A Clarion Call for Inclusive Responsive Leadership Accountability: Analytical Essay

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A Clarion Call for Inclusive Responsive Leadership Accountability

For centuries, leaders have been lauded for their excellence. Whether decision-making, driving execution, or pursuing results, their collective expertise has helped the world successfully navigate industrial and technical revolutions, world wars, economic recoveries, and a multi-generational workforce (among other notable achievements).

However, as globalization expands, many of those acclaimed leaders have failed to cultivate inclusive work environments; inspire and empower talent; and foster employee congruence, engagement, and belonging.

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This behavioral contrast reveals that several of these leaders operate under “self-perceived effectiveness” or, an (over)estimate of the degree to which one perceives his/her/their positive impact on the workforce and workplace. Meaning, they believe that their vocal, ideological, and/or perhaps financial support of/for/toward diversity and inclusion wholly and equally equates to being behaviorally invested and/or possessing agency in the same. As such, leaders expect beneficiaries (or stakeholders) of said support to perceive them in a favorable light and view their effectiveness likewise.

Psychologists remind that self-perception and others’ perceptions of self can differ significantly. An overestimate of influence on leadership’s part can undermine their credibility from the beneficiaries’ part. Thus, creating mistrust, distrust and skepticism -- key hurdles in the quest to build an inclusive ecosystem.

Leaders must be reminded that great leadership is shaped by, and interdependent on, followership.

“The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” — Helen Keller

Stakeholders today expect more from their leaders. They require leaders to exercise more connectivity and responsiveness to diversity and inclusion than ever before -- not in terms of lip service or feigned action -- but true dedication and sustained commitment. Inclusivity requires greater accountability.

Leadership accountability, especially as it relates to diversity and inclusion, must be 360 degree and multi-dimensional if it is to truly be effective. Mono- and dual-dimensional accountability (or top-down, 90 degree and lateral, 180 degree) tends to omit the voices and feedback of a fully diverse constituency. Leadership governance in a traditional sense reinforces historic, systematic, and institutionalized beliefs and repeats behaviors that work counter to truly inclusive environments and ecosystems.

To appreciate where this call for inclusive responsive leadership accountability derives, one must examine closely the symmetric relationship between diversity and leadership.

Diversity and Leadership

The spread of globalization has given rise to a number of diversity-related issues within the workplace. Driven by internal as well as external pressures to do something -- anything -- to appropriately address said issues, diversity practitioners and their human resources counterparts, draft leaders to take both proactive and reactive action in redress of the same. Sadly, at times, this is done with little to no lasting effect.

This is because diversity (in whatever its implementation: diversity and inclusion; inclusion and belonging; valuing, inclusion, belonging and equality, etc.) suffers from a crisis of identity. For decades, it has sat juxtaposed between moral obligation and punitive scourge; from “the right thing to do” to “do what is right, or else (no bonus, raise, promotion, etc.)”. Since then, it has been sanitized, gentrified and weaponized; becoming a target of resentment for some, a profit generator for others, a symbol of pride for a few.

Leadership, like diversity, is also fluid in its definition, role, and execution. In fact, its nearly 400 definitions, approaches, concepts, and theories makes it, too, a contest to assign sufficient weight to the obligatoriness of it.

Together, their fluid identities present a ‘wicked problem' in that they are complex yet enduring issues of indeterminate scope and scale. They are both difficult to explain, inherently impossible to solve, and evenly create a struggle for diversity stewards and diversity-adjacent gatekeepers to accurately assess and measure.

Struggle notwithstanding, great leadership in diversity is necessary. As such, systems and solutions that help leaders move from saying the right things to behaving differently is correspondingly needed.

Leadership’s Disconnect with Diversity

Before design of inclusive accountability frameworks can take form or shape, some hard truths must first be acknowledged.

Organizational culture begins and ends with leadership.

Leaders talk favorably of a positive workplace culture, but are perceived as inauthentic and disingenuous when their words and actions contradict.

Inauthenticity leads to prolonged mistrust and distrust, leaving stakeholders feeling psychologically unsafe and emotionally taxed.

Psychological unsafety leads to fear; emotional taxation leads to withdrawal. Both lead to exclusion.

Exclusion over time and en masse leads to litigation. (Thus, putting the organization and all of its stakeholders at risk and/or crisis.)

Research by the Boston Consulting Group echoed these truths, in part.

“...Most company leaders — primarily white, heterosexual males (age 45 or older) —still underestimate the challenges diverse employees face (across the entire employee life cycle, from recruiting and retention to advancement and leadership commitment). These leaders control budgets and decide which diversity programs to pursue. If they lack a clear understanding of the problem (how big the problems are or where those problems lie), they can’t design effective solutions.”

