The future of work and inclusive leadership

Updated: May 9

The pandemic has concertinaed changes that would normally have taken 5 years into 3 months. Projects that business leaders thought were not possible were found to be possible after all due to the amount of collaboration that took place, a bit ironic given most team members were remotely located. Productivity actually increased as people had more time due to less travel and shorter meetings. Many companies were checking on their employees’ wellbeing for the first time, making people feel valued and needed. This point was highlighted in recent Harvard research on the pandemic which found that people were more engaged and hence more productive when they felt needed.

The future of work has arrived more quickly than expected, creating an opportunity to look at a more progressive leadership model. I define this as inclusive leadership. Inclusive leadership has not been a well-defined method of leading. There are 8 areas in which a leader can assess their own and their organisation's inclusiveness: self-orientation, purpose (why), feedback, differences, failure, collaboration, vulnerability, and awareness of bias.

It is well accepted that harnessing diversity has a positive impact on business performance, giving leaders the feedback they need to be more inclusive. Through pulse surveys, they can uncover blind spots and decide on areas needing work, creating a process of building a more inclusive workplace. This yields a set of actions to build a more inclusive leadership style. Inclusive leadership is sometimes misinterpreted as being warm and fuzzy; it is not. It is challenging and is built on welcoming other points of view. It is not for the faint of heart.

To make a start with inclusive leadership, you could try changing the way you ask for input in meetings. Try not to ask: What do you think? Instead, try: Who has a different idea? How could we look at this from a different point of view? What is missing? What is wrong with my assumptions? What have I missed? It takes practice, and your team needs to understand their views will be heard without judgement.


John Maxwell has worked as a CEO leading businesses with over 3000 people across the globe. He is an engineer but was quickly drawn to the people and leadership challenges that are at the heart of a successful business. His passion lies in developing inclusive leaders, with a focus on the professional services market. John volunteers with Change the Chemistry, a charity focused on increasing diversity in the board room, and is part of the Scottish government’s GlobalScot network, who support Scottish businesses to grow globally.