Signature traits of inclusive leadership



A day after the national elections, just when it was becoming apparent that an overwhelming majority of Filipinos voted for him, presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte paid a visit to his parents’ grave and unabashedly cried. The tough-talking mayor of Davao, who has admitted to being particularly close to his mother, reportedly asked her for guidance in between sobs.

You can’t blame the man for breaking down. The thought of leading this nation of more than 100 million people scattered over 7,000 islands and facing serious challenges but also exciting opportunities can be overwhelming. But such is the weight that leaders have to carry.

It is especially difficult now to be a great leader because of the volatile and complex world we operate in. Globalization, advances in technology, a more mobile and connected population have made it necessary for leaders to adapt and expand their roles beyond what has traditionally been expected of them, which is to set the direction and influence others.

In a publication entitled “The six signature traits of inclusive leadership: Thriving in a diverse new world,” Bernadette Dillon and Juliette Bourke—Deloitte experts on Human Capital consulting—write about this new environment that is making fresh demands on leaders, and the six characteristics that can contribute to their success.

Based on Dillon and Bourke’s experiences working with more than 1,000 global leaders and a survey of over 1,500 employees, the report identifies four global megatrends that are reshaping the business environment into a much more diverse sphere.

First is the diversity of markets. According to a working paper published by the OECD Development Centre, the world’s middle-class population will reach 3.2 billion by 2025, up from 1.8 billion in 2009. The bulk of this growth is expected to come from Asia, Africa, and Latin America—regions that are characterized by significant cultural, political, and economic differences. For many companies around the world, emerging markets in these regions now represent the biggest growth opportunity.

Second is the diversity of customers. Empowered by their digital devices, customers nowadays have more options before them and expect greater personalization and a voice in shaping the products and services they consume. The challenge for companies is to deliver that personal touch with the efficiencies of scale.

Third is the diversity of ideas. With digital disruption occurring more often and with a potential to reshape entire industries, organizations now more than ever have to rise up to the challenge to “innovate or die.” Research by the Boston Consulting Group found that within companies that successfully innovate, diversity of thinking is not only celebrated, it is part of the strategy to protect against groupthink and generate breakthrough insights.

Lastly, there is the diversity of talent. Shifts in age profiles, education and migration flows are giving rise to highly diverse employee populations. In our neck of the woods, the establishment of the Asean Economic Community now allows for the free movement of skilled labor, albeit in only eight specific occupations. A leader’s future success, then, will also depend on his or her ability to optimize a diverse talent pool.

Considering these simultaneous shifts in the business environment, Dillon and Bourke see a new capability that is vital to the way leadership is executed: inclusive leadership. They’ve also identified six traits that characterize an inclusive mindset and inclusive behavior.

1. Commitment
According to the study, highly inclusive leaders are committed to diversity and inclusion, and not just because it makes for a good business case. While inclusive leaders acknowledge that diversity enhances performance, their primary motivation for pursuing diversity and inclusion is that it aligns with their own personal values and sense of fairness. This commitment to diversity and inclusion on an intellectual (belief that it is good for the bottom line) and emotional (belief that this promotes fair play) level will allow leaders to speak about diversity and inclusion in a compelling and authentic way, thereby strengthening their ability to influence people and create a culture that truly celebrates differences.

2. Courage
It is said that among the virtues, courage is the most important, for without it, one cannot exercise the other virtues. Highly inclusive leaders aren’t afraid to speak up and challenge the status quo, and this courage is visible at three levels: with others, with the system, and with themselves. These leaders challenge others through regular feedback; they aren’t afraid to question entrenched organizational attitudes; and perhaps most importantly, inclusive leaders have the courage to speak about their own limitations. This humility allows them to learn from criticism and to welcome different points of view.

3. Cognizance of bias
To help ensure fair play, highly inclusive leaders are aware of personal and organizational blind spots and make the effort to self-regulate. Biases can narrow a leader’s field of vision and prevent him or her from making objective decisions. An inclusive leader, then, makes an effort to develop corrective strategies—such as policies and processes—to create an environment of fair play.

4. Curiosity
In a 2015 interview, Michael Dell, chairman and chief executive officer of Dell Inc., was asked to name one attribute that CEOs need to succeed in the future. “I would place my bet on curiosity,” said Dell. Having an open mindset and a genuine desire to understand how others view the world allows leaders to learn continuously, and also drives attributes associated with curiosity, such as inquiry and empathy. In turn, this engenders loyalty from others who feel valued, and gives leaders access to a richer set of information that enables better decision-making.

5. Cultural intelligence
As part of their curiosity, highly inclusive leaders are motivated to deepen their understanding of different cultures and learn from the experience of working in unfamiliar environments. This helps them operate confidently and effectively in cross-cultural interactions. Inclusive leaders are also tolerant of ambiguity so that they are able to manage the stress that may arise from new or different cultural environments.

6. Collaborative approach
Lastly, highly inclusive leaders empower individuals so that they are comfortable sharing their diverse perspectives and are able to successfully work together. These leaders have a disciplined approach to diversity of thinking: they pay attention to demographic factors that cause individuals and groups to think differently, such as educational background and gender. They also consider their organizational culture and infrastructure—whether it promotes social connections across the organization.

While Dillon and Bourke developed this framework with business organizations in mind, I don’t think it would hurt if we apply it to an even bigger picture: Now that we, more or less, know who our new government leaders are, let’s examine their character, their plans and programs to see who will practice inclusive leadership and steer the nation toward a path of inclusive growth and development.

The author is the Audit & Assurance Leader of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd., a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited—comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. These traits listed above will not work in Philippine setting. Maybe for the first world like US Japan . Our people are 80 per cent poor and most of them does not have any decent education. Look at prostitutes in our casinos, squatters all over, illiteracy rate is very high. Look, we voted a jerk like Pnoy and still I do not know if this new guy will be different. Two ex presidents went to jail. This last one, there is a possibility because of pdap and dap. VP Binay might go to jail too. That is our culture , corruption and poverty. It will take more than 10 years to bring a positive change, then again if we have chosen the right president. Look at China, how long before there was a change thinking it is a communist dictator country.

  2. Inclusive leadership is built upon the foundations of Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate & Social Responsibility, Empowerment, High Performance Teams, and Total Quality Management.

    The glue which holds a corporation/organisation together is the culture, as expressed by shared values, a common purpose, identity, pride & passion.

    At a macro level an inclusive society cannot develop when exclusivity and inequality is pervasive.

    The goal for the next administration is to enable social mobility, promote meritocracy, and stimulate innovation.

    Progress and prosperity will only result from a quantum leap in professionalism and ethics in both government and business.

    Inclusive leadership is about redefining structures and cultures to be more representative of a multi-cultural workforce, and more responsive to market dynamics.

    A starting point would be to improve the quality of management education and training and be less insular in thinking.

    ASEAN integration will demand a wider perspective and a more competitive spirit. Time to step up, or be stepped upon. ‘adapt or die’