- IMD Business School

The Importance of Inclusive Leadership Development

Imagine navigating a ship through uncharted waters in the dark, with each crew member holding a piece of the map. That’s the challenge of leadership in today’s dynamic, ever-evolving business landscape. How do you, as a leader, unite these diverse pieces to chart a successful course? The answer lies in inclusive leadership.

In a world where change is the only constant, businesses require leaders who don’t just adapt to change—they thrive in it. Inclusive leadership is the beacon that guides organizations through these turbulent times.

It creates an environment where diverse perspectives are not just heard, but are integral in forging innovative solutions. Such leaders are adept at working through uncertainties, turning challenges into opportunities for growth.

Why is inclusive leadership development crucial for your organization? This article delves into the transformative attributes of effective leaders, the pivotal role of executive coaching, and the profound impact these have on organizational culture.

We will explore how traditional leadership roles are evolving to drive organizational growth and boost employee engagement. Join us in uncovering the secrets to mastering inclusive leadership, and discover how you can be a part of this exciting journey.

  1. What is leadership development?
  2. Polishing the facets of leadership
  3. The leadership development process
  4. Leadership development programs
  5. Develop the next leaders in your organization

What is leadership development?

Leadership development is a structured approach to boosting your team’s leadership skills and professional competencies, turning them into effective leaders. Through a meticulously designed leadership development plan or program, individuals can improve their self-awareness, communication skills, and decision-making.

These programs are tailored to nurture unique leadership abilities, ensuring leaders are well-versed in mentoring their team members, steering company initiatives, and promoting good leadership. Their goal is to support people who want to take up and excel in leadership roles, which drives a high-performing, inclusive organizational culture.

With the right mix of executive coaching and hands-on experience, leadership development turns good leaders into great leaders ready to spearhead organizational growth and foster meaningful employee engagement.

Real-world examples of effective leadership demonstrate the impact of these skills in various business scenarios:

  • Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, exemplifies clear and concise communication, connecting with employees at all levels and fostering a culture of openness and innovation​​.
  • Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, displayed emotionally intelligent leadership by valuing empathy and building strong relationships, leading the company for 12 years. She focused on balancing personal and professional lives, emphasizing empathy in her leadership approach​​.
  • Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, was known for his ambitious “stretch goals” and transparent communication in goal-setting, aligning the entire organization towards common objectives​​.

These leaders exemplify the transformative power of effective leadership development in various business contexts, highlighting the importance of communication, emotional intelligence, adaptability, goal-setting, and employee empowerment.

Polishing the facets of leadership

Honing key skills and competencies is the primary focus of leadership development. It carves out leaders already adept at their roles but who are also lifelong learners. Here’s an overview of the linchpins of effective leadership, which a good leadership development program will focus on.

  • Communication. This skill is essential for leaders to articulate their vision and foster an open environment where employees feel heard.
  • Decision-making. Leaders evaluate many scenarios on a daily basis, weighing pros and cons of each potential path and thoughtfully choosing actions that will propel their organization forward.
  • Team development. Leaders mentor and nurture high-potential team members as well as find ways to foster harmonious, high-performing team dynamics.
  • Adaptability. Being able to quickly adapt in an evolving work landscape is important for leaders to swiftly respond to change, leading to organizational resilience.
  • Continuous learning. This promotes a culture of growth and adaptability. Beyond personal growth, it makes teams and organizations more agile and better able to maintain a competitive edge in their markets.

Adding to this, the integration of diverse perspectives in leadership is a key driver of innovation and enhanced problem-solving. Studies have consistently shown that diversity in leadership leads to more robust innovation and improved financial performance. For instance, a BCG study found that companies with above-average diversity in their leadership teams reported higher innovation revenue and EBIT margins. The study highlighted the importance of diverse leaders bringing different solutions to the table, which is essential in a fast-changing business environment​​.

McKinsey’s extensive research, involving 1,265 companies across 23 countries and six global regions, further supports this. The findings showed that companies with diverse leadership teams were associated with higher financial returns across various industries and regions. This trend held true for both gender and ethnic diversity, with top-quartile companies for diversity significantly outperforming their less diverse counterparts. Additionally, companies with greater diversity on their boards of directors also demonstrated higher financial performance, affirming the widespread benefits of diversity in leadership roles​​​​​​.

In conclusion, integrating diverse perspectives in leadership is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one. It fosters innovation, improves problem-solving, and leads to better overall performance and impact in an increasingly complex and interconnected global business environment.

The leadership development process

The leadership development journey is typically structured but still personalized to individual competencies and organizational goals. While they can vary, the key stages of this transformation tend to look something like this:


The work begins with a candid reflection on program participants’ leadership capabilities and areas to focus on. This is where they decipher their leadership style, strengths, and what needs nurturing. For instance, a seasoned manager might understand their conflict resolution skills need polishing, which is the first step in figuring out what to work on.

Common challenge: Many leaders struggle with honest self-assessment due to biases or lack of feedback. Overcoming this requires actively seeking out feedback from peers, mentors, or through 360-degree reviews.


Next, it’s time to take what participants learned during their self-assessment and turn it into actionable goals. They sketch out a roadmap of where they want to be and the milestones that will help guide them there. A budding leader, for example, might set a goal to enhance their team’s productivity by 20% over the next quarter. This goal not only has a clear metric but is also time-bound, making it a tangible objective.

