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The six signature traits of inclusive leadership

Thriving in a diverse new world

Diversity of markets, customers, ideas, and talent is driving the need for inclusion as a new leadership capability. Here are six attributes of leaders who display the ability to not only embrace individual differences, but to potentially leverage them for competitive advantage.

What will it take to be a great leader in the future? In five years, ten years, even fifteen years?

Say those numbers slightly differently—2020, 2025, or 2030—and your imagination takes you somewhere else entirely. To the realm of science fiction in which books and films paint vivid pictures of a future that looks vastly different from that which we know today. There is the devastated world and its dystopian societies, the artificial world with synthetic humans, and myriads of other worlds scattered throughout foreign galaxies.

In these books and films, there’s always a quest, and there’s always a hero. Smart and strong, they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They have a sidekick, if lucky, but rarely are the leader and the sidekick equals, and they almost never operate as a team. The decisions these leaders make—the actions they take—culminate in the restoration of humanity.

What’s curious is that this iconic image of the heroic leader remains constant despite the vastly changed environment. It seems we can easily imagine different future contexts, but when it comes to thinking about leadership differently, we are on a repeating loop. It makes for great entertainment, but it is not the stuff of reality. Yes, the context will change—it is changing already—and this will demand adaptation by those playing a leading role.


This report is intended to help leaders think about how traditional notions of leadership must change.1 We are not suggesting a wholesale replacement of previous leadership theory. Elements of inclusive leadership are echoed in transformational, servant, and authentic leadership, for example, and these concepts are carried forward. However, we have amplified and built on these known attributes to define a powerful new capability uniquely adapted to a diverse environment. Understanding and being adept at inclusive leadership will help leaders thrive in their increasingly diverse environment.

This report is structured in three parts.

  1. First, we briefly describe the four shifts elevating the importance of inclusive leadership—the “Why care?” aspect of the discussion
  2. In the second part, we have identified the six signature traits of an inclusive leader (figure 1). In doing so, we have mined our experiences with more than 1,000 global leaders, deep-diving into the views of 15 leaders and subject matter experts, and surveying over 1,500 employees on their perceptions of inclusion. We have also built on existing thought leadership and applied research and drawn on work with our inclusive leadership assessment tool—on which our six-part framework is based—which has proved both reliable and valid in pilot testing.2 Sensing that inclusive leadership is a new capability, we have been examining this space since 2011, rather than relying solely on pre-existing leadership assessments and databases, with their historic biases
  3. We conclude with some suggested strategies to help organisations cultivate inclusive capabilities across their leadership population.

1. This report has been adapted from the original publication Fast forward: Leading in a brave new world of diversity, Deloitte, 2015, commissioned by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. It has been adapted and republished with permission

2. See the appendix for a description of the research methodology.

Buy the book

Juliet Bourke is the author of Which two heads are better than one? How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions.

Book details

Title             Which two heads are better than one?

Author        Juliet Bourke, Partner, Human Capital, Deloitte Australia

Publisher    Australian Institute of Company Directors

ISBN            978 1876 604295

Purchase Which two heads are better than one? today with Australian Institute of Company Directors.

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