Overcoming biases to be an inclusive leader

Be critical about your biases, practice humility to address them, be open to criticism and be empathetic towards your colleagues.

Getty Images
Getty Images

All of us have our opinions and perspectives which we have derived from our observations and experiences. However, this perspective that we have about a particular thing or situation, which we may believe is right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate is only restricted to us. Every individual is entitled to his/her beliefs and as a leader it’s equally important for you to take cognizance of the fact that other beliefs do exist. Without this approach, you’re a horse with blinkers, restricting your worldview with limited thoughts. 

I have always believed that a leader is not an individual. S/he is a summation of views of people, who feel they’re being heard, who instil their faith, trust and belief that they have someone whom they can turn to if things go wrong. This inclusivity without a shadow of any prejudice is a must-have trait to be a successful leader. It brings in a sense of togetherness and connect, which was even more crucial to maintain after what we all went through during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this trait is not something that you build overnight, it takes conscious effort to avoid your preconceived notions and biases impact your decision making. 

One of the crucial practices to avoid being biased is to be aware about things you’re biased or have a blind spot about. Only when you know that you are biased can you work towards not letting it overpower your decisions. By this I don’t mean to have an attitude that – I know I am biased about this, but I am what I am. Instead, it’s about being humble about the fact that you have a blind spot and work towards addressing it. Feedback mechanism is something which has always worked for me. Whatever I do, whichever meeting I attend or town hall I address, I always ask for an honest feedback and areas others feel I can improve upon. As a practice, before entering into a meeting I always take perspectives of all my colleagues about points to focus on and after the meeting I always take their feedback on what went well and what didn’t. This not only helps me represent everyone from my team, but also learn more about how I can be better to do better for my team and organization.     

It’s important to know that leadership is not about you, it’s about others who see you as a leader, as a representative to their voice and as person which instils a sense of belonging to the organization. To meet these expectations, you need to be empathetic by being curious about others. Whenever I meet my colleagues or any person for that matter, I don’t hear, I listen without clouding my thoughts with anything else. It’s important to actually be with your people (not just for the sake of it) with an open mind-set and inquisitive about what they think. Doing so, has really helped me understand what is expected out me in a better manner, thereby increasing my bond with my people. Every now and then, I engage with my people virtually or in-person, not just for work purposes but to also let them know that I’m with them by their side come what may. 

Lastly and more importantly, in order to overcome your biases, as a leader you should always challenge the status quo and welcome thoughts that challenge your opinion. Never be satisfied with the fact that what you think is right and it will always be so. Keep challenging yourself and instead of reprimanding a counter-opinion, welcome it. Get out of your comfort zone and face tough questions whenever you receive them from your colleagues. During our company town halls or large forum with employees, I not just openly communicate with them about all the important happenings, but leaving the best part for the last (my personal favourite), I reward them for asking me the toughest question. Also, if someone proves my opinion or approach wrong, I’m more than happy with it. This exposure to uncomfortable or new situations coupled with open ended questions, helps me expand my horizon to varied thoughts, disrupt my prejudices and encourages an inclusive culture with diverse thinking.    I have always believed that biases restrict your growth, thereby stunting the growth of your organization. Many things make people feel included – an organization’s culture, mission, practices, but usually it mostly comes down to the leader. As what leaders say or do, makes a person feel connected, go an extra mile, speak up their mind, which ultimately leads to organization’s growth. Be critical about your biases, practice humility to address them, be open to criticism and be empathetic towards your colleagues. Doing so will surely help you devise remedial strategies for your personal development and also foster inclusive culture along the way.