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An Inclusive Leader Builds Meaning

A colleague loaned me a book recently – Appreciative Leadership by Kiana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader.  I was immediately drawn to its focus on how leaders can integrate Appreciative Inquiry methods to transform decision making and create successful organizations.

The book explores how Appreciate Leaders work to be inclusive and will invite all relevant and interested employees and stakeholders into the conversation.  Inclusion gives people a sense of belonging. When you practice inclusion, you open the door for collaboration and co-creation. This, in turn, creates an environment in which people feel they are a part of something. When they feel part of something, they care for it.  The book refers to this as the genius of inclusion.

In contrast, authoritarian leaders are exclusive.  They talk about people and make decisions for them.  Exclusions fosters disengagement and lack of commitment to shared outcomes and collaboration.  When you hold a meeting to talk about Employee Engagement and only include a few employees in human resources you may have a specific type of conversation.  Why are our employees disengaged?  What do we need to do to engage them?  If a group of employees is talking about engagement they may be asking questions such as Why is my manager not telling me what is going on?  Why am I wasting my time when the organization is just going to change things again?  Meaning is made in conversation.  The two conversations will not come together until we invite everyone into the same conversation, a shared vision and path forward – calling for action by all.

Who you include in the conversation matters.  Meaning is tied to inclusion.  A Leader’s meaning and an employee’s meaning, one department’s meaning and another department’s meaning will be different until they can talk with an intention to build understanding or co-create ‘their’ meaning.

You might say that this co-creating may be seen as weakness by a leader.  Do people want leaders who are bosses, who make decisions and act as if they know best?  There is a shift happening from command and control leadership to collaborative facilitative leadership. This does not mean that a leader does not make decisions, but that they engage others in how these decisions are made.

It is not easy to engage multiple stakeholders in a productive conversation.  An Appreciative Leader needs the skills and knowledge to ensure success.  Training and coaching is a good first step.  Alternatively, having a trained facilitator in the room can ensure that it is safe for all to speak up, that emotions are surfaced effectively and that the playing field is level.  They work to build understanding and ensure that the solutions that are created will meet all stakeholder’s needs.

An Appreciative Leader asks, ‘Who needs to be involved to ensure success?’  The genius of inclusion comes when you identify, invite and engage all the relevant and interested stakeholders for a given issue, project or process into the conversation.

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