Joerg Schmitz 0:09
Welcome to the first episode of the Inclusive Leader Podcast. I'm your host, Joerg Schmitz. The intention of this podcast series is to explore the art and science of inclusive leadership. It accompanies the activities of the Inclusive Leadership Institute, which we launched earlier this July. I have the great pleasure to be the director of this institute, and curate and facilitate all of its activities, as well as this podcast series.
The first podcast season is dedicated to exploring the many facets of inclusive leadership. Together with a core group of subject matter experts. Each expert will illuminate a different aspect of inclusive leadership, and hopefully advance our understanding, and also our practice. But to get started, in this first episode, I would like to spend a little bit of time on the idea of inclusive leadership. And one of the ways in which I'd like to do this is make this a bit personal because inclusive leadership has been more or less the focus of my professional activities for a good 25 years.
For me, inclusive leadership emerged in 1999. So just before, you know, the turn of the century, but long before it became more popular, primarily in the context of diversity and inclusion, and today, you see the idea of inclusive leadership in many different aspects, represented by many different organizations. And that has been wonderful to see this idea that for me, that started in a very different way, over 25 years ago, actually, to become such mainstream in diversity and inclusion. Of course, the word equity was not inserted into diversity and inclusion at that time. And at that time, actually, inclusion was perhaps the next frontier.
But what really, you know, sparked my journey in this area was that I worked in an environment where I was helping multinational and global organizations address the intercultural dimensions that would help or hinder collaboration in their complex matrix organizations. So a rather significant challenge that's set right in the operating model of many organizations. Because when companies move from rather hierarchically structured organizations to matrix organizations, they have really shifted what it took to succeed in their business model, and made it primarily on the shoulders of leaders and leadership. So from the hard structural elements of how work was organized, and communication processes were organized, to the more intangible softer side of leadership.
And I remember well, that in 1998, one of my clients, a really well known multinational technology company, approached me with an interesting challenge that sounded a little bit like this: "Our D&I training is failing outside of the United States, and we don't really know why. So there must be something cultural around D&I, can you help us out?" And being trained in anthropology and ethnography as a as a methodology, I really set out to then inquire and research this question. What was it around how D&I, diversity and inclusion, was trained, from a US perspective? And why did this not resonate in a global environment? So there was an intense period of engagement and applied research that helped me uncover why D&I did not resonate across the world, even though the world is full of diversity. So there was a certain irony in that question. And then, of course, you know, positively, how could the core message and intention of D&I be translated in a way that actually does resonate? And not only resonate, but add measurable value to global organizations? Because of this challenge that all of a sudden, the way of making this global strategy and the globalization of an organization work was on the shoulders of a shared leadership ethos.
So this is how the idea of inclusive leadership was created because I learned a couple of things, namely that the the idea of inclusion resonated just about everywhere. And there was also a significant experience of not being fully included in a global organization headquartered in the United States. And it resonated more than the idea of diversity. But that doesn't mean that diversity wasn't meaningful, it just had to be rendered not as diversity, as a noun. But ultimately, it had to be rendered as differences, differences that exist between individuals, between operating environments. And the focus on leadership was important because it was leaders that create culture, or catalyze culture change, and who were so critical to these matrix structures. So the idea of inclusive leadership was born out of these conversations and out of that discovery, and it was, even back then, relatively new.
And I was very pleased that in collaboration with this organization, ASTD, the American Society for Training and Development, which is now ATD, awarded us several prizes for this discovery back then. So, in this work, we crystallized a definition of inclusive leadership that still holds merit today, I believe, even though it probably needs some significant updating as well. But essentially, we said inclusive leaders set, model, and reinforce standards and practices that enable individuals and group to contribute to their fullest potential by leveraging their unique abilities, experiences, perspectives, and viewpoints for the collective benefits of all stakeholders.
So here are a couple of ideas that I think are very meaningful when we think about inclusive leadership. It is about setting, modeling, and reinforcing standards and practices. Very important in today's discussion around equity and making sure that talent processes, standards, and practices are equitable. But how does that happen? Not because only an HR environment creates those standards or policies, but because it is actually implemented. It's behaviorally acted out by leaders and through leaders that set, model, and reinforce them. Really important idea. It's about the idea of leveraging individuals and groups. It's not just about individuals, but it's also around groups of people that share a particular attribute or feature in common. And it is about for the collective benefit of all stakeholders. So there's a really important idea of inclusive leadership being a gateway, and a particular way of engaging stakeholders.
So we framed inclusive leadership broadly in this way, and described the essence of that ability consisting in transforming in-group out-group power dynamics, in order to unlock that value and benefits for all stakeholders. So even though the language of equity did not exist at that time, at least not officially as part of the DE&I agenda; nevertheless, inclusive leadership, the way that we discovered and framed it early on was very much focused on ingroup outgroup power dynamics. And when you think about ingroup, outgroup dynamics, you can easily see how that applies to the, dare I say, conventional diversity dimensions in DE&I, gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. But it also extends to a whole host of organizational challenges that are not commonly captured by the DE&I imagination.
