Unlocking the Power of Inclusive Leadership with Wouter Lincklaen Arriëns


In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of inclusive leadership. Inclusive leadership is not just a buzzword but a crucial aspect of fostering a healthy, diverse, and innovative workplace. To shed light on this topic, we sat down with Wouter, a seasoned expert in leadership and inclusive practices, to delve into the nuances of inclusive leadership and how it can address common workplace challenges.

Wouter, originally from the Netherlands, has spent over 30 years living and working in Asia. His journey into the realm of inclusive leadership began during his university years, where he learned the value of collaboration and problem-solving from multiple perspectives. This foundation laid the groundwork for his passion and purpose—to bring out the best in individuals, organizations, and teams. After 20 years as a lead specialist at the Asian Development Bank, Wouter co-founded Transformation First Asia, a leadership practice based in Singapore, helping companies worldwide address their blind spots.

Understanding Exclusion: The Root of Workplace Challenges

Wouter begins the conversation by shedding light on a common workplace problem: exclusion. He illustrates this issue with real-life examples, such as a young engineer in Vietnam feeling unheard, a Gen Z graduate in Indonesia withholding their best due to top-down management, and a Gen X executive in Australia inadvertently neglecting upcoming talents. These stories highlight the pervasive issue of exclusion in today’s workplaces.

From a neuroscience perspective, Wouter emphasizes that social exclusion triggers the same pain response in our brains as physical injury. When employees feel excluded, they retract, their stress levels rise, and they become less creative and collaborative. Wouter’s experiences have shown that most workplace problems aren’t rooted in finance or technology but in people-related issues.

Defining Inclusive Leadership

But what exactly is inclusive leadership? Wouter defines it as a set of behaviors that enhance teamwork, performance, and well-being. In an era where both performance and employee well-being are paramount, inclusive leadership becomes a powerful tool for organizations.

He elaborates that inclusive leadership isn’t about a checklist of diversity attributes like gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity; it goes deeper. It involves recognizing and respecting diverse worldviews, leadership styles, and backgrounds. Inclusive leadership bridges the generational gap, crucial in today’s workplaces with four distinct generations: Gen Z, Gen Y (Millennials), Gen X, and Boomers.

Barriers to Inclusive Leadership

Even as organizations recognize the need for inclusive leadership, they often encounter barriers. Walter identifies three common hurdles:

  1. Narrow Definition of Diversity: Organizations tend to limit their definition of diversity, focusing on standard attributes. To truly embrace diversity, they need to consider individual backgrounds, education, and experiences.
  2. Lack of Top-Down Support: Inclusive leadership initiatives often falter without support from top management. CEOs and executives must authentically endorse and participate in these efforts for them to succeed.
  3. Over-reliance on Training: Many organizations organize training sessions but fail to follow up effectively. Sustainable change requires continuous monitoring and follow-up, not just one-off training sessions.

Strategies for Promoting Inclusive Leadership

So, how can leaders ensure that diverse team members’ voices are heard and valued in the decision-making process? Wouter provides actionable strategies:

  1. Top-Down Commitment: Organizations should commit to inclusive leadership, starting from the top. CEOs and senior leaders need to lead by example, demonstrating their dedication to this cause.
  2. Cross-Generational Teams: Form cross-generational teams to guide the inclusive leadership process. These teams should be diverse, representing different generations, and should help implement training and monitor progress.
  3. Recognition: Acknowledge and celebrate individuals who exhibit inclusive leadership behaviors. Recognition fulfills a basic human need and encourages others to follow suit.

During the interview, a viewer raised a question about how junior team members can navigate the fear of sharing their ideas in a workplace dominated by seniority and experience. Wouter advises open communication with team leaders, expressing concerns, and seeking opportunities to contribute. However, in deeply toxic or unresponsive environments, it may be wise to consider alternative workplaces that align better with personal values and goals.

In conclusion, inclusive leadership is not just a trendy concept but a necessity in today’s diverse workplaces. Organizations that embrace it will thrive by fostering innovation, enhancing well-being, and addressing common workplace challenges. By overcoming barriers and implementing effective strategies, inclusive leadership can become a driving force for positive change.

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