Exclusive Leadership vs Inclusive Leadership: Head to Head

by | May 29, 2024 | DEI Executive Coaching | 0 comments

We compare Exclusive Leadership vs Inclusive Leadership styles. Learn which can unlock potential or stifle innovation and growth.

Traits of exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership styles


Exclusive leadership (AKA traditional or autocratic leadership) centralizes power and decision-making, but creates a disengaged workforce. It limits collaboration and hampers organizational agility and competitiveness. 


Consider words we use to describe coworkers.

A superior is a boss.  Superior is also defined as of higher quality, excellence, or effectiveness
Subordinates report to a boss.  Subordinate is defined as “of lesser importance, significance or power

Kind of hard to create strong collaborative teams with these labels attached.

Though outdated, the words are accepted business jargon and are etched into policies, procedures and performance reviews. Creating the us vs them foundation of exclusive leadership.

Inclusive leadership uses diverse perspectives and encourages collaboration to yield competitive advantages.
It taps into human capital – the stakeholders, internally and externally.
Inclusive leadership enhances innovation and engagement. 

Inclusive organizations outperform exclusive ones in profitability, creativity, and talent attraction.

This guide identifies biases in exclusive leadership traits. Understanding these biases is crucial for recognizing inclusivity shortfalls.The guide’s true value lies in its actionable “Acts of Inclusion“. These  help leaders build a more inclusive workplace culture.


Effects of Exclusive Leadership vs Inclusive Leadership

Bad boss stories are everywhere. Here are common exclusive leadership traits that cause these unfortunate scenerios.Here are common exclusive leadership traits.”

Authoritative Style
Trait: Authoritarian style: Traits of exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership styles

A rain-maker talent is recognized for their exceptional ability to grow the company.  They are rewarded with a senior management position – a people leader.

The larger team allows the “rockstar” to focus on ensuring continued success.
However, decisions are predominantly made by this star player.

Team input is often overlooked in favor of the boss’ directives.
The boss becomes the ruler of an unofficial fiefdom.


Strengthen your leadership with these Acts of Inclusion: 
  • Seek input from team members before making major decisions on unfamiliar topics.
  • Implement a feedback loop that runs a cycle before your leadership team meetings, equipping you with stakeholder insights.
  • For strategic initiatives, gather qualitative feedback – along with the quantitative data from your team members. 

Fixed Mindset
Trait fixed mindset: Traits of exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership styles

There is a preference for tried-and-true processes in exclusive leadership.

Novel ideas get a short span of attention, and some team members are criticized for their unorthodox, unconventional thinking.

When the market gets tough, these leaders double-down on established methods. New ideas during these periods can seem more risky than innovative.  The team is guided to focus on the status quo.

Strengthen your leadership with these Acts of Inclusion: 
  • Use techniques like round-robin, team brainstorming to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to share ideas.
  • Build active listening techniques for your team to ensure everyone’s ideas are fully understood and explored.

Power Focused

Trait - power focused: Traits of exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership styles

Your decision-making conversations are typically held behind closed doors.  Only the peer group understands the company’s complex needs.  You make decisions quickly, confident in your team’s expertise.
Rarely do you seek input from those outside of this group.

Another perspective:

Too many voices can slow progress. Team feedback is often seen as less critical than executive insights.
Suggestions from employees are often deemed less informed. Decisions are made quickly, without wide consultation.  You keep decision-making power tightly within the top management.


Strengthen your leadership with Acts of Inclusion: 
  • Add diversity to your leadership  team through stretch projects for HiPo, underrepresented colleagues.  
  • Have a HiPo rotational role/module that participates in strategic meetings. 
  • Take on a reverse mentoring role – learning news skills from staff outside leadership’s immediate environment. 


Top Down Communication
Trait top down communication : Traits of exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership styles

Culture of communication is directive. Messages come as policies often without feedback from staff.

Junior and front-line employees get information on a need-to-know basis.  They are discouraged/penalized for contacting other leaders.  The intention with this approach is to ensure a clear, unified direction.

However, if topics important to staff are not addressed, it exposes a disconnected leadership.


Strengthen your leadership with these Acts of Inclusion: 
  • Provide first line communication, by guiding staff to the company’s communication channels. Encourage them to share on those platforms.
  • Proactively communicate changes or updates, explaining the rationale behind decisions.
  • If you have an open-door policy, hold to it.  Be accessible – Make 30 minutes a week available in your calendar and leave that door open or that “online” status on.  For any conversation that needs to be more than 5 minutes or be private,  they can plan another time.

Homogeneous Leadership Team

Trait: Homogenous Leadership Team: Traits of exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership styles

Executive  leadership teams that  lack diversity in representation.

Further down the organization, diversity is noticeably  more diverse.

Leadership team boasts of any improvement.

But try not to call attention to unchanged homogenous leadership team 



Strengthen your leadership with these Acts of Inclusion: 
  • Prioritize external recruitment experts and remove barriers for small and diverse suppliers.
  • If your company has a DEI strategy & you lead diverse team members –  get their feedback & insights now!
    They have already registered your silence (avoidance).  Understand what their goals are and actively endorse them.  
  • If your team has diverse members and your company has ERG (Employee Resource Groups), replace another meeting with an ERG meeting. Even if your team member isn’t at the meeting – let your curiosity find out where they are “coming from.”

Fear driven

Trait - Fear driven: Traits of exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership styles

There are those who prioritize maintaining their current standing and avoiding loss.  They have worked hard to achieve their results.  To mitigate uncertainty, control is paramount for this leader, even at the cost of stifling innovation.

Suggestions from staff can be undervalued, deemed inconsequential to the bigger vision.
In high-pressure, frustrating moments, this type of leader dismisses new perspectives by belittling their team and stifling dissenting voices.

When bosses describe their teams as “a kindergarten” or “whiners,” they are leading from a place of fear.


Strengthen your leadership with these Acts of Inclusion: 
  • Implement a feedback loop that involves everyone.
  • Upskill yourself and your team crucial conversation training to equip employees with constructive disagreement resolution skills.
  • Recognize and reward individuals and teams who are demonstrating & building a culture based on your company’s values.


Us vs Them Mentality

Trait: Us vs Them Mentality - Traits of exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership styles

An “Us vs Them” mentality divides employees, hindering teamwork and organizational progress.
Departments operate in silos due to lack of transparent communication.

This leads to duplication of efforts and missed collaboration opportunities.

When encountering influencers from other groups, the Us vs Them mentality won’t acknowledge the contribution & values they add from the wider group.



Use Acts of Inclusion for Exclusive Leadership vs Inclusive Leadership: 
  • Offer incentives or recognition for individuals and teams that successfully collaborate across departments to reach your goals.
  • Highlight success stories from your team.  3 Ways Leaders Build Credibility. 
  • Consider demonstrated and result, creating collaboration abilities in performance evaluations and promotions.



When comparing exclusive leadership vs inclusive leadership, true sustainable growth comes from also embracing inclusive leadership – amplifying diverse voices,  collaboration. By pairing your existing leadership strengths with the actionable “Acts of Inclusion” outlined here, you’ll forge an unstoppable diverse culture of innovation and engagement.


Inclusive Matters:  Turn your D&I efforts into measurable business results.

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