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12 Key Differences Between Exclusive and Inclusive Leadership

The debate of inclusive leadership vs exclusive leadership has been going on for years. While most people believe that the former is more humane, morally, and ethically vise, there are also people who support the latter. But how do you decide between inclusive vs exclusive leadership?

Have you ever worked in a company where you were judged based on the color of your skin, your gender, your race, or your ethnicity, and not on your merit? Most companies, even in today’s world, make hiring and promotion decisions based on subjective metrics. However, contrary to the popular belief, it is the leaders and not the policies that facilitate this process. 

Inclusive leaders keep their biases and prejudices aside when dealing with individuals. However, exclusive leaders fixate on these prejudices and have their beliefs set in stone. They refuse to change, even in the eyes of damning evidence against their behavior. 

In this article, we will discuss the inclusive leadership vs exclusive leadership debate in detail. We will also highlight the 12 ways in which you can become an inclusive leader, so stay tuned. 

What Is Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive leaders continuously learn and unlearn behaviors. They are aware of the prejudices and biases that influence their decision. They try to assess these biases and reduce them as much as possible. Moreover, they ensure that any decision they make is backed by objective, rather than subjective criteria. 

Inclusive vs Exclusive leadership

What Is Exclusive Leadership?

Exclusive leaders are unaware of the biases and prejudices that dictate their decisions. Even in instances where they realize, they refuse to do things differently. They are autocratic by nature and refuse to admit mistakes or take responsibility for their mistakes. Moreover, exclusive leaders use subjective and in-build biases while making hiring decisions. 

However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to this inclusive leadership vs exclusive leadership debate. Read ahead to know more. 

12 Key Differences Between Exclusive Leadership vs Inclusive Leadership

1) Exclusive Leaders Shun Diversity; Inclusive Leaders Crave Diversity

Having people around who come from similar backgrounds and similar ethnicities is comfortable. It is easier to communicate with these people. You don’t have to get out of your comfort zone, but that is exactly the point. Exclusive leaders shun diversity because it challenges them. It requires them to communicate and collaborate with people from a range of different backgrounds; this scares them. 

Inclusive leaders crave diversity. They value the differences brought about by diverse employees and team members. They realize that the unique experiences of every individual will not only add value to the organization, but will also teach the leader a great deal. 

So when assessing leaders, you will always notice an exclusive leadership having a team that looks and behaves the same way. Whereas, an inclusive leader will have a team comprising different genders, different ethnicities, different religions, and most importantly, different characteristics. 

2) Exclusive Leaders Force Opinion; Inclusive Leaders Earn Trust

When you and your leadership are valued and revered, you don’t have to force anyone to follow orders; your employees will follow you because they trust your capabilities. Most bosses will give tasks and employees have no other option but to accept the orders. 

However, with inclusive leaders, employees do what they are told, not because they have to, but because they believe in the importance of the task. This is why trust in leadership matters. 

Exclusive leaders often take decisions in isolation and thus have to force their opinions on others. They will either require negative reinforcement or punishments in order to get their tasks done. 

On the other hand, inclusive leaders will introduce a task or take a decision without the fear that it will not be accepted by their employees. Even when they introduce something out of the blue, or something unpopular, they know that they are respected enough that their employees will come on board. 

3) Exclusive Leaders Keep a Distance; Inclusive Leaders Foster Good Communication

Good communication between the team members and the leadership is essential for the well-being of the organization. However, exclusive leaders rarely engage with employees, while inclusive leaders often become your well-wishers. 

Exclusive leaders keep their distance for a number of reasons. For starters, they don’t value their employees enough to foster good communication. Secondly, they believe that closeness with employees will reduce their authority and make them face more challenges. Lastly, they believe their employees to be a means to an end, thus don’t value their opinions or their well-being. 

Inclusive leaders value good communication because they understand that this is the only way for an organization to grow. They believe in the well-being of their employees. They understand that employees will never feel comfortable expressing themselves if the leader fails to communicate with them. Moreover, direct communication between the leader and the team reduces room for error and bias. 

4) Exclusive Leaders Hire Employees; Inclusive Leaders Hire People

One of the biggest differences between the two is how they look at people. Although hiring is done by the Human Resources department, the criteria are often decided by the leaders. 

