As a graduate student, one of our required readings was John C. Maxwell’s The 5 Levels of Leadership. At the time, I was intrigued by any book on leadership, but the progressive nature of the Maxwell model was attractive to me. It provided me with a path that I could easily follow.
Now that I work with organizations to support the growth of leaders within their ranks, I wanted to see if what I learned ten years ago would still apply. While John C. Maxwell’s “5 Levels of Leadership” model has been a valuable guide for me as an aspiring leader, I am much more aware of the importance of inclusivity, psychological safety, and emotional intelligence in leadership.
Maxwell’s model, while valuable, focuses primarily on leadership hierarchy and individual capabilities. In today’s diverse and interconnected world, leadership must reflect the reality of teams composed of people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. A new inclusive leadership model acknowledges and leverages this diversity, recognizing that it is a strength rather than a challenge.
Psychological Safety and Emotional Intelligence as the Fulcrum
Psychological safety is the cornerstone of effective teamwork and innovation. Inclusive leadership creates an environment where team members feel safe to share their ideas, concerns, and perspectives. This safety encourages open dialogue, creativity, and collaboration, leading to better problem-solving and organizational success.
Simultaneously, emotional intelligence (EQ) is increasingly recognized as a critical leadership skill. In Maxwell’s model, leadership is often associated with positional authority, but inclusive leadership recognizes that true leadership goes beyond titles. Leaders with high EQ understand and empathize with their team members’ emotions, creating stronger connections and trust. They can navigate conflicts effectively, provide constructive feedback, and motivate individuals in a way that resonates with them.
The interconnectedness of psychological safety and emotional intelligence in inclusive leadership ensures that everyone’s voice is heard and valued.
Meeting the Demands of a Changing World
The business landscape is evolving rapidly. Organizations that embrace inclusive leadership are better equipped to adapt to change and thrive in a globalized, multicultural world. Inclusivity fosters innovation, as diverse perspectives lead to more creative solutions to complex problems. It also enhances an organization’s reputation and attractiveness to various stakeholders, from customers to investors.
Whereas Maxwell’s model was designed as a hierarchy, I propose a new one that is interconnected and fluid.
The 360° Inclusive Leadership Model
At the heart of The 360° Inclusive Leadership Model is the idea that effective leadership is a dynamic process that combines various elements of inclusive leadership, psychological safety, and emotional intelligence. It’s not about progressing from one level to the next but continuously weaving these elements into your leadership approach.
- Foundational Leadership:
- Key Element: Establishing a solid foundation.
- Leaders start by recognizing that their position is just the beginning. They actively work on building trust, respect, and psychological safety within their teams.
- They lay the groundwork for inclusive practices and prioritize emotional intelligence to understand their team members’ needs and concerns.
- Relationship-Centered Leadership:
- Key Element: Building strong, trusting relationships.
- Leaders continue to prioritize trust and relationships, creating a safe and inclusive environment. Emotional intelligence is crucial for understanding team members’ emotions and motivations.
- Fostering psychological safety through open communication, empathy, and genuine care for team members.
- Results-Oriented Inclusivity:
- Key Element: Achieving results through inclusivity.
- Leaders focus on results and inclusivity, ensuring everyone’s unique contributions are recognized and valued.
- Psychological safety is maintained, allowing team members to collaborate effectively, and emotional intelligence helps navigate challenges on the path to achieving goals.
- Empowerment Leadership:
- Key Element: Empowering and nurturing growth.
- Leaders empower team members to reach their full potential, promoting inclusivity by providing development opportunities.
- Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in supporting individual growth and helping team members overcome obstacles.
- Inclusive Visionary Leadership:
- Key Element: Championing diversity and inclusion.
- Leaders at this level profoundly impact fostering diversity and inclusion throughout the organization.
- They excel in creating psychological safety, ensuring every voice is heard and valued, regardless of hierarchy. Their exceptional emotional intelligence enables them to navigate complex situations and promote inclusivity at all levels.
Moving from Linear to Interconnected
In this model, inclusive leaders continuously integrate elements from each stage, creating a holistic approach to leadership that encompasses inclusivity, psychological safety, and emotional intelligence. It’s not a linear progression but a dynamic, ongoing process of growth and adaptation. Leaders may draw from different elements depending on the context and the needs of their teams and organizations. This interconnected model reflects the complexity and richness of modern leadership in a diverse and inclusive world.
While John C. Maxwell’s “5 Levels of Leadership” model has provided valuable insights into leadership development, it is essential to adapt to the changing demands of the modern world. Inclusive leadership, which prioritizes diversity, psychological safety, and emotional intelligence, offers a more holistic and effective approach to leadership. By shifting towards The 360° Inclusive Leadership Model, organizations can create a culture that empowers individuals, fosters innovation, and drives success in an ever-changing landscape. It’s not just a shift in leadership philosophy but a leap toward a brighter and more inclusive future.
Sacha Thompson is the founder of The Equity Equation, LLC, a boutique diversity coaching and inclusive culture consulting firm, and Equity Leadership Institute, an inclusive leadership training company. With 20+ years of experience within the education, non-profit, and tech industries, Sacha’s work is about removing barriers or providing support to achieve equality. She helps executives and leaders have that meaningful dialogue and coaches them on the necessary, long-term changes that develop institutional cultures of inclusion. She was most recently featured in Newsweek, Business Insider, and MSNBC’s The Cross Connection.