups who we don’t know as well.  Making the time to reach out and really listen and then spending some time checking our prior assumptions, these simple actions will allow you to take a step in your journey to becoming a better and more inclusive leader.

So here is a challenge to all leaders, use the three questions above to reach out to a group of people whom you could or should know better.  Or create similar questions of your own.  The development magic is in reaching out and listening.

Click here to receive a copy of our 2023 Global DEIB Report.