Exclusive leaders tend to look at individuals through an objective lens. Although this is good in some ways, it hampers growth. Human beings are different; some people don’t have attractive degrees or a lot of experience, but they can add very good value to the firm. Exclusive leaders tend to have a very rigid mindset, and they rarely think out of the box when making hiring decisions. 

Inclusive leaders are more likely to take a bet on people. They are less rigid and don’t follow textbook criteria of what a good employee is, but more importantly, inclusive leaders tend to value people more rather than treating them as mere employees of a firm. They realize that these people have a life of their own and their well-being ought to be prioritized. 

5) Exclusive Leaders Discourage Discussions; Inclusive Leaders Welcome Discourse

“I want this and that is final” and “I want this, but I am open to hearing your thought about this”; notice the difference between the framing of the two. Being an inclusive leader does not mean that you are letting people challenge your authority; it is about valuing the power of good discourse and reaching the best possible decisions. 

Exclusive leaders will make decisions behind closed doors. They will come out of their offices, announce their decisions, assign a task and then leave. They believe that they are the most capable and their decision requires no improvement. 

On the other hand, inclusive leaders will make a calculated decision, come out of their offices, announce their decision and then ask for further input. Contrary to the popular belief, these leaders don’t give the reigns of leadership to their employees; they allow them to have meaningful discussions, so any decisions can be reviewed and revised before it is finalized. 

These leaders also take in criticisms and allow their employees to ask difficult questions. This allows the leader to take in suggestions and assess their decision once again. 

6) Exclusive Leaders Retain the Status Quo; Inclusive Leaders Break Shackles

There is no harm in retaining the status quo; in a lot of instances, it works perfectly well for organizations and society in general. However, change is a prerequisite for greatness. You can not fulfill your ambitions if you are not ready to challenge the status quo. 

Exclusive leaders have low self-esteem. They value their position too much. Since they operate under fear, they are less likely to take any risks that put their position in jeopardy. You will almost never see exclusive leaders doing something out of the ordinary. The risks involved don’t sit well with them. This is why exclusive leaders are always mediocre leaders. 

Inclusive leaders value their vision more than their title. They don’t feel threatened by exterior factors, which is why they are more open to challenges and opportunities. They will find creative spaces and enter new ventures. This allows them to not only envision something magnanimous, but also achieve it. 

7) Exclusive Leaders give up; Inclusive Leaders Motivate

Failure is part and parcel of life; every person, even great leaders, will fail at one point or the other. During and even after the pandemic hit, a lot of employees struggled to get back on track. They felt demotivated and unable to fulfill their aspirations. It was up to the leaders to deal with the issue. They adopted two measures.

Exclusive leaders gave up on their employees and ventured to hire new ones. Rather than treating the lack of ambition as a mere phase, they treated it as a characteristic or personality trait. Rather than trying to bring the employees back on track through team-building exercises or creative discussions, these leaders simply fired them and hired new employees. 

Inclusive leaders realized that the post-covid time was difficult. It was an unprecedented challenge for everyone, and they gave their employees room before they shunned them. They encouraged and motivated their team members, so they can rise up to the challenge and find their spark again. Inclusive leaders, regardless of external challenges, will always find ways to motivate their employees to do better. 

8) Exclusive Leaders Demand Respect; Inclusive Leaders Earn Respect

Exclusive leaders are obsessed with their authority. They have aspired to it all their life. When they finally get the power, they start believing that they are worthy of it and everything that comes along with it. They start demanding respect rather than working hard to earn this respect. This is what differentiates leaders vs bosses.

Exclusive leaders have a very rigid definition of what it means to be respectful. Imagine you are an employee who works under an exclusive leader. If you ever decide to ask a difficult question or disagree with them on something, they will treat it as a sign of disrespect. Moreover, if you express your views differently from what they have, they will accuse you of disrespecting them. 

However, if you do the same to an inclusive leader, they will welcome your opinion and ask you to elaborate. Inclusive leaders know that they have to inculcate exemplary leadership traits before they can gain the utmost respect. Rather than shunning people who disagree with them, they will go the extra mile to bring them to the same page. This is how they build strong foundations and inculcate the exemplary leadership practices

9) Exclusive Leaders Demand Results; Inclusive Leaders Demand Innovation

It is good to have expectations that your employees have to meet. You’d be a lousy leader if you don’t expect your employees to complete and submit work on time. However, there is a difference. Some bosses will require you to complete tasks as long as it is generating a good amount of revenue. They will always fixate on the short-term benefits you provide. 

