​Many employers have a genuine concern for ensuring their talent feels valued, respected, and safe. They seek to have equitable organizations where disparities at any level including in access, opportunity, support, and reward don’t exist. They want to deliver on their promise of equality that no one will be favored or disfavored on the basis of who they are.

These tumultuous times are also upturning the traditional methods of effective leadership. Making good business plans, managing them well, delegating tasks and protecting employees from ambiguity is no longer enough in the face of continual disruption.

All of this requires a new type of leader.

A leader who takes a collaborative and facilitative approach as opposed to one characterized by command and control. A leader who operates transparently rather than behind closed doors. A leader who is culturally agile, not tied to their own worldview. A leader who is able to fully embrace and leverage the vast diversity of today’s workforces. A leader who can create a safe space, regardless of what is happening externally, where people feel accepted and empowered to give the best of their talents.

In essence, an inclusive leader.

​Inclusive leadership is not just about diversity and inclusion

By analyzing the profiles of more than 150,000 leaders, and surveying 795 investors who fund outwardly “winning” organizations, we were able to identify a type of leader who survives and thrives amidst constant change by continually disrupting themselves—their thoughts, their values, their actions. 

We call these people “Self-Disruptive Leaders” and we believe they will have an indispensable role to play in enabling organizations to innovate, grow, and remain competitive in the future.

Through our research, we identified five key qualities that self-disruptive leaders possess, which are the ability to: anticipate, drive, accelerate, partner, and trust. Many of the qualities associated with “partner” and “trust” are shared by inclusive leaders. 



​The point is that being an inclusive leader does not just make you a good leader of inclusion and diversity—it makes you a good leader overall. In fact, 40% of the competencies and traits that define inclusive leaders are the same as those that define self-disruptive leaders.

This is perhaps unsurprising. Leaders who will succeed in the future are those who are exceptionally good at partnering with diverse people across internal and external ecosystems, and at creating the trusting, inclusive environments that are required to unlock the full power of all the people in the organization.

Inclusiveness is the new currency of power, influence and effectiveness. By harnessing it successfully, leaders will enable their companies to take the world’s opportunities by storm.

​Traits: The inner enablers of inclusive leadership

Traits are generally hardwired. They include an individual’s personality, sense of purpose, and values. They also indicate preferences. For inclusive leaders, they are the inner enablers that make inclusive leadership possible and, when taken as a whole, they tell us the leader’s disposition toward differences. The core enabling trait clusters of an inclusive leader are:

1.   Authenticity: requires humility, setting aside ego and establishing trust in the face of opposing beliefs, values or perspectives.
2.   Emotional Resilience: requires the ability to remain composed in the face of adversity and difficulty around differences.
3.   Inquisitiveness: requires openness to differences, curiosity, and empathy.
4.   Self-assurance: requires a stance of confidence and optimism.
5.   Flexibility: requires the ability to tolerate ambiguity and to be adaptable to diverse needs.

Competencies: The five disciplines of inclusive leaders

While the traits outlined above are foundational for inclusive leadership, they are not enough on their own. An inclusive leader must also possess the skills to lead inclusively. 

Korn Ferry research has identified the competencies that are essential for inclusive leadership. We have also used empirical analysis to organize these competencies into clusters. We call these The Five Disciplines of the inclusive leader. They are:

1.   Builds Interpersonal Trust: is honest and follows through; establishes rapport by finding common ground while simultaneously able to value perspectives that differ from own.
2.   Integrates Diverse Perspectives: considers all points of view and needs of others; skillfully navigates conflict situations.
3.   Optimizes Talent: motivates others and supports their growth; joins forces for collective success across differences.
4.   Applies an Adaptive Mindset: takes a broad worldview; adapts approach to suit situation; innovates by leveraging differences.
5.   Achieves Transformation: willing to confront difficult topics; brings people of all backgrounds along to achieve results.


​Biography matters

We have one more vital element to introduce that becomes the wrapper around The Five Disciplines model: the experiences of each leader’s biography.

As organizations become increasingly diverse, there will be a greater spread of work-style preferences within any given team. To excel at inclusive leadership, individuals therefore need to be able identify other people’s culturally driven preferences, as well as their own, to compare their likes and dislikes with team members from different cultures, and to gauge how helpful and productive their preferred style is likely to be.

Experiences that expose leaders to a broad range of geographies, people, and contexts can increase their understanding of culturally driven preferences by challenging their assumptions and ways of doing things. 

Diverse experiences can also open their eyes to the fact that client and employee needs are not all the same and cannot be effectively addressed the same way across the board, which in turn helps them realize that solutions can be varied and counterintuitive, and that, sometimes, they are best reached along unconventional paths.

Written by
Korn Ferry