Inclusive leadership: What is it and how to implement it?

This week we interview Julio Arnas, founder of The Owl Project, trainer for companies and specialist in diversity and inclusion. His project, The Owl Project, is a training consultancy for both executive and team coaching for companies. Its mission focuses on accompanying organisations that want each person to show themselves as they are, without the need to hide anything that defines them in order to give 100% of their talent.

We will talk to him about inclusive leadership, as it is the key to developing trust and goodwill in employees. In this interview we discuss its advantages and challenges, as well as the best strategies and its impact on SMEs.

Welcome, Julio. To begin with, we would like you to tell us a little about yourself and your passion for people.

I define myself as an enthusiastic, cheerful, "fun-loving" and very passionate person. I have always felt that I have to fight to defend what I consider unfair, perhaps because of some experiences in my past in which I have felt humiliated for being who I am, although at the time it wasn't entirely clear to me. Partly the idea of creating The Owl Project comes from there, from my passion to defend the fact that a person being different does not imply that they can be discriminated against, to defend myself, to promulgate universal values such as freedom, respect and empathy, which on many occasions are not promoted or exercised as they should be.

So what is inclusive leadership all about?

As I see it, it consists of just what I said before, embracing difference and empowering each person to be who they are without fear. In the business environment, we often see how teams of "mini-teams" are created, i.e. teams in which all the people who are part of them are a carbon copy of the person in charge.

Precisely what inclusive leadership seeks is the opposite, to encourage teams to include people of all types, and not just gender parity, but to promote generational, functional, cultural and sexual diversity. In addition to including different types of talents and skills and ways of processing information and managing it to achieve high performance teams.

What are the advantages of promoting inclusive leadership within companies?

If we look at it from the company's point of view, this type of leadership generates innovation, creativity and improves the working environment, thereby increasing commitment, talent retention and a sense of belonging. As a result, productivity increases and, therefore, profitability. And finally, it increases Corporate Social Responsibility, giving the opportunity to attract new customers.

From people's perspective, inclusive leadership generates zero tolerance for discrimination, so they will feel included, valued, listened to, feel they can be who they are without fear of possible reprisals or derogatory comments.

From the leader's point of view, it enhances both self and team learning, an open-mindedness that leads to the evolution towards high-performance teams.

What are the biggest challenges in implementing it?

The main challenge is to go beyond a simple manifesto of good practice, to make both the leader and his or her team aware of the importance of managing diversity and promoting inclusion effectively.

75% of the people who are part of the labour market and who will enter it in the near future are millennials and centenials. The loss of fear of showing themselves as they are, and the needs and expectations of the labour market, are some of the main characteristics of these two generations to which today's leaders must adapt. I am not saying that this is the only way, but in my view, it is one of the best ways.

To do this, the first thing to do is to work on their self-awareness, their unconscious biases and the way they manage their emotions.

Now, it is not only the leader who must do this, but the team as a whole. If the leader encourages inclusion, but the team in parallel does not, his or her work will be for nothing.

What would you say are the best practices for good inclusive leadership?

The first thing is to practice active listening from the point of view of curiosity and understanding, so that the leader knows his team and allows himself to be known. Encouraging the values I mentioned at the beginning, freedom, respect and empathy, is essential to give each person their space.

The leader must have an inclusive vision and a forward-looking approach, leading by example and generating effective and realistic policies to promote diversity and take it seriously, not seeing it as a mere posture.

What tools can be used to facilitate inclusive leadership?

Carry out diversity diagnostics to get to know the team, create KPI's for success, because to be effective it is not only necessary to carry it out as a type of leadership, but also to prove that it works.

Moreover, as I said in the previous question, active listening is essential to generate the necessary trust that makes the team show itself as it is in order to give 100% of its potential.

We thank Julio Arnas for taking the time to share his knowledge with us. To learn more about the importance of fostering inclusive leadership, feel free to join us on our next live broadcast on 7 April at 18:00h on our YouTube channel: Inclusive leadership: what it is and how to implement it - YouTube. We will be interviewing Julio in full to cover everything about inclusive leadership - don't miss it!

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