Exclusive leaders want to look good, so they will require employees to work on standard things that have worked in the past and help the company gain revenue. The problem with this approach is that it does not allow the company to grow beyond a certain point. This is one of the biggest reasons why leaders fail in the fast-paced world. 

Inclusive leaders realize that in the ever-changing and competitive market, companies can not grow unless they do something exceptional. They will give their employees the resources that are needed for brand-new innovations. They also bear the extra costs and the risks associated with trials and errors. This is why most companies that prosper tend to prioritize innovations over results. 

10) Exclusive Leaders Take Credit; Inclusive Leaders Divide Credit

When calamity hits, exclusive leaders blame their employees for any bad outcomes. They do the complete opposite when something good happens. They will jump in and take all the credit for the recent success. This reduces trust in leadership. 

Exclusive leaders treat everyone as competition. They are not secure in their role and their position as team heads. During times of success, they will want to gain all the limelight, so they can retain their relevance in the team, even if they have done nothing but give orders the past few months. What they don’t realize is that people can see through this facade. This makes them lose trust in their leader. 

Inclusive leaders are different. Even if they have done all the work and taken all the difficult decisions, they will still not swoop in and take all the credit. They will sit back and let their team celebrate the win. But this leads to something incredible. Their team members will appreciate this humility and will automatically praise the leader for all their efforts. This feels more organic and natural and increases trust in leadership. 

11) Exclusive Leaders Prioritize Self-Growth; Inclusive Leaders Prioritize Team-Growth

Imagine Sarah and Naomi joining two different organizations as leaders. Both have the opportunity to take their companies to new heights. Sarah tries to enter new ventures and take risks, thus helping the company stand out. Naomi makes deals that help solidify her position and stake at the company. Who is doing a disservice to their role as a leader? Certainly Naomi. 

There is no harm in thinking about yourself when working in a company. No one wants you to do something selflessly. However, exclusive leaders make decisions at the cost of the company. They will make decisions that give them a good commission but prove harmful to the company in the long run. Since their main agenda is self-serving, they do more harm than good to the company. 

Inclusive leaders only make decisions that are good for the company. They take their job as leaders very seriously and do their best to take the company to new heights. 

12) Exclusive Leaders Create Followers; Inclusive Leaders Create Visionaries

You can be a Stalin or Lenin that created millions of followers; people who followed their leaders blindly without ever questioning them. Or you can be a Martin Luther King who inspired visionaries. 

It is easy to inculcate or encourage herd mentality in your company. You’d have countless people following you and saying yes to everything you say and ask. However, this will soon prove counterintuitive to the company. You will remain stagnant; never achieving more than a set limit. 

Inclusive leaders are visionaries themselves, and they aspire to inculcate the same traits in others. They are not looking to be messiahs or preachers. They want their employees to think big and act big. They are not threatened by other people’s success or achievements. This is why an inclusive leader will go any mile to help people achieve their full potential. 

Why Is Inclusive Leadership a Game Changer for Organizations?

Inclusive leadership can revolutionize the way a company operates. From making smart and ethical hiring decisions to inculcating a positive and healthy environment, an inclusive leader can provide greater incentives for employees to stay with the company. But that is not all. 

According to multiple types of research, inclusive leadership guarantees three times increased performance and a 17% increase in team performance. Moreover, it increases adaptation and innovation by 6%. Additionally, it allows for a 20% increase in decision-making, thus ensuring leaders make good decisions. 

Inclusive leadership also comes in handy when companies want to infiltrate new market spaces. It increases a 29% increase in collaboration rates and makes a company 70% more likely to penetrate into new and diverse markets. All this helps grow a small business. 

In the debate surrounding inclusive leadership vs exclusive leadership, here are some other ways in which the former takes precedence. 

1. Increase employee well-being and commitment

2. Foster long-term connections with clients

3. Allow employees to innovate 

4. Encourage collaboration and commitment

5. Ability to reach or surpass targets

6. A better soft image of the organization

7. In line with the new world order

8. Greater employee retention

Are You an Inclusive or Exclusive Leader?

I am an inclusive leader if I 

• Judge people on their merit, not on innate characteristics of their personality.

• Admit when I make mistakes.

