Posted: 25 Apr. 2016 15 min. read

The six signature traits of inclusive leadership: thriving in a diverse new world

Foundational shifts in the diversity of markets, customers, ideas and talent have led to a new capability vital to the way one leads: inclusive leadership.

Building on previous research undertaken in 2015, Dillon and Bourke found that inclusive leadership was the factor that made the biggest difference to creating success in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world of business[1].

The aim of their 2016 research (released this month) was to dig deeper into two key questions:

  • Do the six signature traits of an inclusive leader hold true globally?
  • Can a leader’s “inclusive capability” be assessed and developed.

In this latest research, Dillion and Bourke take it to the next level to make it real for leaders and organisations.  To bring the concept to life, the authors have identified fifteen tangible elements that relate to the six traits and can be developed by leaders.  In addition, they also developed a 180-degree assessment for both leaders (self-assessment) and their followers/peers to track and measure inclusive leadership in their organisation.


The aim of this  research was to:

  1. Validate: confirm if the six signature traits of inclusive leadership are globally valid
  2. Specify: explicitly uncover specific elements which make up each trait
  3. Measure: unveil an objective and valid tool to track and measure inclusive leadership capabilities

The six-factor inclusive leadership model was developed through a comprehensive literature review and refined through seventeen interviews across Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States.

The authors chose the interviewees based on one or more of the following criteria:

  1. The individual’s visible commitment to the creation of an inclusive workplace
  2. The individual’s demonstration of inclusive behaviours
  3. Subject matter expertise.

Interviews were semi-structured focusing on diversity, inclusiveness and leadership. Transcripts were then reviewed by three researchers to identify key themes.

The authors then used Hinkin, Tracey and Enz’s (1997) seven step scale development process to refine what inclusive leadership means and develop the 180-degree measure of inclusive leadership[2].

To do this, the authors engaged in the following steps:

  • A panel of experts were engaged to define each trait and the traits were cross-referenced with ‘non-experts’ to test validity
  • The inclusive leadership model was further refined by conducting a survey of 32 senior leaders and their followers/peers. The data was subjected to exploratory factor analysis using principal component analysis. Internal consistency was assessed using a scale reliability assessment
  • The panel of experts were engaged one final time to ensure the refined version of the inclusive leadership tool still aligned to the theoretical definition of inclusive leadership

The authors were quick to note that the six traits and fifteen elements of inclusive leadership “are not a meaningless or aspirational laundry list”[3]. The fifteen elements drill down to what leaders think about and what leaders do when they display the six signature traits of inclusive leadership.  These form the basis for the 180 degree inclusive leadership assessment.


Trait 1: Commitment

Highly inclusive leaders are committed to diversity and inclusion (D&I) because these objectives align with their personal values and because they believe in the business case.

  • Element 1:personal values
  • Element 2: business case belief

Trait 2: Courage

Highly inclusive leaders speak up and challenge the status quo, and they are humble about their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Element 3: humility
  • Element 4: bravery

Trait 3: Cognizance of bias

Highly inclusive leaders are mindful of personal and organisational blind spots, and self-regulate to help ensure ‘fair play’.

  • Element 5: self-regulation
  • Element 6: fair play

Trait 4: Curiosity

Highly inclusive leaders have an open mindset, a desire to understand how others view and experience the world, and a tolerance for ambiguity.

  • Element 7: openness
  • Element 8: perspective taking
  • Element 9: coping and uncertainty

Trait 5: Culturally intelligent

Highly inclusive leaders are confident and effective in cross-cultural interactions.

  • Element 10: drive
  • Element 11: knowledge
  • Element 12: adaptability

Trait 6: Collaborative

Highly inclusive leaders empower individuals as well as create and leverage the thinking of diverse groups.

  • Element 13: empowerment
  • Element 14: teaming
  • Element 15: voice

What this research has proven is that inclusive leadership isn’t just a theory.  The 180-degree inclusive leadership assessment, which is comprised of surveys for both leaders (self-assessment) and their followers/peers, provides organisations with an objective tool to measure and track inclusive leadership capability.

But how are organisations going to bring this new capability to life on a daily basis?  The authors conclude that organisations can deploy a range of tangible actions to help develop inclusive leadership capabilities and build a culture of inclusion.

  • Strategic alignment

Create a culture of inclusion which is led from the top.  Highlighting inclusive leadership as a core pillar of their strategy; articulating a compelling narrative as to why it is critical to business success; and making symbolic workplace changes to signify the importance are three key actions to create strategic alignment.

  • Recruitment

Embed inclusive leadership in an employer brand to symbolise a cultural transformation – for example, highlighting inclusive leadership traits in job advertisements and descriptions; outlining the organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion; and incorporating diversity and inclusion behavioural questions in job interviews.

  • Capability and competency management

Integrate inclusive leadership traits into a leadership competency model signifies expectations among leadership in the organisation’s diverse new world.

  • Performance management

What gets measured gets done.  Key performance indicators linked to inclusive leadership traits will help foster an inclusive culture by creating a shift in behaviours and mindset.

  • Rewards and recognition

Celebrate and reward those who role model inclusive leadership will showcase the benefits derived from inclusive behaviour and inspire others to follow suit.

  • Leadership development

Integrate the six traits of inclusive leadership into leadership development plans and formally assess these capabilities to encourage the right behaviour and mindset among leaders.

  • System integration

Create a tipping effect within an organisation by integrating inclusive leadership into innovation strategy and processes, and broader programs such as global mobility strategy.

To read the full report:


[1] Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon (2015), Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand,

[2] Timothy R Hinkin, J. Bruce Tracey, and Cathy A. Enz, “Scale construction: Developing reliable and valid measurement instruments,” Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research 21, no. 1 (1997): pp.100-120.

[3] Bernadette Dillon and Juliet Bourke (2016), “The six signature traits of inclusive leadership: thriving in a diverse new world”, Deloitte University Press, p.8.

More about the author

Hannah Gilbert

Hannah Gilbert

Manager, Consulting

Hannah is a specialist in strategic change management with specific experience in digital transformation, technology adoption and culture change. More recently, Hannah has led the change management streams of two separate digital transformation projects in a major Australian financial institution, embedding change in complex Agile project delivery environments. As a former strategic communications consultant for various Forbes 500 organisations across a broad spectrum of industries, Hannah has deep expertise in communications and stakeholder engagement.