So, transforming the essential dynamics of power was central to the idea of inclusive leadership when we kind of generated the idea because of this vastly shared experience across a global enterprise that leaders often felt marginalized and disempowered. And that the center of power was somehow hidden in the intangible unconscious biases that were softly and harshly ingrained in the organizational system.
So since then, the idea of inclusive leadership has become more popular and closely tied to the DE&I work and my worry is of course, inclusive leadership becoming a little too much connected to specific dimensions of DE&I. And therefore, the importance of inclusive leadership may get masked or buried a little bit. And this is important because in the current environment, I don't know about you, but I'm noticing that many organizations profess the importance of embedding and integrating DE&I into the core of their business. But the reality looks very differently. The reality is that DE&I are still very much sidelined as initiatives that are part of an HR or talent function.
So the more inclusive leadership becomes associated with a sideline pursuit of DE&I, it may also become sidelined as a core ethos of leadership that is so important in this emerging new reality. And this is why inclusive leadership is ultimately critical from my perspective. When we look at the development in societies, in markets, in the economy on the geopolitical level right now, inclusiveness is rare, and is direly needed to secure the social foundation, the cultural foundation of us being able to meet those challenges. We are seeing the forces of divisiveness and polarization sweep across many societies, and that has repercussions in our workplaces and in our marketplaces.
Institutions and systems that have, for a long time provided stability, are no longer serving that function very well. So we need to re-energize institutions or systems, or recreate them, or dismantle them and establish new systems and institutions that are serving our collective need. We are also experiencing the resurgence of nationalism and the re-emergence of geopolitical trenches or fault lines, or actually the shifting of those. And that doesn't necessarily help a more globally integrated society or world that is able to meet other significant challenges, the most important of which, perhaps, is the reality of climate change, and the pressure to transform our social and economic systems in the light of resource scarcity.
What makes me very optimistic about inclusive leadership is that one resource is not becoming scarce, that is human creativity, ingenuity, and resilience. In other words, our capacity to innovate, that capacity is a huge resource that exists all over the world. And in order to tap our ingenuity, human ingenuity, we need to make sure that we are not creating artificial barriers, because we need our collective power of creativity and imagination to address those challenges that are emerging. And when you think about innovation, I hope you're not just thinking about technology, even though that's a real big tendency today to look at technology as the source for innovation. But actually, behind every technology, there is a human and a social environment, there is a social process and system. And technology itself, in order to work for us needs to become embedded in social, economic, and cultural processes that serve us in the end. And this is where inclusive leadership, again, will play a crucial role, especially in these polarizing times. With new and emerging challenges and pressures coming at us, inclusive leadership creates the social condition to tackle intractable, complex and emerging challenges successfully.
It's about leadership, because leadership creates culture, those social processes that we need, and it's not about individual leaders, by the way, you know, the temptation is to focus on individual leaders. But the idea of inclusive leadership that emerged through this research, you know, over 20 years ago, was actually leadership as a process: as a dynamic process within a group. So does inclusive leadership describe the ethos and the expectations and the lived behaviors and values within an organization? It's about moving diversity, equity and inclusion, so DE&I. And by the way, ESG, which is of course, a really important focal point for many organizations beyond the current state. Neither are just programs or checklists or so. But both actually, in order to succeed, need to be supported by a strong leadership ethos, I believe that ethos is best described with the words "inclusive leadership." And it's also about enabling human thriving. Of course, it's also about enabling humans surviving, but it is ultimately enabling human thriving, and creating the conditions for that thriving together. And this is what makes me so excited about the mission of this institute and the purpose of this podcast, namely to promote and advance the understanding and practice of inclusive leadership.
It is my hope that you will join me and others on this journey. And you can do that by simply signing up for our mailing list as well or by just subscribing to more of this podcast. And as I mentioned at the very beginning, the first season of this podcast is really dedicated towards introducing you to some phenomenal people with great experiences and skills to share. Because inclusive leadership is a big agenda. And each of these experts that we have assembled and that we will continue to assemble will shed a light on a different facet, where we can tap the ingenuity and the resources we so direly need. Thank you for tuning into this first episode of this podcast, I look forward to sharing more with you and engaging with you. Obviously, there is a lot of programming coming your way as well. Live discussions, ability to learn from our experts and so forth. And it is my great pleasure to bring all of this to life for you. So I hope to see you at one of our events. And if not, then just maybe read from you in some format of anything that we are able to share here. And that inclusive leadership can provide for you. Thank you so much.