11 April 2024 | Professor Binna Kandola

Leaders struggle with these 3 inclusive behaviours

Leaders have a vital part to play in role-modelling inclusivity, but inclusive leadership behaviours take time to master, and some are easier than others. Our research at Pearn Kandola has highlighted three behaviours that leaders find particularly tricky.

Our study of over 1000 leaders has uncovered three inclusive behaviours that leaders typically struggle with and revealed that there can be a big discrepancy between how inclusive leaders think they are and how their colleagues rate them. With less than 5% of global leaders meeting the criteria of being inclusive leaders, it’s clear that many leaders are finding inclusive leadership a challenge.

At Pearn Kandola we know that getting insight is key to behaviour change, and our unique DEI diagnostic tools give people quick and objective insights into how inclusive they are and help them to identify where their areas for development lie. Our inclusive leadership personality assessment lets leaders take a deep dive into their natural personality style while our 360 inclusion feedback tool allows leaders to seek feedback from their colleagues to understand how inclusive their behaviour really is.

3 inclusive leadership behaviours that need work

A meta-analysis of the output from our diagnostic tools for leaders across a range of sectors has revealed three crucial inclusive behaviours that leaders find particularly difficult.

Behaviour no. 1: Dealing with cliques


It’s natural and healthy to form close friendships at work, but the trouble starts when these develop into exclusive ‘cliques’ – tight-knit groups of individuals who socialise and collaborate largely or exclusively within those same groups. If left unchecked, cliques can lead to exclusion and favouritism, and they can also create informal power structures that damage communication, decision-making, and team cohesion.

Cliques can be especially damaging if they coalesce around a leader, as this can mean that those outside the clique aren’t getting the same opportunities, feedback or support as their colleagues on the inside, and this can have devastating repercussions for their motivation, morale and performance.

Our analysis of 360 feedback showed that addressing cliques in their department was the weakest area of inclusion for over 1000 leaders, and the data also clearly showed that many of those leaders weren’t immune to being part of a clique themselves, with nearly half of workers stating that this was the case in their place of work. So, what can leaders do to tackle clique behaviour, and how can they avoid falling victim to it themselves?

  • Promote awareness

Make your team members aware that we often tend to seek out people who are similar to ourselves and may ‘other’ those who are different in some way, which can cause them to feel rejected and excluded. Explaining the damaging effects of exclusion – and why an inclusive working environment benefits everyone – is key to getting people to adopt and practise inclusive behaviours. You may even want to invite people to share whether they see any examples of this within the team – but make sure you set the conversation up for success by asking everyone to actively listen to other people’s experiences and try to understand their perspectives. It’s also important to avoid feeling or being defensive to help make people feel safe to share.

  • Be a role model

One of the most effective ways of reducing cliques is for inclusive leaders to demonstrate inclusive behaviour, so make an effort to demonstrate inclusivity in action. Try to interact with as wide a group of people as possible and instead of relying on a trusted ‘go-to’ group when you need something doing, reach out to those people you don’t normally work with to get a wider range of input and give new people a chance to contribute.

  • Create opportunities for people to interact

Research shows that contact between people is key to breaking down stereotypical assumptions and bias, so think about some inclusive team-building activities that could create opportunities for interaction between colleagues who don’t normally have much to do with each other. The better everyone gets to know each other, the more likely they are to find things they have in common and make new social connections outside their immediate in-group.

  • Identify and address non-inclusive behaviours

Don’t avoid the issue. If you see cliques forming, talk privately to those involved about how it could be affecting the rest of the team or department. Cliques aren’t necessarily malicious, and those involved may genuinely not be aware of the impact of their behaviour, so avoid apportioning blame and instead try and focus on how cliques can make others feel. Emphasise the importance of inclusive actions to other employees in the organisation.

