Show Notes

Article critiqued in this episode:

Harvard Business Review – The Key to Inclusive Leadership

By Juliet Bourke and Andrea Titus, March 06, 2020

From this episode:

There are four levels of externally considering. Kindness, Empathy, Compassion, Caring—each one taking a deeper interest in another person’s growth and development.

In this episode:

This episode points to three primary errors that most HBR articles make and why they fall into lower paradigms. First error, assuming people can’t be introspective, see and correct or evolve themselves. Second error, working on change with an internal focus disregarding the effects in the ecosystem. Third error, working as those individuals are separate workers are separate from the users/buyers and the challenges are not systemic.

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Zac: WELCOME back to Business Second Opinion Podcast. We’re always excited to bring you another episode.

Business Second Opinion Podcast digs deep to explore questions about business and business practice. In the process of examining them, we give you a second opinion, usually a contrarian opinion, but one that is well tested and proven to give the outcomes you really want without the side effects. And by the way, if you want to learn more about how to work more closely with us, stay tuned at the end of the show.

I am Zac Swartout, and always with me is Carol Sanford, our inhouse positive contrarian. Who responds to big and hard questions with a radically different take. 

Hey Carol

Carol: Hi Zac

We got a request for a Second Opinion of an article about leadership traits for people feeling included in organizations. Sent by Keala Young with EcoVillages. What did you think of it?

Zac: Yes so this article, from good old Harvard Business Review, is titled The Key to Inclusive Leadership, by Juliet Bourke and Andrea Titus from March 6, 2020. The article proposes that inclusion is the key to lifting organizational performance in employees. Ultimately inclusion starts from leadership. Making sure that leaders need to make sure everyone feels included. And then they will work harder and be happier. While I think this article means well – as a business owner – its hard for me to see how just making everyone feel included is going to ensure that we are considering the whole of our business, our customers, and the systems we are trying to contribute to.  Where do you see inclusion fitting into that Carol?

Carol: What always strikes me as interesting is how often HBR offers answers to challenges with getting two things backwards. How has this become so ingrained in how we see the world? First, they see the effects on employees as needing to be managed from OUTSIDE by leaders. If you fix the leader or find the right leader, you make the environment. Zac, do you know what I mean by assuming solutions come from outside of people by their bosses

Zac: Totally. This is the pool stick and cue ball issue again at work. They categorize this as a capability problem but this looks like a checklist of behaviors that leaders need to follow. Speaking of which, here’s the list of traits you as a leader should follow to be more inclusive.

  1. Visible commitment: They articulate authentic commitment to

diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable, and

make diversity and inclusion a personal priority.

  1. Humility: They are modest about capabilities, admit mistakes, and

create the space for others to contribute.

  1. Awareness of bias: They show awareness of personal blind spots,

as well as flaws in the system, and work hard to ensure a


  1. Curiosity about others: They demonstrate an open mindset and

deep curiosity about others, listen without judgment, and seek

with empathy to understand those around them.

  1. Cultural intelligence: They are attentive to others’ cultures and

adapt as required.

  1. Effective collaboration: They empower others, pay attention to

diversity of thinking and psychological safety, and focus on team


Once again we see a prescriptive list of behaviors attempting to tell people how to behave which will, based on 360 degree feedback surveys, lift those survey numbers. It’s like this kind of thinking misses the more fundamental opportunities presented through development entirely. Like customers for crying out loud!

Carol: And I know that was the way you were asked to help with when you worked in health care, right? And if you agree, where does that come from? What beliefs or theory?

Zac: There were a bevy of these programs in healthcare. Any many staff people and leaders were put through a bevvy of diversity and inclusion trainings. It didn’t stop the complaints from stacking up though with first nations folks, for example, who stated quite often their needs in the emergency room were ignored based solely on the stereotyping of their condition. The root of all these programs is still behaviorist thinking. If we can change the behavior, we can change the thinking. And we and our listeners know that’s not how it works – except maybe with dogs. Which I think speaks in another way to what HBR always gets backwards.

Carol: Seems to come also from behavioral theory which is rampant in education and business. Story of that is from research itself. What was the theory of how you come to know things. John Watson who popularized, if not founded behaviorism rationalized his methods with the idea that there is no inner working or introspection possible because humans can see from inside.  They need ideas from others to see even themselves. Zac, do you agree with that?

