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One of the characteristics that makes a true influential leader is a person’s ability to see the future as a puzzle – that needs to be solved, but in which all the pieces can work together to create a whole.  And, as we all know, when every team member feels like they belong, then everyone wins!

Inclusive leaders are driven by their values and they believe that creating an accessible culture begins with them, they possess a strong sense of personal responsibility for ‘change’. When leaders invest their time, energy and resources in nurturing their people, naturally they inspire others to share their passions and goals … creating a high level of engagement, motivation and transformation.

Inclusive leaders have a curiosity and passion for learning too – they have an open mindset where they are sincerely interested in their team, they know they can genuinely learn from other team members and they’ll have no doubt that what their own particular skill set lacks, another person’s skills can make up for.

These leaders encourage and support their team members to ‘step up’ by giving them stretch assignments, but in doing so, ensuring that these team members are working with their strongest capabilities and skill sets because they know that if you try to stretch a team member asking them to use an area of  ‘weakness’ you’re only setting that person up for self-doubt and disengagement. This is where true influential leaders shine – because they know their team inside out, they wouldn’t ask the financial officer to write the marketing strategy and vice versa.

Inclusive leaders create an environment where there is true collaboration – where everyone on the project dominates one single piece of the puzzle – there is no one piece more important than the other, all are reliant on the others to make the whole.

It’s not about the pieces but how they work together…

Each member of the team has role clarity, and knows their value. They know they will be heard when issues crop up or fresh ideas are needed. When your team feels heard and valued, then you know you have become an ‘influential’ leader. And the very best thing an influential leader does …. is make themselves redundant. And by that I mean they can go away – on a conference, on a vacation, for any kind of leave for any period, and the business would cope without them.

On the other hand, if there is no role clarity and the leader lacks ‘trust’ in their team or micromanages the pieces, the team will not be equal. When the leader dominates, the centre of the puzzle – the piece in the middle would be enormous and then of course, there’s not much room for the other pieces, they’re smaller. They’re not of equal value, or equal size and then when the leader is absent there is a gaping hole, and no matter how much training, effort or desire is involved, the smaller pieces will never be able to fill the hole.

Many small pieces make up the bigger picture…

Most corporations boast that their people are their greatest resources, their most important asset. But the reality is that most leaders don’t actually leverage this asset and have it working at its maximum potential.

But – and yes, there are always pressures and competing deadlines and ‘stuff’ that needs to be done … by taking a step back, by planning, actually harnessing people’s full potential is easier than you think.

Think ahead. Start by working out who is the best fit for the project – what skills, talents and experience do you have at your disposal? As you start putting the pieces together you will see the shape of the puzzle emerging and you can define clusters and where the pieces connect to more than one other piece, and before too long, you’re actually making headway.

Create a culture that’s inclusive…

Inclusive leaders know that the teamwork puzzle is an immediate and core focus. Inclusive leaders also understand that self-managing teams with clear objectives and deadlines and budgets, who are empowered to make decisions and move forward as defined in their brief are the only solution to relieving themselves – freeing themselves up. And this is important. Not just because of a relaxing holiday without a hundred calls from the office, but to create the kind of space that leaders need – to look to the future, to envision the big picture and to strategise the way to get there. That kind of navigation is critical – and if leaders don’t enable themselves the time to do it, then they get bogged down, and the business eventually does too.

Viewing the workplace as a puzzle is one very simple strategy for getting the most out of the awesome people you’ve employed and harnessing that talent to kick butt out there in the marketplace, amongst your competitors. Business is fast paced, it’s ever-changing, and if leaders are too focused inward and not enough outward, soon the whole company is left behind in the race.