• Don’t hire people based on connections or relations.

• Listen to my employee’s concerns.

• Prioritize the well-being of all my employees, regardless of their position.

• Fair in all my dealings

• Have a deep insight into the behavior of my employees

• Value trust-building in regard to my employees.

• Facilitate the making of equity policies in my company.

• Have a zero-tolerance policy against harassment and bullying

I am an exclusive leader if I

• Judge people on innate characteristics

• Not aware of my prejudices and biases

• Believe that I am free of any prejudice that might affect my behavior

• Show favoritism to some of my employees

• Treat humans as a commodity

• Afraid to admit mistakes

• Feel more comfortable around people from the same background as me

• Don’t find any faults in me

• Don’t feel comfortable sharing credit with my team

• Feel hesitant about creating strict equity policies in my office. 

How Can You Become an Inclusive Leader?

1) Reduce Internal Biases; Inclusive Leaders Are Not Prejudiced

Earlier, people used to be judged on the color of their skin, their ethnicity, or even their religion. Even today, past prejudices influence the decision of some leaders. However, inclusive leaders actively fight the internal biases they have acquired over the years. 

They understand that their upbringing, the culture they belong to, and the society they are part of, have made them have preconceived notions about people. However, inclusive leaders make conscious efforts to unlearn behaviors, so they can judge people on merit only. 

2) Build a Solid Foundation; Inclusive Leaders Build From Scratch

Whether you are making a team of 10 or 100 people, it is important to have a strong foundation. Inclusive leaders work twice as hard to ensure they hire and train the best possible people. They focus less on the number of people and prioritize quality over quantity. 

So even if they have 10 good employees rather than 100 average ones, they would make it work. The time and energy they spend on inculcating the right morals and ethics in their team members prove worthwhile in the long run. 

3) Foster Social Awareness; Inclusive Leaders Educate Themselves

When you look at the world today, you will notice that social awareness is on the rise. From the poorest people in Africa to the richest ones in South Korea, everyone is talking about good principles. Leaders make big claims as well. However, very few walk the talk. 

If you want to be respected in your community and outside, you have to keep on educating yourself. If you are rich, learn how the poor live. If you are healthy, learn how the sick survive. Only through this, you can realize and understand the struggle people go through. This teaches you compassion and kindness: things that make a good leader. 

4) Increase Emotional Intelligence; Inclusive Leaders Are Humane

In an ideal world, your employees will always come to you and express their concerns to you. However, that is rarely the case. An exclusive leader will never be able to assess what their employees are thinking. Even when they can make a guess, they don’t care enough to pursue it. 

Inclusive leaders should work on their emotional intelligence. They should pay greater attention to how people act and react. When they see something unusual, they should not ignore it. Rather, they should try to communicate with their employees and find out what is bothering them. This is a good way to reduce bullying and harassment around the office. It is one of the best ways in which leaders can reduce toxic attitudes in the workplace. 

5) Give Recognition; Inclusive Leaders Don’t Fear Credit-Sharing

Leaders who work for recognition will be average all their lives. The best leaders of the world had a vision, and they worked a day in and out to make that vision come true. Had they run behind awards, praises, or monetary benefits, they would never have been able to leave an impact.

As an inclusive leader, you should try to give as much credit to your employees as possible. Whether you have won something huge or the company has had massive success, make sure to not take all the credit yourself. This disincentivizes your employees from doing their best. 

6) Put People at Ease; Inclusive Leaders Are Good Listeners

Leaders are not just great orators, they are also great listeners. If you want to listen like a leader, you have to be patient. Most people have difficulty communicating difficult ideas; it is your job to make them feel safe. Most exclusive leaders will simply reject ideas because they are not patient enough to listen to an idea through. 

Inclusive leaders do the opposite. They give people time and resources to execute an idea. They also ensure that their employees can come to them to discuss any challenges they are facing. Through conscious effort, you can also become a great listener. 

7) Encourage Discourse; Inclusive Leaders Welcome Discourse

No amount of greatness can ever be achieved by one person alone. You may have the best idea in mind, but you will always need a team to execute the plan. Through debate and discourse, a mediocre idea can transform into an extraordinary one. 

Most leaders sit on their high horses and believe themselves to be right all the time. In their heads, their ideas are fool-proof and don’t need any improvement. However, inclusive leaders realize that every idea can be improved through discourse generation. This is why they invite their team members to critique ideas. This helps remove any hurdles in the execution of the plan pre-emptively. 

