“Inclusiveness”, “inclusivity”, “included”,…and the like seem to the catch-word of the last few weeks. Without really knowing why, I can only speculate that it has something to do with the up-coming U.S. presidential election in which similarly populist sentiments will be the chords struck by candidates on both sides of the aisle: democracy, free enterprise, freedom, no one left behind, we are all in this together, shared values, a shared way of looking at the world, and so on and so forth. Political imagery aside, the inclusiveness is quite a powerful concept when discussing my favorite subject: leadership.
As a matter of discourse, I like to define leaders as those individuals who are able to show the members of their community a less uncertain view of the world which inspires them to work together to make it a reality. This definition – in my view – captures the essence of leadership very well. Contrary to popular usage, leaders do not really base their role on a vision as visions are not always realistic. Not many people will follow a leader if the vision does not lead to a more certain outcome. How that outcome is measured or what it is can be anything under the sun. The other aspect of this definition is its inclusive quality. The community is included in the process of making the situation real. There is a dependence of the leader on the followers and the followers on the leader.
Recently, I met with a leadership professor, lawyer and former judge I know, Michael Gregorek, in preparation for a discussion I am having with his students and those of another class. Over drinks, he recounted an exercise he does with his students to help them understand different styles of leadership which involved religious figures. This brief moment we shared got me thinking about the archetypical process we often see by which individuals become leaders, and how fundamental “inclusiveness” is in this process.
One of the figures used by the students was Moses. If memory serves me correctly, Moses was born a Jew – a slave class – adopted by the Pharaoh – the ruling class – and raised as a member of the ruling family before leading the Jews out of Egypt, leaving his community behind to go on his quest, returns with the ten commandments, and establishes a new less uncertain community for the Jews. This paradigm is repeated by Jesus, also a Jew although not a slave definitely poor, who goes up against the status quo, goes on a quest in the desert, returns to lead a group of people out of an uncertain world to found a new one that we named Christianity. Interestingly, Muhammad and Buddha follow the same process: contest status quo, go on a quest, return to lead the community to a less uncertain world.
However, this process is not limited to religious leaders because it is very similar to that of the hero. I say similar because the hero returns to better the community once left whereas the religious leader establishes a new one. In either case, a less uncertain reality is the new normal.
Notwithstanding the process, there is one detail that is often left out: leaders will get a buy-in from only a small segment of the community but will ultimately affect a much larger population. Consequently, when approaching the subject of leadership it is important to keep in mind a leader cannot change everyone’s perception but needs to focus on the “true believers” who will then carry the message outward to the greater population. A leader helps those chosen few become leaders in their own right by providing them with a message they can repeat to those members making up their community. In other words, by creating an inclusive community around themselves the leader provides the first circle of followers with the means to make an inclusive community around themselves and so on and so forth propagating outward from the center just as a people does when thrown into the calm waters of a pond.
So the next time you consider your leadership action please remember to conceive of them with respect to those a degree of separation beyond your direct reports. You want to make it easy for those closest to you to be able to communicate your more certain world without fault. The return you will get from having put in the time and effort will pay off in the long run many times over.