We want to advance our DE&I initiatives but aren’t sure what steps to take next.

If you’re the leader of a team, you want your team members to be highly engaged in what the team is doing, right? You want an inclusive workplace culture where people feel like they belong, enjoy working together, and achieve great results.

Want to know what the #1 factor is in making that happen? It’s not simply training for better skills, establishing criteria for working together, and monitoring how people treat each other. That’s part of it, but there’s one factor that influences team success more than anything else:

It’s you.

Studies have shown that the leader of a team is the main factor in what a person’s work experience is like. As a leader, your job isn’t simply to make assignments and ensure people are doing what you assigned. It’s to create an environment where people feel safe, valued, and respected so they volunteer their best efforts and contributions. In other words, your job is to be intentional about crafting a culture of inclusion.

“How can I do that?” You ask. “It sounds like a lot of work.” 

It’s more of a change of mindset than anything else. It means shifting your focus from outcomes to  people and seeing them as your greatest resource. It means becoming intentional about investing in them as individuals, committed to making sure each person has exactly what they need to carry out their role without friction.

Invest carefully in your team members, and your job will get easier. You won’t have to force results; your people will be free to produce those results. Change the culture, and the quantity and quality of your team’s results will expand exponentially.

Once you have the mindset of investing in your people, how do you obtain the skills needed to lead from that perspective? Consider this three-step approach:

Connect for understanding.

The path to a rewarding team experience will be different for each person. Develop a bias toward curiosity, where it becomes a quest to discover those unique needs and passions.  Build personal systems to get to know each person and stay committed to helping them find engagement and safety on the team.

Create opportunities for each person. 

Be careful when assuming that everyone is motivated by the same things. What may be motivating for one person might be a barrier to another. As you build relationships, explore those motivations to see the potential that each person has for making a unique contribution. Then position them so their contributions become visible and valued by the whole team—and the people above you.

Cultivate a culture of inclusion.

Many people have given up on being part of a team where their presence and ideas are welcomed. As a leader, you can craft that culture so there is a growing and consistent environment of safety and commitment around common goals. These are learnable skills, and by gaining those skills, you can build simple systems that encourage a deep sense of belonging.

Investing in your team members in this way might sound like an overwhelming process. In reality, it’s just a different one—one that you can learn and implement easily.

The payoff? Your job just got a lot easier!