8) Take Responsibility; Inclusive Leaders Admit Mistakes

You might think that admitting mistakes makes you vulnerable, but it does not. It makes you more respectable in the eyes of your employees. Leaders who possess a holier-than-thou attitude are not relatable. Their team members are not relaxed around them. 

On the other hand, inclusive leaders, who are confident in their role and position, are not afraid to take responsibility. They understand that mistakes are common in every business and every venture. Admitting mistakes simply helps leaders integrate better with the rest of the employees. Moreover, the added vulnerability helps improve connectivity between the leader and the team. 

9) Give Confidence; Inclusive Leaders Inspire Innovation

It is okay to expect results. No company can survive without a result-oriented outlook. However, when leaders focus entirely on results and don’t aspire to innovate, it lands them in hot waters. These businesses suffer, along with the leaders who head them. 

Inclusive leaders should give confidence to their employees. They should ensure their team that they can come up with innovative ideas and that the leader will support them. You can help by giving them the right direction and guidance. But more importantly, your employees should know that you prefer innovation to everything else. 

10) Invest in People; Inclusive Leaders Don’t Treat People as Mere Commodity

In the hypercapitalist economy, leaders treat people as mere commodities. Employees are hired and then replaced without much thought. This is because most businesses are looking for machines that can get a job done. Leaders don’t invest in people or their skills because they are indifferent to their potential or what they can bring to the table. 

Inclusive leaders are quite different. They realize that each individual is different and has a lot of potential. With the right guidance and advice, they can not only achieve greatness, but also champion new innovations. All they need is someone to trust them. 

11) Aspire to be different; Inclusive Leaders Detest Herd-Mentality

Exclusive leaders revel in predictability. They like it when it is business as usual. Since they are looking to get more out of the company than they are willing to offer, they don’t try to innovate. This gives rise to herd mentality: the act of doing what everyone else is doing. 

Inclusive leaders detest mundane lifestyles. If they see all the other companies hiring from Harvard or Oxford university, they don’t just follow suit. They would seek other graduates and assess people on their own merit. This is why companies under the guidance of inclusive leaders tend to be game changers in the industry. They do things that others can’t even dream of doing. This is what helps them stand out in the crowd. 

12) Improve Society; Inclusive Leaders Make the World a Better Place

While inclusive leaders have a good sense of business and how to bring tangible monetary benefits, they have a higher purpose in mind. They also want to improve society and make it a better place for everyone. Through inclusion and diversity, they try to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, white and black, and man and woman. 

Inclusive vs Exclusive leadership

They don’t just make good hiring decisions. Through equity policies and properly documented laws, they also try to reduce toxicity in their workplaces. Moreover, inclusive leaders tend to help employees reach their full potential. 

How Can Best Diplomats Help You Become an Inclusive Leader?

Diversity and inclusivity sit at the core of the company. Through carefully drafted conferences and events, it allows people from different communities to come together. By meeting and greeting diverse people, individuals gain a better perspective and are able to see the world through an entirely new lens. 

Best diplomats leadership platform

Moreover, Best Diplomats hosts participants from more than 85 nations. This includes people from almost all continents of the world. The amalgamation of new ideas and visions help you become an inclusive leader yourself. 

Additionally, Best Diplomats trains you in the subtle art of public speaking and diplomacy. To know more about the brand, click here to register


Exclusive leaders can be good at their jobs. They may be able to bring the needed revenue or create a small impact. However, to make long-lasting and substantial change, you need to become an inclusive leader. You have to be someone who is aware of their biases and works to minimize them. 

With the right guidance and training from Best Diplomats, you can pave the way to success in no time. 


What Are the Six C’s of Inclusive Leadership?

There are many different metrics to assess inclusive leadership, but here is a list of the 6 C’s that are quite popular. 
1. Commitment
2. Courage
3. Cognizance of bias
4. Cultural intelligence
5. Collaboration
6. curiosity

What Is the Golden Rule of Inclusion?

Support others like you would want to be supported yourself. If you want to be a truly inclusive leader, imagine yourself in the position of your employee and treat them like you would want to be treated. If you are a white man, imagine yourself as a black woman and behave the way you would want your leader to behave

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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