“When asked if they see obstacles to diversity and inclusion at their company, more than a third of diverse employees said yes. Half of all diverse employees stated that they see bias as part of their day-to-day experience at work. Half said that they don’t believe that their companies have the right mechanisms in place to ensure that major decisions (such as who receives promotions and stretch assignments) are free from bias.”

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that

“Employees are ready and willing to trust their employers, but the trust must be earned through more than ‘business as usual.’”

Stakeholders want and expect their leaders to not only speak up or out, but to proactively take action and lead change. Therefore, accountability frameworks must be built to not only be inclusive (to incorporate the ‘voice of the stakeholder’) but responsive and introspective, to meet the needs and expectations of constituents as well.

If accountability systems and solutions were tailored accordingly then, psychological safety would be established, trust would be integrated into the fabric of the organization, and diversity would be more uniformly applied throughout the organization.

A Leader’s Stakeholders

Accountability, by definition, means “answerability” (or the “justification of one’s actions”). Leaders have six core constituencies to which they must answer: employees, customers, communities, investors, regulators, and self. Individually, they have specific value needs and wants from leadership. Collectively, they have expectations around and accountability requirements for the same (as identified in the following table).

Mining feedback from each stakeholder can help leaders identify the attitudinal, behavioral and action-based blindspots that have rendered them unsuccessful at fostering inclusive ecosystems. The activity can also inform diversity and human resources practitioners’ efforts in (re)structuring leadership accountability in a way that delivers more stakeholder-expected value. However, culling this information alone will not drive leadership behavioral change.

The Leadership Intelligence Vacuum

One of the greatest misconceptions about leaders is that they intrinsically know how to lead. Various studies support this posit.

  • 44 percent of managers felt unprepared for their role (Grovo)
  • 47 percent of managers don't receive any training when they take a new leadership role (Inc)
  • 60 percent of new managers underperform or fail in their first two years (ATD)
  • 71 percent of companies do not feel their leaders are able to lead their organization into the future (InfoPro)
  • 87 percent of managers wished they'd had more training before becoming a manager (Grovo)
  • 93 percent of managers feel they need training on how to coach their employees (Globoforce)

Because promotions and successions are traditionally based on the achievement of results, moving up the ranks through hard work, smart decision-making, and consistent delivery without ever having any people management or development requirements attached is not abnormal. Yet, upon reaching the pinnacles of leadership, leaders are idolized as being prolific at leading the workforce as they are the workplace. To match this myth, they adopt a stylized persona, image and language of leadership to present the appearance of seamlessly fitting into the role. Over time, these leaders come to perceive (and inevitably believe) themselves to be effective (hence, perceived effectiveness). In contrast, others (stakeholders) view them as being inauthentic and untrustworthy -- “talking the talk” rather than “walking the walk” -- especially in relation to diversity. Moving leaders from saying the right things to behaving differently ought to begin and end with Leadership intelligence (LQ).

LQ qualifies leadership figures to serve self, others, and organizations with more unvarying success. When exercised in concert, the amalgam of LQ traits, characteristics, qualities and acumen architect the heads (consciousness), hearts (emotions), hands (behaviors), and feet (actions) of leaders in meaningful ways. Ways that naturally align with stakeholder needs, wants, expectations and requirements of/from leadership.

Moreover, marrying these quotients with existing accountability measures creates Critical Success Factor (CSF) and Key Performance Indicator (KPI) benchmarks that target specific aspects of leadership performance and track the full scope of impression and impact for improvement.

For example, adding a Communications Quotient (CoQ) and a Social Quotient (SQ) to the leadership accountability framework can assess a leader’s ability to read, listen, and relate to others, while simultaneously weighing their capacity for using inclusive language. Further, incorporating the Appearance Quotient (AQ), Behavior Quotient (BQ) and Situation Quotient (SQ) into the framework ensures that leaders are seen as speaking, behaving, and acting situationally appropriate (particularly in times of conflict and crisis). Finally, including Networking Quotients (NQ) and Culture Quotients (CQ) as accountability metrics can serve as indicators that a leader’s lack of exposure to diverse people and perspectives perpetuates systemic bias.

Once areas of improvement are highlighted and identified, diversity and human resources practitioners can then inform, train, and coach leaders on specific interpersonal and intrapersonal development (using Leadership Intelligence as a rubric). As these leaders self-actualize, they will likely accept and willingly invest in an inclusive responsive accountability framework that helps them align their words, actions, and behaviors with stakeholder perception.