Behaviour no. 2: Building relationships


For leaders, building strong professional relationships isn’t about making friends but rather about uncovering and leveraging talent to create high-performing teams. Results from the Kandola+ 360 showed that leaders self-identified relationships as their weakest area of inclusion, suggesting that they struggle to build and develop relationships with those that are not within their ‘inner circle’ and tend to prioritise their ‘go-to’ people instead of considering others for tasks that will give them the opportunity to develop their skills and raise their profile. More inclusive relationships make for better-performing and happier, diverse teams, and there are plenty of ways for leaders to nurture those valuable connections.

  • Grow your network

Reach out to people who are new to the organisation, or who you haven’t worked with before. You might want to consider going along to some new employee resource groups to get some new perspectives, hear about minority employees’ experiences, or volunteer to shadow someone from another part of the business.

  • Get to know your people

Knowing the members of your own team better won’t just help you to build better relationships with them, it’ll also help you to uncover hidden potential and skills that will benefit everyone. Make time for those informal chats as well as work-focused conversations and show an interest in who people are outside of work as well as in a professional capacity.

  • Be alert to proximity bias

With the post-Covid rise in home and hybrid working, there can be a tendency for leaders to form closer relationships with those they see in person than with those they rarely see face-to-face. Ensuring that you maintain regular contact with your remote workers and creating opportunities to meet and interact in person where possible is crucial to ensuring that everyone on your team feels included and valued and that ‘out of sight’ doesn’t translate into ‘out of mind’.

  • Mentor someone different to yourself

Mentors help their mentees to grow their skills, identify career development opportunities, make better decisions and gain new perspectives, and can be pivotal in enabling people from marginalised or minority groups to progress in an organisation. So, consider who you might offer to mentor and how you can give them the benefit of your experience. It’s also a great opportunity for you to seek understanding of the experiences of those who are different to yourself and the challenges they face in the workplace.

Behaviour no. 3: Tackling unconscious bias


We all have a tendency to think we’re better at things than we really are – a phenomenon known as self-serving bias – and our research shows that leaders can often have an over-optimistic view of how unbiased they are. Interestingly, our research found that while leaders didn’t identify being open about bias or tackling it as one of their weakest areas, all of the people they invited to provide feedback highlighted this as one of their leader’s major weaknesses, suggesting a significant disconnect between leader’s perceptions versus that of their colleagues. Biases are deeply ingrained and it’s impossible to eradicate them entirely, but there are plenty of things leaders can do to reduce their potential to impact decisions.

  • Accept you have biases

We’re all biased, and accepting this basic fact is the first step to addressing it. The next step is getting insight into our own particular bias blind spots and how they affect us. Consider doing an Implicit Association Test to uncover where your own biases might lie and be open to feedback from others on where they see them affecting your behaviour or decisions – particularly from your managers and peers.

  • Create the right conditions

Bias tends to come to the fore when we are tired, under pressure or otherwise compromised in terms of our cognitive load, so don’t give it the conditions to thrive. If you know you’ve got an important decision to make, make sure that you’re well-rested, have enough to eat and drink and give yourself enough time to reflect before reaching a conclusion. Take the time to re-visit any insights that you’ve gained into your own biases and challenge your decision-making process at every step.

  • Don’t rely on gut instinct

We all like to think we’ve got some kind of ‘sixth sense’ that we should pay heed to, but more often than not it’s just unconscious bias hijacking our thought processes. Rather than going with your gut feeling about a person or a situation, look for objective evidence to support your decisions and consider whether you might be allowing stereotypes or other forms of bias to cloud your thinking.

  • Be flexible in your thinking

We’re all far more comfortable with repeating what’s worked in the past than we are with trying something new, but this can cause us to shy away from alternative approaches and our problem-solving abilities can suffer as a result. New challenges will typically require a dose of fresh thinking, so seek out different perspectives and viewpoints and take the time to consider unusual or unconventional options rather than just going down the tried and tested route. How do you demonstrate more inclusive behaviour through leadership?

Start your inclusive leadership journey

Creating an environment in which everyone feels a sense of belonging improves everyone’s working life. Inclusive leaders hold the key to building inclusive environments at work and unlocking the power of diversity and inclusion. Contact us today to find out how Inclusive Leadership training can support your commitment to diversity and help your organisation reap the diversity dividend.