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The Official Baldrige Blog

Further Thoughts on Inclusive Leadership

Blocks on a table spelling Inclusion.
Credit: Dmitry Demidovich/Shutterstock

Following publication of my recent blog on elements of inclusive leadership, I had the opportunity to visit Southcentral Foundation in June with the Baldrige Executive Fellows. At that meeting, we learned the impact of sharing personal stories in building an inclusive organization. We were essentially walking in each other's shoes through life stories, as we went through a storytelling exercise facilitated by Southcentral leaders and managers. It was an emotional and powerful learning experience.

At the conclusion of the meeting in Alaska, the Baldrige Fellows were challenged to take personal actions to improve their abilities as inclusive leaders.

That challenge was addressed during a recent videoconference with the Fellows. Some themes and observations I gleaned from the discussion provide valuable lessons in what each of us might do to improve our abilities to be inclusive leaders.

Really Listen

While expressed in many different ways, the Fellows demonstrated the importance of really listening to colleagues at all levels of the organization to learn what the organization could do to improve inclusion.

Asking and listening to input on unconscious biases you and the organization demonstrate is a first step in improving inclusion.

The Greek philosopher Epictetus is credited with the expression, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." This quote is even more relevant today in an environment where leaders are expected to speak out and often forget to listen first. Of course, to get honest input from employees you must already have established an environment of honesty and open communication.

Address Your Biases

While personal biases can be discerned by listening and then honestly looking in the mirror to confront them, making a change in the way we act requires effort, dedication, and a true desire to rethink ingrained patterns of thought and behavior.

Organizational biases are frequently a more difficult challenge. They are often hidden in policies that go back to founding or building the organization. Addressing those biases requires commitment of the full leadership team, then communication to the whole organization and leadership actions/behaviors that demonstrate the organizational change. It means parting company with leaders and employees who are intolerant of the change needed.

Attend to Mission, Vision, and Values

Inclusivity begins with a reexamination of the organization's mission, vision, and values. Do the values represent the organization you are espousing? Are the mission and vision consistent with your current philosophy and direction? If not, that will be an important starting point to building an inclusive organization. Once reaffirmed, the mission, vision, and values become important guideposts in discussions and actions related to inclusivity. They are bedrock to who you are and how you will behave.

Where to Begin?

While I heard additional messages from our Fellows about actions they were taking, there was a lot of agreement about beginning with these three: actively listen to colleagues; understand and address unconscious personal and organizational biases; and focus on your mission, vision, and values. It's time to begin!

Baldrige Executive Fellows Program

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About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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