Misconception: Leaders often believe that setting high, ambitious goals is the best approach. However, unrealistic goals can lead to frustration. It’s crucial to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals.


This step involves engaging in learning experiences, such as through training programs that improve leadership skills, mentorships, or on-the-job projects, and then applying that newfound knowledge to the participant’s job. Consider a scenario where a senior executive enrolls in an executive coaching program to refine their strategic decision-making skills. They can apply the insights from that program to steer their department towards achieving its annual targets.

Common challenge: The key challenge here is transferring learning into practice. Leaders can overcome this by actively applying new skills in real-world situations and seeking feedback on their performance.


This part shows if participants are on the right trajectory by gauging their impact on their leadership competencies and broader organizational culture. For instance, after implementing a new communication strategy, a mid-level manager might notice a marked improvement in their department’s morale and cohesion. Beyond being a pat on the back, evaluation is a lens to discern what worked, what didn’t, and the lessons learned in the experience.

Misconception: There’s a tendency to focus only on positive outcomes during evaluation. Effective evaluation should include both successes and failures, as failures provide crucial learning opportunities.

Leadership development programs

Leadership development programs bolster professionals’ leadership skills and competencies, catering to various stages and facets of leadership. These programs are tailored to help these individuals transition from managerial roles to those of influential leaders. 

Here are some examples of leadership programs that may be a good fit for your organization and how to choose one.

Program types and their benefits

Various types of leadership development programs cater to different needs and career stages. Here’s a brief on some program types along with their benefits:

  • Executive leadership programs. These are tailored to senior leaders. IMD’s Executive Leadership Program, for instance, focuses on developing a deeper understanding of one’s leadership style, building resilience, and understanding team dynamics​.
  • Online leadership courses. An online format can make leadership programs more accessible, especially in remote work environments. IMD’s Inspirational Leadership Online Course, for example, is an online course designed to help individuals explore their leadership strengths and weaknesses​ from anywhere in the world.
  • Workshops and short courses. Short-term programs like IMD’s High Performance Leadership training offer immersive experiences over just a few days. The program materials tend to focus on specific managerial competencies​.
  • Executive education programs. These programs, which include IMD’s Program for Executive Development, deliver immediate business impact by helping senior leaders create exceptional value for their organizations​​.

Each of these programs is crafted to offer a unique learning experience, enabling leaders to hone their skills, adapt to modern challenges, and contribute meaningfully to their organizations’ success.

Choosing the right program for your needs

Selecting the perfect leadership development program is a decision that requires a thoughtful examination your current positions, needs, goals, and abilities. Here are some things to consider that will help you find the best learning journey:

  • Career aspirations. If you or your team is eyeing a leadership position or aiming to ascend to the c-suite, choose a program that prepares future leaders for those roles. Look into the curriculum to make sure it will imbue the skills and knowledge needed.
  • Current skill sets. Evaluate your current skill sets and identify areas that need bolstering. Consult human resources or a professional coach to help identify the gaps and recommend programs that can bridge them.
  • Business school reputation. Opt for a program from a reputable business school known for cultivating business leaders. Look for those with programs that have a proven track record of fostering behavioral change and enhancing leadership competencies.
  • Program curriculum. Scrutinize the curriculum to ensure it aligns with your professional development goals. For example, you might look for programs that cover succession planning, strategic decision-making, and other key leadership competencies depending on your needs.
  • Networking opportunities. Seek programs that provide networking opportunities with other business leaders, industry experts, and alumni. These connections can be invaluable career assets.
  • Organizational impact. Consider how the program will impact your current role and the bottom line of your organization. Look for programs that offer practical skills and strategies you can immediately apply to drive positive change in your organization.
  • Format and duration. Whether it’s an online course or an in-person workshop, ensure the program format fits into your schedules so there’s time for work, learning, and personal commitments.
  • Feedback and evaluation. Opt for programs that offer continuous feedback, providing insights into how you or your growing leaders are evolving.
  • Cost and return on investment (ROI). Evaluate the cost of the program against the potential ROI. Consider how it will expedite the journey to a leadership position and the value it will add to your professional profile or organization.
  • Succession planning. If you are in a position to influence succession planning, look for a program that equips you with the tools to identify and nurture high-potential individuals for leadership roles.

Keeping the factors above in mind will help you find a leadership development program that aligns with your professional and organizational objectives.

Develop the next leaders in your organization

Leadership development is a strategic investment that enhances leadership competencies by driving individual growth as well as organizational success. It’s pivotal in navigating the complexities of today’s business environment and shaping a future that’s both prosperous and inclusive.

As you embark on this transformative journey, remember that continuous learning and adaptation are crucial. For those seeking further exploration and support in this endeavor, institutions like IMD provide valuable insights and resources. Their programs, such as the Transformational Leader program, are designed to strengthen mindfulness, resilience, and adaptability among leaders, while delving into their personal narratives and visions.

Investing in leadership development is not just about improving skills; it’s about preparing your organization to confidently face the future. Let resources and programs from establishments like IMD be your guide, equipping your leaders with the tools and insights needed for success in an ever-evolving business landscape.

Read more great Leadership content