Inclusive Leadership and the positive outcomes of uniqueness and belongingness

Although many organisations have introduced measures to recruit and retain talent from diverse groups because they understand the value diversity can bring to their business – efforts to recruit, develop and promote people from under-represented groups do not always translate to positive business outcomes.

Being proactively inclusive of all staff is fundamental to achieving these benefits. This starts with leaders who promote inclusion rather than just avoiding discrimination and bias. Professors Randel (San Diego State University), Galvin (Brigham Young University), Shore (Colorado State University), Ehrhart (San Diego State University), Chung (San Diego State University), Dean (San Diego State University) and Kedharnath (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater) posit that inclusive leaders serve as role models who reinforce inclusive behaviours among group members. They also note that group members see a leader as inclusive by both how they are treated personally and how they see others being treated.

The researchers propose that there are no leadership models that adequately address the fundamental needs of group members in terms of diversity, that is, to feel a sense of belonging and uniqueness at the same time. They propose a conceptualisation of inclusive leadership in which specific leader mindsets and behaviours facilitate group members’ perceptions of inclusion, which in turn lead to member work group identification and psychological empowerment driving meaningful behavioural work outcomes (creativity, job performance and tenure).


The overall purpose of this research was to develop a theoretical conceptualisation of inclusive leadership and identify categories of leadership behaviours that facilitate group members’ positive perceptions of inclusion. The research also presents the benefits within work groups that follow from inclusive leadership. The researchers refer to inclusion as “the degree to which an employee perceives that he or she is an esteemed member of the work group through experiencing treatment that satisfies his or her needs for belongingness and uniqueness”. The researchers then conceptualise inclusive leadership as “a set of positive leader behaviours that facilitate group members perceiving belongingness in the work group while maintaining their uniqueness within the group as they fully contribute to group processes and outcomes” (p.190).


The research is based on a review of the literature on inclusive leadership and on inclusion and leadership more generally. The researchers, from their review, categorised inclusive leadership behaviours as either facilitating belongingness or indicating value for uniqueness.


The researchers hypothesised that:

  1. Inclusive leaders are likely to facilitate belongingness through supporting group members, ensuring that justice and equity are part of each group member’s experience and providing opportunities for shared decision making on relevant issues. For example, inclusive leaders may carve out time each morning to check in with their team, they may ensure that team meetings are at a time that is suitable for all team members and finally they may institute points in the team’s decision-making process when group members make joint decisions on next steps.
  2. Inclusive leaders facilitate a feeling of uniqueness in individual group members by encouraging diverse contributions and helping all group members to fully contribute. For example, inclusive leaders may invite the perspective of a new employee on a key issue despite their limited understanding of the organisation in recognition of the different lens they may bring to the discussion, they may ask group members to write down ideas and share their contributions one by one to ensure that all voices are heard.

The researchers unpacked the elements of five eminent leadership frameworks (Transformational Leadership, Servant Leadership, Authentic Leadership, Leader-Member Exchange and Empowering Leadership) in order to highlight the parallels with, and divergence from, inclusive leadership behaviours. While there are some glimpses of inclusive behaviours across the different frameworks, they asserted that no one model focusses on belongingness and uniqueness. The researchers developed the following model to overcome these gaps, thus helping to articulate behaviours that can help to meet the challenge, and unlock the opportunity of, working with diverse perspectives.

The underlying hypotheses that the authors presented were:

  1. Individual differences in leaders have an impact on the propensity of that leader to demonstrate inclusive behaviours.
    a. Pro-diversity beliefs will be positively related to inclusive leadership.
    b. Humility will be positively related to inclusive leadership.
    c. Cognitive complexity will be positively related to inclusive leadership. Those with a high level of cognitive complexity are able to recognise an individual’s strengths despite their limitations and avoid having a one-dimensional view that may inhibit the person’s ability to contribute.
  2. Inclusive leadership will be positively related to group member perceptions of inclusion.
  3. Perceptions of inclusion will be positively related to behavioural outcomes indirectly through work group identification (belongingness).
  4. Perceptions of inclusion will be positively related to behavioural outcomes indirectly through work psychological empowerment (uniqueness).

Professor Randel and her colleagues have proposed a theoretical model that highlights the importance of individual factors of the leader to work group outcomes. Interestingly, their model is aligned to five of Deloitte’s Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership framework (Commitment, Courage, Cognizance of Bias, Curiosity and Collaboration) while alluding to the importance of Cultural Intelligence, the last of Deloitte’s Six Signature Traits.

For leaders who are seeking to be more inclusive, evaluating perceptions of their behaviours against a clear framework is a helpful first step to enhancing the experience of group members and their work outcomes.

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