Is “being too inclusive” really such a common mistake for bosses?

In a piece for Forbes, Kate Harrison identifies what she sees as common mistakes that “turn good people into bad bosses,” and first on her list is “Being too inclusive.” She explains:

I grew up in an ultra-liberal, huggy, “everyone wins” environment, and so my default position is to seek lots of advice and build consensus when facing a difficult decision. . . . However, the desire to get everyone to agree can backfire when there are significant differences of opinion, strength of character, ability to express themselves, and orneryness in a group. Instead of moving forward efficiently, consensus building can actually derail a team, engender resentments, and lead to stagnation.

Yeah, I’ve been there

Harrison’s bio line describes her as an eco-friendly writer and entrepreneur who has built a business around helping people to plan “green friendly” weddings. She’s obviously traveled in some of these crunchy granola circles, and I can sympathize.

I agree that consensus building approaches can go too far. There are times when a leader has to make a decision, and there are times when it’s time to call for a vote — instead of going around the room for more endless yammering that only prolongs the misery.

But here’s the bigger problem

Nevertheless, I submit that being too exclusive is a much more common mistake for so many people in leadership positions.

Sometimes bosses start that way, coming in with an agenda based on biased impressions or inaccurate information. They’ve already pre-programmed themselves to disregard certain points of view about how to best run the organization.

Others start out being somewhat more inclusive, but then they circle the wagons and stop listening to voices that offer different viewpoints or perspectives. For some this occurs almost unconsciously; inside, they still think of themselves as “inclusive” leaders.

And the more inexperienced and insecure the boss, the more likely this is to happen.

It’s about balance

Being an organizational leader is difficult work, whether it’s in a small department or a large institution. Achieving the right balance between inclusivity and exclusivity is one of the toughest challenges of all. Maintaining an ongoing awareness of that tension is the best that most of us can do.

3 responses

  1. As always, your continued inquiry into the bullying phenomena is most appreciated, David, as it is clear that you strive to be open-minded in your efforts to understand this troublesome topic.

    In my situation, the issue has more to do with exclusiveness than inclusiveness, without a doubt. There has developed an in-group and out-group mentality that the bully has initiated. The participants quickly get the message that in order to not be a member of the out-group one must be compliant to the overt/covert rules of a perpetrator who either has an official position of authority or is a dominate personality that exerts unofficial prowess . The consequences of not complying are periodically visited upon the members of the out-group in the form of shaming and dehumanizing behavior.

    When she became the program manager the power went to her head and she engaged in some very horrific and overt targeting. Over time she has become more subtle, although the same behavior -now covert – is still present and requires hyper vigilance in order to track her next attack.

    My family life has immeasurably suffered and I truly do not think I will be able to completely heal the damage that has been visited upon my daughter and myself throughout the years, when I had to expend an inordinate amount of my energy on sustaining my breadwinner status-always having to have a watchful eye on my bully’s attempts to undermine my work, that my nurturing role with my daughter has tragically suffered. I am a single-parent head of household. The damage that this experience has taken will be with us for the rest of our lives.

    For me it is so difficult to attempt to garner support for the Healthy Workplace Bill because both the state representative and the state senator in my district know both the bully and her accomplice and enabler- the executive director- really well.

    Finally, in this upcoming session one representative from one of the districts in our county is agreeing to co-sponsor the MA bill. I have written to both the state rep., as well as the state senator in my district, encouraging them to consider co-sponsoring the bill, with no return response.
    Again, I truly do believe that the issue is more about school yard bullies growing up to be work place bullies. Issues of exclusiveness as a leadership model can nurture the fertile soil needed to cultivate an atmosphere in which a bully can exercise one’s negative and sometimes sadistic control over others.
    The inclusiveness model can, also, cultivate bullying behavior especially if the enabler who is overly inclusive and lacks leadership authority is the head of an organization. Due to the lack of appropriate boundaries that an overly inclusive model can render, a personality that has bullying tendencies can rise in the ranks and the head of the organization is in essence a figure-head and an enabler. The perpetrator that I work for is very sophisticated in her ability to encourage the executive director in thinking that he is making the leadership decisions, while all along she is prodding him in the directions that she wants him to think and act.

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