Inclusive leadership is the ability to bring out the best in people - regardless of their backgrounds or personal values - within an organization. It’s an important skill which helps us straddle increasingly diverse and global environments in which we live and work. All the same, inclusive leadership - where it exists, often happens by chance rather than by cultivation.

Having grown up in the melting pot of South London, besides living and working in various parts of the world, I have always considered myself open-minded and inclusive. Participating in the Common Purpose Streetwise programme, therefore, reinforced - in many ways - my lifelong embrace of diversity, but that’s not to say there were no surprises in the programme. What the course threw into sharp focus was something I wasn’t expecting: my understanding of cultural intelligence is, in fact, far too narrow than I’d hitherto imagined it to be.  

Cultural intelligence - according to the framework set out by Common Purpose - is not limited to race, religion, age, sexuality and gender. It’s also about broadening our compass and understanding that while our core values, beliefs and behaviours can stem from all the above factors, a myriad of life experiences can assimilate and overlap to create a far more nuanced individual than traditional labels encompass.

Streetwise encouraged me to reflect on the bigger picture: How would I feel if I were a convict attempting to navigate the complex social environment of a prison, a banker amidst an economic crisis, a religious leader trying to bring together a divided community, or a chief of police challenging years of organizational mistrust?

It boils down to this: How would I not only manage my own values and thrive in these environments but also better understand the values of others? And how would I then use my understanding, to make more informed decisions? These were some of the challenging questions our company visits and guest speakers in the programme forced us to confront.

It’s rare for us leaders to find time to reflect, but the four-day Streetwise programme provided a unique opportunity for both learning and self-reflection. The programme encouraged open and direct questioning amongst the participants in our group which included representatives from a wide range of organizations. This, in turn, led to conversations that were as enlightening as the visits and guest speakers in the programme.

What struck me most about the programme was how leaders, regardless of the sector or type of organization they were part of, face similar challenges - which was comforting to know.

However, to put inclusive leadership into practice, a leader has to devote enough headspace, time and energy – which is easier said than done. It also means asking difficult questions about oneself and others, and being open to working with the answers generated by those questions. After participating in the programme, I find that I now take more time to reflect on situations before making decisions. My experience with Common Purpose showed me that leaders across the board should see challenges as opportunities rather than inconveniences. Also, the more prepared we are to question ourselves and those around us, the more authentic and successful we can be as leaders.