Fostering Inclusive Leadership

National Paralegal Reporter

Ascension to a leadership position is often viewed as a reward for hard work and exemplary service. The qualities that are necessary for effective leadership are not necessarily the same qualities that are valued in the legal profession. Being a successful legal professional requires assertiveness and tenacity, traits that can be counterproductive when one is in a leadership role. The goal of leadership is to implement change through positive communication practices.

Future leaders are often selected or encouraged to assume higher roles within an organization or workplace by those with whom they are familiar and who are most like them. The sense of familiarity based on similar demographic traits, while comforting, can exclude others who may have different perspectives, but much to offer. Affinity bias, defined as bias for those who are more like ourselves, has a disparate impact on hidden barriers to leader-ship for diverse populations. Conquering affinity bias requires a sincere effort to foster inclusion by bridging differences.

A leader’s role is to inspire and motivate. A leader sets the stage, vision, tone and direction of the group. A leader gives volunteers the incentive to use their abilities and expertise to tackle issues directly. Leadership should be reflective of a wide cross-section of the group in order to be truly representative of its membership. Confirmation bias should be avoided, which stops us from looking at the whole picture as we filter out important information and focus on facts that support our perceptions about people and events. Differences based on perception-based assumptions can lead to exclusion.

Leaders inspire innovation, realize ideas and appeal to expectations. Integrity is a cornerstone of effective leadership in achieving sustainable goals. An honest and ethical leader is a motivating force for constructive achievement. Leader-ship is not merely an attitude, it is a man-date for action and achievement, and should be open to all those who aspire to be active and engaged participants.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an example of a leader who motivated and inspired. He set the stage to encourage inclusiveness by bringing together those whose views were diametrically opposed and forged an evocative resolution. Through his choices, methods and guidance, a small crusade expanded into a sweeping movement that changed the country for-ever, and empowered those who shared his vision to continue long after he was gone.

Leaders are charged to set high standards for themselves. Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, commonly known as Mother Teresa (and honored in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta), was a leader who set the highest personal standard: living her life in service to others. Her core belief was that life is a promise to be fulfilled. She accomplished her vision through strength, selflessness and her commitment to making a difference one person at a time, devoid of biased constraints.

Taking a long-term view is also indicative of good leadership. Developing a plan and supervising its execution without stifling motivation or creativity requires a delicate balance. An effective leader should concentrate on “what” and “why,” and allow others to determine “how.” Doing the right thing and promoting achievement is tantamount to effective leadership.

While a leader should have a commanding influence, being dictatorial does not make for effective leadership. Good leaders do not dominate or disrespect their members or colleagues, nor do they take credit when things go well while disavowing responsibility when problems arise. They maintain constructive engagement in order to promote problem solving, facilitate task delegation and completion, and encourage organization development and accountable management. To be an effective leader, the following components are essential: candor, competence, commitment, caring and congruity. 

Congruent leadership is a key to organizational success. A leader’s message must be consistent and in collaboration with an organization’s core values and principals. Maintaining an invariable level of congruence leads to significant improvements in trust and engagement on the part of the membership. A lack of congruence destroys credibility, erodes motivation and shatters moral.

One of NFPA’s core values is to embrace diversity. This is crucial in fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging for all members. Encouraging diversity in leadership involves more than merely saying the right thing; it necessitates an expansion of cultural competency throughout the organization. In exploring potential leadership options, NFPA leaders can inspire active engagement and sustained commitment by reaching out to those with whom they may differ demographically, but with whom they have inter-acted on both the local and national levels. Encouragement is infectious.

There are many benefits to be gained from taking on a leadership role, including satisfaction and professional pride in accomplishing goals that benefit not only oneself but contribute to the growth of one’s profession. As a leader, one has the opportunity to have a voice in one’s professional community, while through peer association, one gains many personal, social and business advantages. The development of leadership traits such as interpersonal skills and self-confidence bode well for all future endeavors. 

James L. Fisher defined leadership as “the special quality which enables people to stand up and pull the rest of us over the horizon.” Leaders need to engage with their members, share experiences, nurture interests, cultivate connections, en-courage inclusion, and inspire dreams. Foster inclusion by reaching out to potential leaders of all backgrounds. It can stir the hearts and minds of your colleagues.

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