How to be an authentic, inclusive leader

Michelle Phipps of VetPartners talks about importance of 'displaying failure with courage'

How to be an authentic, inclusive leader

With inclusive leadership emerging as a critical capability for adapting to changing markets, ideas and workforces, understanding how to best encourage this and take it to the next level can be key to an organisation’s success.

A fundamental step towards achieving this is identifying the essential capabilities of an inclusive leader, says Dr Michelle Phipps, chief people officer at VetPartners and a Fellow of the Australian HR Institute.

Leadership is about making sure every voice counts, she says.

“Hearing as many different views as possible is vital to having the right input to make a business decision. Leaders need to demonstrate emotional intelligence, awareness of making sure they are empowering every voice at the table, and show maturity in terms of the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

How to be an authentic leader

As part of the panel discussing “How to foster inclusive leadership within an organisation” at HRD’s National HR Summit Australia, Phipps talked about the attributes of an inclusive leader, including authenticity and vulnerability.

“To be an authentic leader, they need to be themselves all the time and not cultivate a political environment,” she says. “They need to understand what it is to be authentic, and usually that means being prepared to be vulnerable, acknowledging that they fail, and displaying that failure with courage to their teams.”

One way for HR practitioners to foster authenticity, she says, is to encourage leaders to talk about their own story.

“This shows vulnerability and a willingness to share part of yourself, which builds connection with others, and that's the purpose of authenticity.

“It just takes one leader to do that and insist on inclusion and that makes a difference.”

Going beyond ‘good’ in DEI

There can be great advantages for employers willing to be progressive in terms of inclusivity and going beyond standard checklists and policies, says Phipps.

“If you’re just ‘good’ in diversity, equity and inclusion, then you’re basically compliant, but if you’re next level up, you are progressive, meaning you’ve got a strategy in place for things like hybrid working for mums and dads, disability access, or perhaps leading the field in something like fertility leave.”

In her own organisation, VetPartners - which has over 270 veterinary clinics and speciality hospitals, with 5000 people across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore - there is a strong emphasis on inclusivity.

“We have a real agenda to drive an inclusive organization because we have vets and nurses from all walks of life and quite a lot of variation of cultures. In a recent survey, 86% reported feeling part of an inclusive organisation.”

Results like this, says Phipps, demonstrate people will feel more engaged, valued and psychologically safe at work.

Benefits of reverse mentoring

During the Summit’s panel discussion, Phipps talked of the benefits of reverse mentoring to encourage cross-pollination of people to achieve a more inclusive style. For instance, getting leaders into a position where they are required to listen to different voices within an organisation.

“That might mean more junior employees can then talk to them about what they’re hearing, teaching senior members how their strategies are landing on the ground.”

Bringing different people and teams together in this way is beneficial in terms of inclusivity and developing an organisation’s culture, she says.

“Culture is both the only unique strength an organization has, and also the greatest threat, because your people will leave if they can work for exactly the same company that has a better culture.

“Great leaders, inclusive leaders, have drive and persistence in cultivating that authentic culture around them and that percolates throughout the organisation.”

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