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Bo Parfet: Why Inclusive Leadership is Effective Leadership


Whether they are a business executive or nonprofit leader, any successful leader will tell you that inclusiveness is one of their top priorities. But do those leaders take the time to put that mindset into their planning? The truth might surprise you. Leaders tend to advocate for inclusiveness using a trickle-down approach. However, research suggests that there is still a long way to go until the typical business structure as we know it embraces and reflects values of inclusiveness at all levels.

What Does the Research Tell Us?

A Quantified Communications analysis asked a diverse panel of 50 communication experts to observe whether 30 speakers were genuinely inclusive in their presentations. 70 percent of these experts identified as White, Hispanic, or Latinx. 20 percent identified as Black, 8 percent as Asian, and 2 percent as biracial or multiracial. The communication experts analyzed the 30 speakers based on their word choice, pronoun use, body language, and facial expressions. Note that the results of the analysis also included the audience’s impressions of the 30 speakers. 

Once the team analyzed both the communication experts’ and the audience’s impressions, they made some conclusions. First, they found that inclusive leaders use personalized rhetoric 36 percent more often than the average senior leader. That rhetoric demonstrates how they seek to prioritize their audience; making the audience their priority signals that they care about the listeners’ needs, values, and interests. 

The study also found that inclusive leaders choose words that demonstrate subject matter expertise. Such word choice occurs 21 percent more often than with the average senior leader. By citing research, they present themselves as experts on what they teach to others. When presenting these teachings, examining and discussing research demonstrates that these inclusive leaders know how to understand various opinions on a specific matter. This ability to present findings from a multifaceted perspective attests to how inclusive leaders make sure to bring their empathy and selflessness to every table.

Research Implications

In hindsight, leaders looking to become more inclusive can take away key suggestions from this research. Because inclusive leaders know how to personalize their rhetoric to whom they are speaking, they are considerate. Being considerate is not just an adjective for empathetic leaders; it is an action. Inclusive leaders consider their audiences’ opinions by asking for feedback and then acknowledging and responding to that feedback. 

Creating space for dialogue with their audience ensures that they do not merely talk about being inclusive. Instead, inclusive leaders actively include as many interests as possible. Being active instead of passive requires knowing that not everyone will have the same point of view on a topic. Inclusive leaders can respectfully address many different perspectives. They can maintain decorum among these different perspectives, even when there is a clash of personalities. 

Our world is seemingly more divisive and polarized than it has ever been. How do inclusive leaders do it? They meet in the middle through three essential elements to interpersonal relationships. These elements include understanding the other perspective(s), validating where others are coming from, and caring about their well-being. Inclusive leaders explain the “what” and “why” behind varying points of view. They also prioritize storytelling, whereas non-inclusive leaders recite a script that detaches any real investment the words’ actual meanings.

Lastly, remember that your message is a reflection of your values. Inclusive leaders take the time to understand their audience and relate to what they are saying. In some cases, your audience’s perspective may be different from your own. Successful leaders acknowledge those differences and seek to find common ground with those who might think differently. Doing so is not a selfish task. Inclusive leaders should use second-person pronouns (“you,” “your,” and “yours”) instead of “I.” Shifting the focus away from the leader helps the audience feel heard, recognized, and supported.

About Bo Parfet

Bo Parfet is proud of his inclusive leadership throughout his career. He holds significant experience in social entrepreneurship, real estate, finance, and “impact investments” within communities. In 2010, he continued his family legacy of philanthropy with his wife, Meredith, with Denali Venture Philanthropy. The organization partners with a range of socially conscious entrepreneurs who share their drive to deliver positive change in the world. Parfet earned his Bachelor of Science in economics from Colorado State University, a Master of Arts in applied economics from the University of Michigan, and a Master in Business Administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School.

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