In the past 10 years, organizations have come to the realization that in order to win the war for talent — and attract the most capable and skilled employees and leaders — they must find a way to unlock diversity.
This means creating a culture of inclusion, where people with different demographic and psychological backgrounds feel valued — not by blending in or showing high levels of culture fit — but by providing a different perspective to reduce the homogeneity of attitudes, values, and beliefs and keeping groupthink and decision-making biases in check.
How does one build an inclusive culture? Although there is no simple answer to this question, we at least know what the most important factor in the equation is: leadership.
Culture is primarily the result of the values of the leader. As Plato noted in The Republic: “Societies aren’t made of sticks and stones, but of men whose individual characters, by turning the scale one way or another, determine the direction of the whole.”
The main question we should try to answer is why certain leaders are more likely to create an inclusive culture. Fortunately, scientific research provides a great deal of evidence to answer this question, and there are three specific traits that stand out.
No trait might be as instrumental in enabling leaders to create a culture of inclusion as curiosity. Curious leaders are more interested in other people, particularly when they are different from them.
They are less likely to hire people who are just like them, and more eager to understand why people think the way they do — especially when they don’t agree with them.
When you are led by a person with a hungry mind, you are more likely to behave in open-minded and curious ways yourself. Unsurprisingly, a great deal of diversity training focuses on developing empathy or perspective taking in employees. Such training attempts will be exponentially more effective when those trained are more curious to begin with.
As I noted in my latest book, “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: (And How to Fix It),” one of the major reasons for the prevalence of bad bosses — and male bosses — is our tendency to select leaders based on their arrogance rather than humility.
This is also the main challenge when it comes to building an inclusive culture: When your typical boss is unaware of his limitations, unjustifiably pleased with himself, and deluded about his talents, there is virtually no chance he will take into account other people’s views, unless they validate his own narcissism and massage his own egos.
In contrast, appointing humble individuals increases the probability that different opinions, ideas, and perspectives are not just tolerated, but celebrated.
It takes true humility to understand that being in charge does not equate to being right, and that just because you are sure about something doesn’t mean you are right — in fact, it is probably the reverse.
Humble leaders understand that leadership is a resource for the team, rather than a personal career privilege or entitlement. They lead through competence rather than confidence.
The third and last ingredient of inclusive leadership is often misunderstood, but it is no less critical. While curious and humble leaders will be better equipped to create a culture of inclusivity, they will also need courage to pursue this goal.
Leadership is always about driving change — nobody is a leader to keep things as they are. If you are not a change agent, you are not really a leader. But driving change is often uncomfortable.
Most notably, it is rarely convenient to disrupt the status quo, especially when you are part of it. It is always easier to manage up than down.
If the people at the top of the pyramid feel that their privileges and entitlements are under threat, and you are being perceived as a central part of that threat, you will surely lose a lot of friends and make a lot of enemies.
But unless we have courageous leaders who are genuinely committed to fighting for change, leadership will just remain a political activity where the concentration of power remains static.
If organizations are serious about their diversity and inclusion agenda, they should start by upgrading the quality of their leaders, making sure people with higher levels of curiosity, humility, and courage are not overlooked.
This article first appeared on Business Insider.