Zac: Yep – it’s the idea that humans are closed systems and that only way to change them is from the outside – like a machine. But just like each time we’ve said it before, humans ain’t machines. So all the feedback that’s mentioned in the article – that’s all sourced from that paradigm.

Carol, you said there were two errors in most HBR articles. What was the other one you are thinking of?

Carol: The second one is the opposite in some ways. It is that work takes  place by focusing INSIDE the organization to get things working. The solution is to train the leaders and bosses on correct behavior and practices, feedback what they can’t see, and hire for certain traits. 

Zac: So, The solution is OUTSIDE people that experience the problem and the answers are INSIDE what is closest to them. Is that what you mean? So their answer is – they fix the problem by working on the leaders who are in charge, and work inside the organization on actions and behaviors?  So Carol, let’s cut to the chase – what is our second opinion?

Carol: Yes! Pretty much. People can’t see and help themselves and what answers there are to be had are behavior in how the insiders treat their charges. WE need to flip those around. E.g. The development of all people to grow themselves to make their context work. Which we will come back to because there is another problem.

Zac: So if I’m tracking – HBR makes three ongoing errors, you said, right?  I think that’s a good amount of ammunition for the show today. But, let’s come back to that in a second. What is the second one you are speaking to when it gets flipped? I can see the problem with assuming workers can’t be self-managing and self-evolving. We have talked about that a lot.  But what is the insider error?

Carol: The idea that we keep focused on the inside except a few people who pay attention outside. Mostly Sales, marketing, shareholders and legal. Everyone else is internally focused doing their job. And again, double down on getting people focused on what is in front of them. 

Zac: Right. So in most organizations – development happens at retreats or in bars, or outside of work – where it actually matters. And so they work on abstract ideas and find it nearly impossible to apply them. It’s all window dressing to keep people happy but never really evolves the thinking that drives everyday work. So if the development happens outside of work, and the structure of development assumes that all effects need to be generated from outside the individual – when does the internal work happen? That’s why we work to grow self-reflection and internal thinking to contribute to the lives and systems outside the company.

As a contrast to this Carol, I’m sure people are thinking you have to have someone attending to the store. How many more can we ‘spare’?

Carol: All of them. Every last one of us. The 80/20 rule in focus and effort is based on the belief that people can’t think inside and outside. More behaviorism  theory. So you split the work among different people with different skills. Zac, how do you see this in life and what is your second opinion?

Zac: I use a framework we call 3 lines of work to bring my thinking to bear in a given situation. For a recent project – in order to think more critically about how to approach it – I knew I had to think not only about our team, but our customers and the effects on their lives, while simultaneously considering the effects we are also trying to have on the system of visual entertainment. It was like suddenly I had to take much more into account in my design and project plan.

Carol: How do we reenforce this behavioral idea and train everyone in fragmented thinking?

Zac: We avoid this kind of thinking by starting with a whole – a living entity for which we are trying to contribute to its ongoing evolution. Without that I can easily fall into the behaviorist and fragmentary traps that these HBR articles often do.

Carol: Let me give an alternative six that pulls together several messages in other podcasts. First, instead signature traits of inclusive leaders, let’s think of what is needed is ableness of all humans

#1- Engage with three lines of work as a way of planning, leading and managing, as you said

#2- build capability to see how complex systems work

#3- build infrastructure that enables and demands that everyone specifically understand the impact of their work on stakeholders

#4 Teams are organized around buyers and users and their lives and effects of our offerings, not outputs at the end of activity. Market Field Teams

#5 Each individual initiates efforts for evolving the working of customers, consumers and stakeholder lives and gains resources to deliver

#6 Assessments of performance are based on effects in stakeholder lives, led by individual or promised, designed and delivered the work with  EDP (Effects Development Plan they have aligned with Market Field Teams in #4 

Zac: Let me take one of these and speak about how, for me, that leads to inclusion and meaning which is what the article is about. 

Let’s look at number 5 for example. It’s easy to fall into the trap of infighting and jockeying for position in the company if the only thing one cares about is a manager’s opinion of their work. It breeds destructive competition that eats companies alive. As a contrast – with an aspect like #5 you can see how working to see the effect on the lives of customers gives a strong focus to the aims and goals a team can share – creating a sense of shared growth for all involved.

