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Modern Leadership is Inclusive Leadership, but Why?

For a long time, most people thought about leadership as the responsibility and authority to make tell people what to do in order to solve their problems. The senior person on the team, in the room, in the firm or company was the one to whom people brought problems and from whom they obtained solutions and guidance about how to execute those solutions. There are still a lot of people working (and leading) today who grew up with that model and assume it works. It doesn't, at least not as effectively as inclusive leadership.

Inclusive leadership, broadly, is aimed at not only creating an environment where people feel respected and included, but is also designed to encourage collaboration and contribution. When done well, inclusive leadership leverages the skills, experiences, perspectives, and ideas of everyone on the team, regardless of experience or seniority. That is not to say that every person makes the same contribution, but everyone is encouraged and expected to add to the process of decision making. This leads to more fully-informed decisions as well as more engaged and fulfilled employees. But where did this shift come from?

It is not just a matter of society becoming 'more enlightened' and taking individual people more seriously. This isn't (only) a trickle down of broad ideas about human rights and human dignity informing our interpersonal interactions at work. Inclusive leadership is really an imperative of the 'complexification' of our world. When the scope of our experience and influence was smaller, it was easier to develop the necessary expertise to answer most questions through experience. So, the person who has been around the longest and has been doing X the longest is the one who knows the most about X. Whether it's running the grocery store or the law firm, the knowledge relevant to answering new questions could be found in the experience that got you to be store manager or firm partner because you spent the entirety of your career doing X with the people for whom X matters.

Now, however, the breadth of relevant knowledge necessary, the pace at which it changes, and the new audiences that need to be considered mean that much more information is necessary to make decisions and to chart and effective course. It may be possible to know enough to make decisions, but it is impossible to know enough to make great decisions consistently. That's what inclusive leadership generates for you: the capacity to consistently make great decisions.

So, the talk around being an inclusive leaders isn't just the touchy-feely invasion of the 'therapy generation' invading your boardroom or courtroom. While everyone might benefit from working with a therapist and some people might see an inherent, humanist, benefit to creating an environment of inclusivity, there is also a real business need to shift from a primarily 'command-and-control' style of leadership to one that is based on collaborative and inclusive intent and practices.

We're still groomed -- through movies and books -- to idealize command-and-control leadership. (In large part, I think that's just because it's easier to write and tell those stories.) And shifting our approach requires us to open up to new ways of thinking and doing. If you want some ideas about how to make small shifts in how you lead that will have a big impact on your team and your firm's culture, reach out to talk. I love offering tips that will move the legal profession toward a more inclusive (and effective) future.



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