Why we need to teach ‘inclusive leadership’

Young people must develop the skills they need to get the best from those around them, writes Helen Semple

inclusive leadership training

“Maybe your Granny was wrong?” This sounds like a strange question in the context of leadership, but in an ever more diverse and complex world, it is important that we acknowledge when things have changed.

Many of the assumptions that we grew up with, such as the guidance our grandparents gave us to “treat others how you would like to be treated” – that felt totally right at the time – may now be holding us back.

Need for leadership training

Just as the world is changing, so too has the idea of effective leadership. All research points to this moving away from managerial, control and command towards agility, empathetic and servient qualities focused on creating a space for others to thrive.

“Just as the world has changed, so too has the idea of effective leadership.”

We also now recognise the shift from leadership as a position or role to a set of behaviours that everyone needs to demonstrate. Therefore, to support our young leaders, we must question whether the days of standalone “teambuilding” activities and pre-packaged prefect training are serving our young people in the best way.

Leadership does not happen in isolation, it isn’t something we turn on and off.  In an increasingly polarised society with misinformation the norm, we must see leadership as the emergence of a new skillset for the future.

Leadership is such a buzz word within schools, and yet do we ever really acknowledge what it means?

Beyond titles how are we providing opportunities for our students to develop core leadership skills?  What are we looking for in our student leaders? Are we focusing on those who can lead an assembly or rally a team to produce a charity event?

Do we confuse leadership and responsibility? Is there a single static style of leadership that we ask our students to replicate, or do we need to help our students to learn where their natural style, passions and impact can be?

“Do we confuse leadership and responsibility?”

I would argue we need to think differently to provide the opportunities and skills for young people to learn behaviours around leadership and shift focus from roles to role-modelling.

All too often we see team building disguised as prefect training – important, but is it the same thing? How the prefects and other student leadership groups work together is important, of course. But what about giving them the space and skills to self-reflect, understand their style, their strengths and weaknesses, so they can create impact by getting the best out of those around them?

We call this inclusive leadership.

What do we mean by inclusive leadership?

So what is inclusive leadership and why is this so important? This is the focus on behaviours, moving away from preparing young people for roles but instead equipping all with a set of behaviours that allow them to have a positive impact.

Inclusive leadership courses engage students in the art of disagreeing well, effective communication, influence and mental agility. Courses help students to discover individual styles, how to create positive teams, manage change, challenge effectively, and how to be agile and authentic in situations.

These programmes centre on understanding the world around us, how we interact with it and how to  be intentional in our ways of building trust, influence and impact.

We teach people to challenge whether the assumptions and deeply held beliefs that have been with us over time are helping or hindering us, based on the circumstances we are in.

“Courses help students to discover individual styles.”

Remember Granny? Traditionally we have been taught that we should treat people as we would like to be treated but inclusive leadership re-positions this to treating people as they would like to be treated. We can only do that when we are intentional in understanding, not just doing.

This approach to leadership acknowledges the traditional skills of leadership but includes the authentic self within the approach, teaches the theory and philosophy behind different styles and welcomes diversity in method and practice.

Whilst not everyone can be a high profile extrovert leader (or indeed wants to be), everyone can effectively share information and build trust and commitment in their own way, without having to conform to expectations of what leadership “looks like”.

What do we offer?

Schools’ Inclusion Alliance has just completed an inclusive leadership trial programme at Benenden School in Kent, culminating in a mini conference for all sixth form students.

Students are provided with expert led, tailored sessions exploring; resilience, change management and mental agility, communicating with impact, managing conflict, authenticity, teamwork and the importance of diversity and inclusion.

“Feedback from staff has driven us to set up a similar programme for SLT groups.”

Feedback from staff has driven us to set up a similar programme for SLT groups within schools, supporting key staff to get the best out of each other and themselves. This will be a bespoke offering to each individual school/governing board or head dependent on need.

Highlights include how to lead inclusively with maximum impact and how to build your own resilience.

A further offering to support middle leaders will also be available in due course and staff are very welcome to contact us if we can support professional development.

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