When it comes to leading wellness, as in our shared pursuit of a world free of preventable disease, being inclusive is perhaps one of our most powerful tools. An online search captures the spirit of the word: To INCLUDE means “to comprise as part of a whole” or “to make part of a whole.” Inclusive leaders do both. They help people and entire systems, from teams to communities, understand and connect with the ways they are already well, resourceful and resilient by nature. At the same time, inclusive leaders continually seek to uplift sidelined and disadvantaged voices so that our collective circle of concern widens and new potentials for wellbeing unfold.
WE CREATE HEALTHIER SOCIETIES WHEN WE INCLUDE
Societal studies show we all benefit when inclusive approaches are embraced. Operating inclusively means providing everyone equal respect and access to participate in society regardless of age, gender identity, race, ethnicity, faith, ability, political leaning, socioeconomic standing, immigration status or any other category—and inclusive leadership is instrumental for developing a just and sustainable world for everyone. When members of excluded groups gain opportunities to find a job, start a business, go to school, become healthier, or get involved in resolving deep-rooted systemic imbalances, our neighborhoods and nations experience less poverty, inequality and costs for social services. They also experience greater public trust, cohesion and peace. Moreover, social inclusion is a primary driver of mental and physical health, the very underpinnings of The Wellness Moonshot: A World Free of Preventable Disease, and it is the foundation of economic and societal resilience.
INCLUSION CREATES HEALTHIER WORKPLACES, TOO
Leading an inclusive workplace means creating an environment where people feel welcomed, valued and enabled to make unique contributions at work, plus enjoy a culture of fairness, camaraderie and care. When you put inclusion at the top of your wellness leadership agenda, you humanize work and the workplace by tapping into (at least) three profound human motivations: the need to feel physically and psychologically safe, to express individuality, and to belong. Inclusive leaders recognize that each of these motivations can lead to high levels of work engagement and wellbeing. In fact, growing research shows that inclusive workplaces benefit from lower turnover, healthy models of work-life integration, and positive teamwork, as well as better organizational innovation, agility and responsiveness to market needs and performance.
BEING AN INCLUSIVE LEADER MEANS TAKING ACTION
There are many ways to become more inclusive as a wellness leader. Try out these strategies with your team and organization, as well as yourself.
Leading Your Team and Organization
Hold up a collective mirror. As an organization or team, it’s easier to talk about including people than it is to put that talk into action. Bring together people who know your organization well and will answer these questions honestly: Who is unheard or undervalued in our organization or team? How much creativity, talent and wisdom are we losing by letting people fall through the cracks? Taking a candid look at how your team or organization is operating today is the first step to positive change.
Engage in reverse mentoring. Invite employees from traditionally underrepresented groups to mentor you and your leadership team. Make this a safe relationship in which they can share the organization’s cultural and structural barriers affecting their ability to work well and practice wellness at work. Approach this relationship with a big dose of humility; it is about listening, adapting and growing your consciousness and capacity for leading wellness.
Nip exclusionary behavior in the bud. Talking over people, telling tactless jokes, bullying, and allowing in-groups and out-groups are among the many behaviors that perpetuate discrimination and erode trust and mental health. Be clear with your team at work and your loved ones at home that you stand for inclusion as a path to advancing wellness and wellbeing.
Make inclusion part of your wellness approach. A focus on diversity invites human differences into your workplace or team, but it does not automatically create an inclusive work culture. Strategies for inclusion ensure that people are appreciated for their diverse perspectives and lives beyond work. Communicate your values for inclusion broadly. Set the tone at team meetings that everyone is valued and heard. Implement policies and routines, such as flexible work schedules and starting team meetings by authentically connecting, that honor that people are not just human resources, but whole human beings.
See past the labels. We cope with relationships, complexities, and the fast pace of change by compartmentalizing them into neat mental boxes. This strategy is hard-wired into our human design. Yet, it can prevent us from seeing the whole picture or true richness of each other. During your next conversation with an acquaintance, workmate or loved one, notice how easy it is to pigeon-hole them (particularly people who differ from or trigger you). Then, consciously shift into wonder by finding out more about them. Showing genuine interest can help you experience the unique qualities of others. When you turn this curiosity inward, you may even find that you’ve been labeling (and thus limiting) yourself!
Hold up a leadership mirror. Research shows that what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether a person they’re leading feels included. Consider the people you touch: How included do you believe they feel today? (Your response may differ for different people.) And, if you don’t know the answer, ask. What biases about people might be standing in your way? And what shifts could you make in your mindsets and behaviors to become a more inclusive wellness leader?
Get honest about yourself. Feeling included is essential for you, too. In your current work situation, ask yourself: Is it safe for me to share my viewpoints—and do I trust how my views are being used? Can I contribute my unique gifts and talents? Do I feel like I belong? If your response is NO to any of these questions, what changes would support your wellbeing? A new role or team, or a different organization altogether, may be more life-enhancing for you.
Adopt inclusive thinking. When you find yourself wrestling with competing points of view, broaden your point of view. Take a few nourishing breaths to ask this question from a place of inner balance: What is valuable or true about each of these perspectives? Research shows that when we lead from a foundation of inner balance, we can hold paradoxical challenges more easily. We are more inclusive as a way of being.
WE ARE LIVING IN A POLARIZING AND BEAUTIFUL TIME
Our time is ripe for making choices that can weaken humanity or evolve it. The Wellness Moonshot: A World Free of Preventable Disease is a platform to support you in leading wellness—and it includes everyone. We recognize that it will take all of us to shift from an unwell to a well world. Tell us a story using #wellnessmoonshot on social media about how you are demonstrating inclusive leadership to advance wellness to others; we’ll spread your inspiration worldwide. And remember to join the GWI’s Wellness Moonshot celebration on June 24 to connect and learn from others!
Next month, we’ll touch on what it means to RELAX as a strategic part of your wellness leadership. Until then, check out each of these Wellness Moonshot articles from past years with invaluable insights and strategies to support you on your journey.