How to Overcome Resistance to Inclusive Leadership
Nonprofits often have missions centered on inclusive causes, but do their staff have the same sense of belonging within their organizations?
Vo defined inclusive leadership as creating an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging and has the opportunity to be a valuable contributor. However, she noted, those contributions might not always be successes. Here’s a look at how to achieve inclusive leadership, along with ways to overcome the resistance that often prevents organizations from being successful at this endeavor.
3 Steps of Inclusive Leadership
Though individuals could have well-meaning intentions, they may not make it to the next phases of inclusive leadership — determining their current state, creating an action plan and achieving a more inclusive nonprofit.
“If it was all easy work, we would all be in it,” Vo said. “We would all be doing it all the time.”
1. Adaptive Leadership
Adaptive leadership requires just that — a continuous evaluation and acknowledgement that the solution might not be simple or technical. There could be multiple solutions, and you might need to learn something new to find that solution.
“This creates two things — resiliency,” Vo said, “and it normalizes the conversation of ‘how are we doing?’ ‘What's missing?’ … ‘What else do we need?’ And ‘By the way, what are some of the obstacles and challenges that are coming in as we're addressing these things?’”
2. Collective Leadership
Collective leadership involves the entire group possibly adapting to new ways of being and changing their behaviors or beliefs. Those changes could stem from removing barriers or obstacles discovered through conversations that happened in the adaptive phase. In order to achieve this, Vo noted it’s important to invest in leadership development — things like collective and individual training, conferences and internal meetings, such as a diversity, equity and inclusion committee that can create the metrics and strategic planning around what needs to be implemented.
“In my organization, we have monthly meetings where all of us come together to speak,” she said. “We have our one-on-ones with our managers. We have access to our leadership team once a month. There are lots of opportunities to engage in conversation so you can find out what's happening. What are some of the challenges? Where can we continually improve?”
3. Inclusive Leadership
Inclusive leadership ensures all voices at all levels are responsible for the results, and share in the benefits of success and learnings from failure.
“You don't have to blame. We just have to engage and be responsible so that we say, ‘You know what? That didn’t work. How do we tweak it? How do we adapt? How do we become more resilient for the next time, the next iteration? And that's where the adaptive and collective and inclusive leadership comes in.”
Resolve Resistance to Inclusive Leadership
Vo explained resistance comes in two forms — displacement and distraction. Examples of displacing the responsibility include holding onto past assumptions; scapegoating; blaming on external factors, such as the pandemic or economy; placing the burden solely on a DEI committee or leader; and denying the problem even exists.
Meanwhile, distracting from the real issue includes not having the money or people to implement or prioritizing other things.
When resistance shows up, it’s leadership’s responsibility to return to the adaptive leadership step. This process not only normalizes these conversations, but sets the example for the safe space you’re trying to create.
“Because it's not just my responsibility as the chief culture officer to do anything to anybody in my organization,” Vo said. “But it is my responsibility to prove everybody wrong, and to ask for their opinion, to ask for them to engage, to ask for them to help me come up with solutions and help me create the environment that we want.”
And there won’t always be a clear consensus on what to do, but that’s normal. Vo pointed out how baby boomers tend to believe employees should work as long as is needed to complete the work, whereas Gen Zers tend to view the end of their workdays as exactly 5 p.m. each day.
“If it’s taking 80 hours to get your work done, there's something wrong with your workload,” Vo said. “And five o'clock may not always be something that's possible. Because you're working in several different time zones you might have to have a five o'clock meeting, just because of the nature of our work now. But who am I to say which environment is the right one? Well, we can talk about it.”
But including everyone in that discussion is the key.
“Craft more opportunities to be heard, not fewer please,” Vo said. “Invite more voices, more often as often as you can, and really build that shared responsibility and empower folks to be involved.”