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Martin N. Davidson, Johnson and Higgins Professor of Business Administration, Senior Associate Dean and Global Chief Diversity Officer, University of Virginia.
The complexity generated by the increasing diversity of domestic and global workforces requires new ways of leading. Inclusive leadership—the practice of creating work climates and cultures that foster the highest levels of engagement and productivity from diverse combinations of employees—is a critical resource in navigating this terrain. Practicing inclusive leadership requires the capacity to develop work cultures that promote high employee engagement and performance even as work units grapple with the tensions and fault lines that a mix of diverse social identities introduce (Christian, Garza, & Slaughter, 2011; Harter, Schmidt, & Hayes, 2002; Lau & Murnighan, 1998). In this paper, I examine what individuals need to learn to lead inclusively in a sustainable way. We categorize the critical competencies required to practice inclusive leadership into two domains: 1) mining one’s experiences of marginality or “weirdness” and 2) cultivating belongingness through positive connections. We define weirdness, discuss its link to inclusive leadership, and specify the skills required for a person to surface it. Then, drawing on insights from positive organizational scholarship, we discuss how belongingness is fostered through the development of positive relationships across social identity difference. Finally, we discuss how these competency domains work in tandem as a deep understanding of the marginal experience equips the leader to develop more resilient relationships with marginal others.