The image features a presentation setting in a modern office environment. A diverse group of people is seated around a table, engaging attentively. In the background, a man stands in front of a whiteboard, actively gesturing as he speaks to the group. The text on the image reads "What Makes a Good Leader? DEIB and Effective Leadership" with "The Nova Collective" logo at the bottom left corner, which also includes the designations "MBE" (Minority Business Enterprise) and "WBE" (Women Business Enterprise). The overall atmosphere suggests a professional and inclusive discussion on leadership and DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) practices.

What makes a good leader? DEIB and Effective Leadership

Running an effective team requires both a deep understanding of your work and the ability to connect with people to support their success and growth.

Our experiences and identities shape who we are and how we see and navigate the world. Effective leaders know how to harness the power of their team, leveraging their unique skills and perspectives. And, they recognize that a team of individuals who feel connected to the goals of the organization and to one another can take smart risks that drive innovation. Cultivating the principles of DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) in the workplace apply not only at the organizational level, but also individually. A leader who puts DEIB into practice is a powerful source of impact for any organization.

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So what makes an effective leader, and how do they utilize DEIB in their work? Let's start with defining some key terms below.

Defining Key Terms

DEIB is about more than just keywords and phrases. It’s a landscape to be navigated; one that evolves over time. At Nova, we define DEIB as:

Diversity

Diversity is the representation of individuals in a group across different lines of Social Identity (e.g., race, gender, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status). Diversity encompasses different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, etc., as well as belief systems, ideas, and values. Diversity is necessary but not sufficient to achieve equity, which demands an ongoing commitment not just to include, but to value and empower, all people.

Equity

Equity means fairness and justice and focuses on outcomes that are most appropriate for a given group, recognizing different challenges, needs, and histories.1 Equity considers how our different circumstances impact our position in the world. Equity goes beyond equality. It removes barriers, increases access, creates opportunities, and helps match support and resources to our unique needs.

Inclusion

Inclusion means authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals or groups into processes, activities, and decision- and policy-making in a way that shares power.4 Inclusion values each individual’s or group’s heritage, contributions, and aspirations, and it guarantees full belonging to all stakeholders and participants.

Belonging

Belonging is the feeling of physical, emotional, psychological security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group.

*The Nova Collective (2024, March 15). Nova glossary. https://thenovacollective.com/nova-glossary/

Effective Leadership in Action Looks like:

Leading with a DEI lens

Leading through a DEI lens means being aware of your own perspective and potential biases while holding space for the perspectives of others. This could mean reconsidering norms around workplace social events by ensuring you host them at times that are doable for working parents, or hosting events at locations that aren’t alcohol-centric. Or it could look like rotating who runs weekly meetings and changing up your “go-to” person for certain tasks/projects.

Because we're all shaped by our own experiences, our perspectives are inherently biased. Biases can show up in many different ways, unconscious and confirmation biases are two examples.

Unconscious (or Implicit) Bias
are learned stereotypes that operate outside of our conscious awareness. They are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, universal, and able to influence our behavior towards others.

Confirmation Bias
is the human tendency to search for, favor, and use information that confirms one’s pre-existing views on a certain topic. It is the brain’s shortcut.

Successful leadership requires introspection. Looking inward helps us recognize our biases when they show up, and gives us the opportunity to make new choices that don’t lead with bias at the forefront of our actions and decision-making. This is challenging, purposeful work, and it takes time and practice. But that practice has a payoff; building the muscle that lets you push past “how it’s always been done” to get to new - and more rewarding - ways of working. 

Disrupting the Status Quo through Multipartiality

As a leader, you have a critical role in shaping the workplace experience for your team. In the past, impartiality or neutrality was the paradigm of fairness, assuming that everyone on a team has the same experience and access as everyone else. Given the impact of different identities on how we experience and move through the world and the workplace, we know that’s not the case. With this in mind, we advocate for a shift from neutrality to multipartiality, a practice that actively seeks to balance power, input, and influence. 

A multipartial leader is mindful of the different stories we tell, and how some of those narratives have become the default assumption, or the status quo. In a work context, this could be the assumption that a project delivered quickly is always best. In the United States, speed and efficiency have a high cultural value, especially at work. But what do we miss when that story becomes the only story? A multipartial leader is aware of the many different truths that support taking the time to dig deeper on a problem before jumping to the solution, because that might save time in the future. If these two approaches are butting heads across members of a team, a leader practicing multipartiality would make space for both of these approaches, with an added focus on the one that requires a slow down, since it’s outside the “norm” of what success looks like. In this example, this ultimately isn’t a choice between efficient and slow, it’s a choice about where to spend time and energy within a project or process, and how to reach the best possible outcomes. 

Multipartiality encourages us to actively center and amplify viewpoints and approaches that have historically had less air time. This fosters a sense of belonging, innovation, and better outcomes.

Addressing Microaggressions and Discrimination

Leadership sets the tone for an organization. Intentionally creating a culture where microaggressions and discrimination are recognized and addressed promotes awareness and accountability.

If you commit a microaggression or witness one on your team, these Do’s and Don’ts are a helpful starting point for navigating what happens next:

Do:

  • Acknowledge the mistake as a mistake
  • Acknowledge the impact
  • Apologize and be accountable for the mistake
  • Commit to doing better
  • Follow up, if needed
  • Do the self work to learn more

Don’t:

  • No need to defend your intention
  • Don’t expect immediate gratitude or forgiveness
  • Don’t shut down/stop trying to engage
    Creating space for Dialogue

Open and candid conversations are essential for building healthy workplace dynamics and establishing trust. Effective leadership creates a brave space where team members feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and concerns without fear of retribution.

As a leader, it’s a good practice to focus on listening for importance (rather than hammering an agenda). The next time you enter a crucial conversation, try to listen for what’s important to the other person instead of just protecting your agenda.

And remember: You don’t need to have all the answers. It’s okay to acknowledge your own gaps in knowledge and mistakes. Encourage others to do the same. Lead with questions, and discover the answers together.

Successful leadership is dynamic and multifaceted. It calls for a high level of emotional intelligence, self awareness, and an inherent drive to take action. Impactful leadership understands the value of inclusion and belonging for a team to steer an organization towards its goals.

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