The mindset of the leader: What new skills does an inclusive business leader need now?

The leaders we need now should have skills we used to consider “soft” but are in fact critical, such as listening, empathy and moral imagination.

Harnessing different viewpoints: The first step is to accept that there will be opposing viewpoints and consider these viewpoints an asset rather than a distraction from the mission of the organization.

A leader’s mindset influences all of his/her actions, and in some cases leaders have unconscious biases that must be addressed first.

Effective leaders move away from a win/lose mentality to a collaborative win/win/win approach, particularly when partnering with purpose.

a person leading a group of people downhill

Inclusive leaders inspire their staff.

Starting Fresh: What mindset and leadership skills will help you thrive now?

Leaders can be regarded as “culture setters” who set the tone for their organizations or businesses. As the Harvard Business Review states, “For better and worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked. Founders and influential leaders often set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that persist for decades.”

The global Covid-19 pandemic has changed business as usual and therefore the role of leaders has become more critical than ever. In this landscape of uncertainty, with blurred lines between work and home, how can leaders inspire their employees to address deep-seated problems and tackle important goals? What skills does an inclusive business leader need to be successful now?

a conductor

Leaders set the tone for their organizations. 

Are “soft skills” actually hard skills?

Jacqueline Novogratz, the author of Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, argues that effective leadership requires a renewed focus on skills that have been undervalued as “soft skills.” “While technical competencies remain critical, effective leadership in an interdependent world requires building skills we used to consider ‘soft,’ beginning with moral imagination,” she writes in this issue of CLUED-iN. Through creative vision, a company can be both ethical and successful by imagining new solutions. This requires skills such as holding values in tension and considering the assumptions of both sides, listening to previously unheard voices, and “partnering with humility and audacity.”

Empathy is also a critical skill, as empathetic leaders are able to listen and guide their employees through the Covid-19 pandemic while dealing with ongoing uncertainty. The pandemic has turned lives upside down, and therefore addressing employee mental health has also become an urgent issue. “There are many ways of demonstrating an inclusive approach and all of them, in my opinion, start with listening deeply to the needs of others. We must not leave our most vulnerable stakeholders alone; we cannot afford to do so because they belong to the architecture of our communities,” states Lucia dal Negro, CEO of De-LAB Italy.

Rajiv Sharma, the founder of Empower Pragati, an inclusive skills training initiative in India, notes that leaders may have access to more information and can reassure employees during stressful times. “I felt strongly that I needed to continue talking, as I had access to knowledge which the people at the grassroots level might lack. So, I continued telling them that this virus could be addressed, and that their jobs were protected."

a headset

Successful leaders know how to listen.

Harnessing differing viewpoints

Inclusive business leaders who use these key soft skills can inspire their employees. The first step is to accept that there will be opposing viewpoints and consider these viewpoints an asset rather than a distraction from the mission of the organization. This may prove particularly important with a mission-driven business. Alex Counts, founder of the Grameen Foundation, draws on more than 25 years of experience to share with us what he views as the most powerful leadership mindsets. He points out that it is important to encourage debate and opposing views.

“Confident and ambitious leaders often dread and resist internal critics, naysayers, skeptics, and dissenters,” he writes. “Making it possible for everyone to voice concerns helps ensure that dissent isn’t driven underground, that the best decisions are made, and that major risks are identified and mitigated once a course has been chosen.”

folding chair in the desert

Crisis or opportunity? It may be just a  matter of perspective.

Setting ambitious goals while shifting negative mindsets

A leaders’ mindset influences all of his/her actions, and in some cases leaders have unconscious biases that must be addressed first. In his article, “A Tale of Two Leaders,” Rajen Makhijani argues that we should use the rigors of the investment process to approach leadership, using a results-based framework and delving into how mindsets have been shaped.

“Mindsets are mental lenses,” he writes. “They drive what leaders do and why.” Mr. Makhijani uses the example of two very different leaders to explain the Leadership by Results approach, which seeks to set big tangible goals and enable a shift of underlying mindsets.

north star and milkyway

Alex Counts shares the "north stars of [his] leadership philosophy."

Moving away from a win/lose mindset

Forum for the Future recently conducted a review that identified the underlying mindsets that are shaping the approach to rebuilding after the pandemic. “Our recent review of the future of sustainability identified four different and competing trajectories out of Covid-19, all with competing mindsets,” Caroline Ashley writes in her blog. One of these mindsets comes from a win/lose, zero-sum mentality. This mindset is: “There is not enough to go around so we must compete and retreat.” However, a more effective approach is one of collaboration and openness to risk to attempt ambitious goals.

Alex Counts also argues that effective leaders move from a win/lose mindset to a win/win/win mentality, particularly when it comes to approaching partnerships or impact investors. “It is much better to see this negotiating process as an opportunity to give potential allies a chance to advance, join, or support a cause that they themselves are passionate about,” he writes.

lonely white bird crossing the sea

There is no need to travel alone.

These partnerships and alliances with shared purpose are key to large scale breakthroughs and creative innovations. As Jacqueline Novogratz states, “In a world of growing fragility, business leaders will be increasingly expected to play their part in solving some of the toughest problems facing our world. No single system — not markets, not government, not civil society — will be able to solve these problems alone, and so new partnerships will be required that transcend sectors.”

The most successful inclusive leaders draw on key soft skills and positive mindsets to foster a shared sense of purpose within their company’s culture, which can be harnessed to address important systemic problems in the world, during and after the pandemic.


Images: Pixabay, Unsplash

Alexandra Harris

Alexandra Harris is a writer, editor and communications specialist with a focus on sustainable private sector development. She previously worked for the International Finance Corporation and the Asia Foundation.