So look at number 3. Instead of worrying about an internal rating system that determines my worth, I am instead concerned with an ever expanding number of entities which our company effects. This gives us the ability to calibrate and re-calibrate how we work accordingly – instead of having it all tied to a number based on my personality flaws.

Carol: This is also better for business and human development

Zac: Right, because all the work happens inside and is birthed from the uniqueness of each individual in the context of a unique circumstance. That is the ultimate diversity – as you’ve said before.

Carol and it is better for human development in the world

Carol: I also think that the traits they speak of are ableness for all humans. We speak about Humility as being core to Socratic method and being a Resource to one another. Don’t assume to know what is best for someone else and impose our feedback and coaching or mentoring on others. Starts with releasing our attachment to “we are right.” What does that take and how does it get overlooked in this article?

Zac: In the article they mention humility. But we mean it in a different way. When they said humility it’s about acknowledging one’s flaws and asking for feedback. When we say it we mean humility towards the subject and those around us. That refers more closely to the Buddhist idea of beginner’s mind. The goal of this is to approach the subject and those engaged in it with a level of openness and understanding that we are incomplete as humans and on an evolutionary path. Not with the goal of trying to get higher feedback ratings.

Carol: We also talk about going beyond empathy. There are four levels of externally considering. Kindness, Empathy, Compassion, Caring- each one taking a deeper interest in another person’s growth and development. Kindness is minimum. Don’t cause harm so to speak and perhaps give dignity and respect. Empathy is acknowledging to ourself and others that we have been there also. So we understand from experience in the world and inside ourselves from reflection. Compassion means we want to act and take on a duty or obligation to help their discomfort, pain and problem go away with our own resources and effort. Caring is seeing them as the source of their own answers, following their lead, working to give them capability to resolve their situation in the way they can design. You commit to being a resource, but not taking on finding the solution and reconciler. You want them to have long term ableness to design for and lead themselves.

Zac: The key to this last one is being in a community that works on all six of the human ablenesses you listed earlier. A community matters because then it’s not about a singular leader from which all the direction must come. Instead it fosters growth for a whole rather than some pre-determined corporate division.

Carol: There needs to be infrastructure to provide development of inner and outer ableness, design to contribute in the world beyond the organization to the stakeholder of the organization. It takes effort to have them set up. And mostly getting rid of all the ideas in current infrastructure based on theories from humanistic and behavioral psychology, as well as machine ideas from the industrial revolution 2-4 hundred years ago.

Zac: Read chapter five in The Regenerative Business and it will help you understand how we get Harvard Business Review articles like we do. It is called Thirty Toxic Practices. Most on your Best Practices list probably.

Carol: We have to get rid of the upside down/inside out theories. Believe that people cannot see and grow and develop themselves. Not require external sources to manage, guide and evaluate them. And come to believe and understand that people can connect their life and work to the external effects of their effort. That these two things will create meaning, inclusion, erase the foundations of bias and judgment based on categorizing. It is a huge effort

Zac: What is the third error you hinted at?

Carol: You spoke to the beginning of it when you spoke about being in community. We are not in a flatland world where everyone is separate and can be judged separately. We are in cultures that are embedded in organizations, nations and communities we inhabit and engrain. They include our beliefs that are invisible and never considered for their effect so we get HBR, They include our practices that flow from them and are unexamined. They include our infrastructure that channel all thinking, effort and judgment. In other words, they are systemic.

Zac: That is why we create Business Second Opinion, to give individuals, communities and organizations the value for, the ableness and the desire to examine what is creating their world gaining deeply into how they are sources. Let us know what you want to examine and any article on which we can give a second opinion.


Carol: Business Second Opinion has been so well received that I have decided to take on a You Tube Channel. Very different subject but again to help people examine the deeper beliefs and practices about how they live their life.  

Zac: We are launching a new community for parents in couples, family pods organized around same children and community pods of multiple family pods who learn and grow together.

Zac:  Your organization can set up a book club for The Regenerative Life, using an extensive workbook and video online Workshops for Free.  50% discounts on bulk buys through my publisher. More at

Zac: This has been Business Second Opinion


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Carol Sanford and Zac Swartout, co-hosts