Conscious Leadership vs. Inclusive Leadership: What’s the Difference and Which One Serves Me Best?


Photo by Taofeek Obafemi-Babatunde on Unsplash

If you run a business, nonprofit, or educational institution, leadership is a key issue that can make or break your success. The leadership philosophy you embrace and the strategies you employ can influence everyone in your organization for better or for worse. Let’s take a look at two types of leadership that have been widely discussed lately—conscious leadership and inclusive leadership—to see which type of leadership would best serve you.


Conscious Leadership: What Does It Mean?


The term “conscious leadership” first came from the 2014 book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp. It transforms leadership from a “me” culture to one of “we.” The principles of conscious leadership include being self-aware and responsible, not just for one’s own performance but for one’s group as a whole.


Dethmer, Chapman, and Klemp’s book used a conscious leadership framework of “above the line” and “below the line” to differentiate between conscious leadership and old-style leadership culture. In the latter case, leaders are closed to others’ opinions, uncomfortable about admitting to failure, and defensive about always being right. On the other hand, above-the-line leaders are open to collaboration and differing opinions. Conscious leadership examples include recognizing when you are wrong and valuing input from everyone.


Conscious Leadership Characteristics


What are conscious leadership characteristics?

  • Openness

  • Curiosity

  • Candour

  • Appreciation

  • Balance

  • Collaborative

  • Emotionally available

  • Encouraging

  • Positive


To envision this more in practice, you can imagine the behaviour of a below-the-line leader first. Most of us have unfortunately had experience with these types of people. This less self-aware and responsible leader can’t conceive of being wrong. If their sales numbers are low, for instance, they blame their team. If someone asks, “How about we try it this way?” their response is typically like, “No, this is how we’ve always done it.” Or, “It’s not your job to question the boss.”


Conversely, the characteristics of a conscious leader show up in their day-to-day interactions in a completely different way. If their sales figures don’t meet goals, they might say something like, “I should have provided more guidance on how to convert prospects to clients. But let’s try it again this month because I know with the talent on this team, we can smash those goals.” If someone suggests trying a new method of working, the conscious leader’s response might be: “That’s interesting. Tell me more about why you think that would work. Would you be willing to lead a group to try that as an experiment?”


Conscious leaders understand things like work-life balance, the need to recharge, and the importance of meals and breaks. Rather than constantly reacting to emails, schedules, and mandates, the conscious leader is proactive and intentional. They don’t gossip or put people down, even as a joke, and they expect the same from the people on their team. They don’t make assumptions or take sides but instead try to mediate disagreements and model the integrity they want to see in others.

Is Inclusive Leadership the Same as Conscious Leadership?


Inclusive leadership has some significant areas of overlap with conscious leadership. It’s easiest to think of it more as a subcategory of conscious leadership than as a competing leadership style. Therefore, there’s not really a need to choose between conscious leadership and inclusive leadership. You can achieve the best of both worlds when you combine the two in your organization.


Inclusive leadership means inviting others to participate in all levels of activities. Rather than resenting people whose opinions differ from theirs, inclusive leaders openly entertain differing opinions. They make everyone feel welcome and don’t play favourites. Inclusivity can extend to welcoming people of different colour, orientation, age, ability, economic background, and ethnicity as well.

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Leadership Diversity


While we advocate for diversity in leadership, we want to be clear that diversity isn’t the same as inclusivity. You can have many minority employees in a company, for example, but do they actually feel welcome there? Are they given the same opportunities and leadership paths as non-minority workers? You want to be careful that your organization isn’t simply fulfilling quotas or trying to look good on paper with a diversity initiative, when what you really need are more inclusive policies.


It’s possible to have diversity at the very top tiers of your company or charitable group and still not practice inclusivity. Diversity issues in leadership can surface in a variety of subtle ways. Minority leaders can be marginalized from decision-making processes or given titles that don’t really carry any weight. They might always be assigned to manage other minorities or special “urban” projects but not allowed to participate in other activities.


The characteristics of diversity-conscious leaders mean they recognize even their own tendencies to forget about diversity and inclusivity. They advocate for diversity and inclusivity because they know it’s better for the organization. It brings more to the table, it improves employee satisfaction, and it elevates the group to a deeper level of humanity and understanding of others, which has proven in research to be great for the bottom line.


Diversity in leadership positions is particularly important for several reasons. First, as mentioned above, it provides more breadth and experience to the company, school, or nonprofit. Additionally, it serves as an example for others who aspire to leadership roles and helps pull them up “above the line.”


So, how do you improve diversity consciousness and build diverse leadership in the workplace?

  • Have leaders model and prioritize consciousness and inclusivity.

  • Redefine the group’s mission, core values, and branding to include diversity.

  • Offer diversity and awareness education for all levels.

  • Start a diversity task force.

  • Build a calendar and award system based on inclusivity.

  • Make physical and remote workplaces safe spaces, where employees can share negative experiences, like microaggressions, without fear of repercussions.

  • Examine metrics for hiring and promotions to ensure diversity in opportunities and career advancement.

  • Partner with outside groups for fresh, new input and a different perspective.

  • Develop a culture of openness, honesty, and trust around sensitive issues.

  • Create a dialogue with employees to discuss stumbling blocks when it comes to inclusivity and conscious leadership.


Is your organization struggling to become more inclusive? Are you not sure where to start to build conscious leadership? Are certain conversations difficult to initiate?


Tough Convos was created to help with these challenges. We offer solutions that let you grow as an organization through dialogue and group facilitation. To learn more, call us today at 858-876-8176, or reach out online to tell us more how we can assist.