“Exclusive” leadership is hurting your bottom line

By Charley Morrow on September 10, 2015

Woman on mountain being mindful

Have you ever felt excluded? Left out? Ignored? Disregarded? Or worse…shunned at work?

These may sound like weird questions to ask readers looking to learn about leadership development, but, if you stay with me, I’m going to explain how exclusionary leadership can wreak havoc on your team and your bottom line—and how easy it is to be unintentionally exclusive.

What is the impact of exclusion?

Recent research indicates that there is a predictable psychological reaction to exclusion. Science shows that exclusion is threatening and this causes normal defenses to kick in as well as feelings of withdrawal and the need to form alliances. Exclusion, it turns out, causes us to disengage with work, and is directly related to turnover. In the context of an organization, these behaviors are understandable, common and extremely negative. According to academic research, exclusion is more damaging, yet more acceptable, than outright harassment. Exclusion is common in today’s organizations. Humans are social animals, so exclusion—excluding an individual from a group—is often perceived as a form of punishment.

And the interesting thing is: I’ve never met a person in the business world who wants to exclude people. But I’ve met many who were unaware that they were excluding people who have a different outlook, interest, self-identity, perceived expertise, or simply are higher up the org chart than the people they work with. Science has proven that we are all biased. Nearly everyone finds they have unconscious stereotypes when they take the Harvard Implicit Association Test. But, that doesn’t mean it’s right. And studies also show that inclusive leaders get better results.

What is inclusion?

Organizational inclusion is a highly productive state where all employees feel welcome and accepted, especially members of underrepresented groups. Inclusive leadership is the goal, but the question is: How do you actually cultivate inclusive leadership when many people aren’t even aware that they’re being exclusive?

The answer is simple—the same way you cultivate good leadership—by developing leaders who are focused on results, capable of setting goals, holding people accountable, and being able to both deliver and receive feedback. Inclusive leaders, like all good leaders, understand themselves and model transparency and openness, and value others’ input. They also communicate and connect with others to accelerate development and performance and most importantly, build a culture where every member of the team is appreciated for his or her contribution and perspective.

While there is no magic formula to developing inclusive leaders, there are several methods that work.

So what are you doing to be more inclusive? Share your insights with us in the comments section.

Want to learn more? Join us for the Linkage Intensive™ on Leading Inclusively taking place in Chicago from September 15-17.

Posted in Blog, Inclusive Leadership

About Charley Morrow

Charley Morrow is SVP of Products and Partnerships at Linkage. In addition to working with clients, he has responsibility for the overall development and refinement of programs and assessments.
5 comments on ““Exclusive” leadership is hurting your bottom line
  1. Charley,
    Your article is one of the clearest statements I’ve seen about the often unconscious pattern of exclusionary behavior, and this is a core part of my own work. I am looking forward to listening to your recording and your future posts.


    • charley morrow says:

      Thanks for the kind words. We are proud of the good work we have done. I personally am so excited about having something practical and scalable.

  2. Edith Lillie says:

    Exclusionary behavior is really not an unconscious pattern of one’s behavior.

    In most businesses exclusionary behavior was and still may be a normal practice, which is mostly held by those in positions of authority at the top while making its way down to the workers.

    It is safe to say that people are aware when they are being excluded at work, whether it is from a project or certain working colleagues.

    The article is correct when it indicates that we all are bias and unconsciously label others. Nevertheless, although we are biased at time on certain issues or bring stereotype behaviors to situations, we as individuals usually know what is considered the right or wrong way to handle such comatose voices.

    I would go to said that such behavior is among one of the major reasons why we have fewer leaders to follows today as well as being a major cause of the disengaged of individuals in the workforce.

    Real leadership is demonstrating your ability to build … within those that follow you, whereby they are equipped to do greater things ….

    Younger leaders, unlike your older counterparts, realized that inclusion of all workers will lead the company to meeting its objectives and fair better against its competitors.

    Let’s use the education we have obtained and change what doesn’t work or is right out wrong practices.

  3. Donna Kelly says:

    Good insight. Leaders need to work for shared success and build trust — do what you say you will do, resolve issues, be transparent, ask for feedback to close the loop. I manage a team of 40 consultants, remotely located. Engaging in activities to keep people connected and feeling included is critical. Simple behaviors like responding to emails and voice messages by end of day is the way to remind people of their importance to the team and individual value, I call this giving energy back.

  4. Denise Alexander says:

    Great job! I have got the full understanding of inclusive-leadership and exclusive-leadership. I am a teacher in a NY and have seen a great deal of exclusive-leadership. Leaders need to include and motivate all workers regardless of their color, religion, and cultural background. However, reading your article was an eye opener to me that exclusion could be a conscious act or an unconscious act of a leader’s behavior. I an looking forward to read more of your posts and listening to your recordings.

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