Applying Inclusive Responsive Accountability

It is widely understood that what is learned is rarely applied. Raising awareness of an area of improvement does not automatically mean said improvement will actually take place. For accountability to adhere, it should be positioned as a tool of empowerment and effectiveness. It should inspire ownership of personal and professional growth, development and improvement.

Activation of the aforementioned recommendations requires a connection to -- and must work in tandem with -- the execution of organizational strategy, goals, and objectives. There should be clear linkages between the health, wellbeing, and overall success of the organization and the maturation of leadership. Addressing the latter will directly underwrite the former. When leaders are fully realized so, too, are the organizations (as well as the people) they lead and serve.

To date, leader effort has been the primary benchmark of inclusive leadership. Historically, awards received, events sponsored, conferences attended, speeches given, photo ops taken, and press mentions have indicated the level of investment leaders have made toward inclusion and likewise, how far the proverbial diversity needle has moved. Firstly, because endeavors toward inclusion tend to be synonymized with engagement in the same, this type of accountability evaluates promises and attempts equally (rather than accurately weighing pledges in comparison to behaviors and actions). Secondly, the measurement is one-dimensional; giving organizations and leader stakeholders false positives of leadership sentiment, commitment, and delivery of outcomes. Finally, the practice gives little to no pause for individual self-reflection or emotional/behavioral course correction if/when needed. Inclusive leadership is best achieved when leaders operate through a filter of mindfulness and reflection.

The suggestion here is to incorporate the whole of the individual leader -- thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and actions -- into the accountability equation. Marrying this new formula to developmental, remedial, and preventive practices codifies the requirements of diversity and inclusion into the shared culture of the leader, leader stakeholders and the organization. Moreover, it rebalances performance scorecards to appropriately respond to the ever-changing yet codependent demands of the workforce, workplace, and marketplace.

Case in point, introducing the tenets of LQ in the early stages of the leadership journey establishes a code of inclusive conduct by which leaders can be expected to think, emote, behave, and operate in relation to others, especially those of difference.

Embedding LQs as CSFs and KPIs throughout leaders’ immersive tenures creates performance milestones which leaders and their accountability partners may use to signal progress (or lack thereof) against stakeholder engagement and experience objectives as well as strategic, operational, administrative goals.

Using LQs to flag asymmetric changes in organizational performance and stakeholder sentiment as they occur in real-time can assist leadership oversight in correspondingly addressing and correcting disconnects between leadership thoughts/emotions and behaviors/actions that adversely affect operational outcomes.

As illustrated, the new formula builds clear outlines of expectations, capabilities, measurements, feedback, and consequences for inclusive responsive leadership accountability. It combines the traditional assessment of strategic execution and follow-through with mindfulness and self-reflection, engagement and experience, behavior and action; collectively functioning to better align leaders’ words with their actions (not efforts).

A Clarion Call

Regardless of political rhetoric, changing laws, or civil debate, diversity and inclusion are societal mainstays. According to Pew Research Center, within 25 years, America’s population will be its most heterogenous in history. By mid-century, there will be two billion elderly and two billion young people in the world, living and/or working under the same roof. Each representing one of five races, seven generations, 63 genders, 4200 religions, over 5000 cultural ethnicities, and nearly 6000 languages. As such, in today’s (and tomorrow’s) highly intersectional workplace and marketplace, inclusive leadership is a non-negotiable.

The more diverse the world becomes, the greater the responsibility to and expectation of the people and systems connected to it. In its 2017 Corporate Social Responsibility Study, Cone Communications reported that nearly 80 percent of Americans believed organizations “had an obligation to take actions to address and improve important social justice issues, regardless of their relevance to everyday business”. Further, of the ‘Top 10’ concerns Americans expect organizations to support, racial equality, women's rights, immigration, and LGBTQ rights were respectively ranked #2, #3, #5 and #8 in greatest significance. Collective sentiment is so strong that an average 82 percent of Americans are recorded as “willing to reward or punish organizations based on their response to said issues.”

Although, organizations do not operate on their own accord. The degree and extent to which they internally and externally respond to matters of diversity and inclusion is largely -- if not wholly -- reliant on leadership. (The body follows wherever its head leads.) Without thoughtful, emotionally-engaged leadership putting in work to align values, build mindful strategy, and take socially responsive actions, organizations fail. Without practices and systems in place to ensure said leaders respond appropriately to and deliver on their commitments to cultivate inclusive ecosystems, society fails.

A clarion call has been issued: “Stand up. Speak out. Be real. Be true.” Is your leadership equipped to answer?

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A Clarion Call for Inclusive Responsive Leadership Accountability: Analytical Essay. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-clarion-call-for-inclusive-responsive-leadership-accountability-analytical-essay/
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