Leadership has no color, but we need to look beyond to recognize everyone

By Edna Figueroa - May 11, 2021

Leadership has no color, but we need to look beyond to recognize everyone. When we discover that our views do not represent the only truth or choose to look beyond the visible and invisible differences, we can develop our fullest potential as a leader.


Inclusive Leadership (IL) is not a standalone quality. IL means more effective leadership; it is the way to unpack the positive dimensions of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, instead of focusing on the challenges of implementing it.


Becoming More Inclusive Begins With Examining Our Values


Inclusive leadership is the highest expression of your leadership style. It begins with re-examining your value system and thinking patterns to recognize areas of limitations and strengths that, if brought to life, can create more inclusiveness. No one sees your values and beliefs. While many leaders have not yet been curious enough to challenge their assumptions around race and gender, this examination can lead to a transformation of effective leadership.


At the heart of Inclusive Leadership is a focus on the human aspect of Human Resources. I firmly believe that HR should be renamed the Human-Centered Function of the Organization to expand leadership capability through the lens of Inclusive Leadership as a key differentiator for organizational well-being. I believe this will allow for a real focus on developing the right culture to achieve Diversity & Inclusion.


My clients understand that becoming an inclusive leader does not happen overnight. For most, being inclusive already lives within them, but it needs to be intentional, coupled with vulnerability and curiosity to humanize the employee experience. In each conversation, they become more curious and flexible in evaluating team members’ life stages and events, allowing for deeper connections and relationships. They become more authentic, more humble, and more inclusive. They understand that employees have become savvy organizational consumers. Being inclusive is smart leadership.


The Inclusive Leadership Wheel: A New Way to Lead More Inclusively


What inspires me today, as it did more than 20 years ago when I started this journey, is that leadership unites people and creates incredible synergy. So I created this “Inclusive Leadership Wheel” as a model for the spectrum of logical steps, traits, leadership competencies, and soft skills needed to help leaders and professionals – at all levels of their careers – become more inclusive.

No alt text provided for this image

Each layer of the wheel in my model represents one of the three pillars of Inclusive leadership.


  • KNOWING WHAT DRIVES US (Values): Values are at the core of the wheel for a reason. We need to deeply understand the set of values or principles through which we see life. Knowing what shapes us has a significant impact on our leadership style and helps us understand and explore new ways to lead diverse talent. Examining those values creates more self-awareness and identifies opportunities to embrace new behaviors, resulting in more inclusive actions.
  • While we all have different values, to model Inclusive Leadership, we must prioritize a set of values that are beyond power, achievement, and financial success. We must make sure that people and social interactions are part of our value matrix. These self-inquiry actions help leaders foster more inclusiveness and more openness, leading to more effective leadership.
  • EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The middle layer focuses on facilitating more authentic dialogue to create deeper connections and having the confidence and knowledge to manage interpersonal relationships judiciously. Obviously, Emotional Intelligence is not a new concept. Still, the soft skills of knowing oneself, and leading with empathy to get to know others, are essential to promoting more inclusive relationships. These skills allow us to focus on the human aspect of Human Resources and become more practical in building the team’s psychological safety. Staying connected and establishing collaborating strategies provide the capacity to deepen relationships and remain present and accessible to those you lead.
  • HUMAN-CENTERED & ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP SKILLS: The outer layer of the wheel focuses on complementary leadership skills to increase strategic impact but also cultural competency. Being recognized as a savvy organizational leader includes knowing yourself and embracing diversity and inclusion as a leadership strength in your interactions with employees and customers. Leading effectively also means becoming more deliberate in developing a corporate culture of intention and learning and understanding the interconnections in the ecosystem that can build more healthy and profitable organizations.


Traditional Leadership Models Must Change to Serve the New Generation


Team leaders need Inclusive Leadership skills to manage the most racially diverse generation in American history, the Millennials. They are the largest generation in the U.S Labor Force (Pew Research Institute.)

The latest research conducted by Gallup shows that Millenials are connected, unconstrained and idealistic. This leads us to consider new ways of leadership development and coaching. This generation is likely to make the most significant impact on Diversity and Inclusion and will be responsible for leading important changes that affect workplace cultures and people’s lives.


The pandemic and recent events in our nation have pressured us to be more inclusive. I believe the call to lead with inclusiveness provides the most significant opportunity for the voice and contributions of everyone.


Coming from humble beginnings has undoubtedly helped me to be more inclusive. It was in my family, through my mother’s unconscious language, her curiosity, and her commitment to getting to know every human being that came close to her orbit, that I learned my biggest lesson in leadership—that everyone matters.


Being inclusive matters. It is the hallmark of effective leadership. I hope you enjoy leveraging a new way to promote inclusiveness in the workplace and helping everyone do their best work. Let me know your thoughts!

Comments (1)

  1. / June 23, 2024

    World Hercules

Share your ideas and comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *