Leaders aren’t great at judging how inclusive they are

by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, HBR

November 3, 2017 | 6:05 pm
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Many organizations today are making concerted efforts to become not only more demographically diverse but also more inclusive and welcoming of difference. The latter is much harder to measure than the former. How can you tell if leaders in your organization are genuinely welcoming?
To explore this question, we analyzed one large organization with an excellent track record of hiring and promoting diverse candidates and a reputation for inclusion. This organization had hired us to administer 360-degree feedback assessments for roughly 4,000 leaders, and agreed to let us use that data for this analysis.



When we compared leaders’ self-ratings with their ratings by bosses, peers and subordinates, what we found was that many leaders assume they are better at valuing diversity than they actually are. Leaders who are the worst at valuing diversity are more likely to overrate their effectiveness, and leaders who are the most effective tend to underrate their effectiveness. The implications of this data are: Leaders are not good judges of their own effectiveness on valuing diversity; and those leaders who are poorest fail to see the problem, while those who are the best don’t realize their skill and capability.


Some might be tempted to brush aside inclusivity as “political correctness,” but those leaders should pay particular attention to our next finding: There is a strong correlation between perceptions of inclusivity and overall leadership effectiveness.

Leaders who were rated very poorly on valuing diversity and inclusion were rated in only the 15th percentile for their overall leadership effectiveness, while those who were rated in the top 10% of those two items were rated in the 79th percentile.


When we compared the executive population of the more senior leaders with middle managers and junior supervisors, we found that the executives and senior leaders were rated significantly higher on their ability to value diversity and practice inclusion.

Since inclusivity is closely associated with overall effectiveness in our results, it does not surprise us to learn that the more experienced, higher-ranking leaders are more competent on both.


(Jack Zenger is the CEO of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy. Joseph Folkman is the president of Zenger/Folkman.)

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by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, HBR

November 3, 2017 | 6:05 pm
  |     |     |   Start Conversation

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