Executive Development

Mindful Exclusion Excluding with the Whole in Mind

The Case for Exclusion The importance of exclusion has been overlooked. In the midst of our quest for inclusion, it has been tempting to view exclusion as the enemy, the problem, the thing we are trying to move away from. This belief is not only limiting, it is dangerous. The reality is that exclusion is inescapable. With limited time and space, there are only so many people we can fit into our networks, our organizations, and our boardrooms. There are only so many perspectives we can integrate at one time. There are only so many ideas that can hold our attention. Exclusion is merely the filter that delineates who and what we prioritise. The real problem is not exclusion, it is the mindless nature of how we generally exclude. Our default filters consist of automatic responses that help to simplify decision-making. As social animals, for instance, we often have favourable perceptions of people from our in-group. We assume that their positive behaviour reflects their natural disposition, and that their negative behaviour is the result of external forces. When someone is from our out-group we do the opposite, assuming their negative behaviour reflects their natural disposition instead. Similarly, we prioritise those whom we perceive to be of higher status, giving their opinions more weight, and making a greater effort to accommodate them. There are a variety of other automatic responses that influence how we filter people, perspectives, ideas – and thus how we exclude. Amongst these are associations and beliefs we form in childhood, based on limited experience, which become hard-wired as habits. Also relevant is our reaction to normative forces, which often serve to reinforce the status quo. The organizational implications of mindless exclusion are significant. How we exclude determines the effectiveness of our decision-making. If we allow perceptions of similarity and/or status to define our filter, we severely limit the pool of perspectives available to inform our judgment. Even if we are comfortable with who is currently included, do we even know who has been systematically excluded? So long as we stick to our own version of the status quo, we will never be the wiser. How we exclude also determines the culture of our organizations. The experience of excluding or being excluded can be traumatic for individuals and extremely damaging to relationships. This can make it difficult to collaborate effectively, thus limiting organizational productivity. Exclusion that is defined by perceived similarity or status can also reinforce that this is “what it takes to get ahead around here”. These kinds of systemic messages lead to cultures of conformity and political manoeuvring, which in turn distort decision- making even further. As with any filter that is not working, it can be tempting to throw it out – to stop excluding entirely. There are two major problems with this. The first is that, as mentioned earlier, this leaves us with no mechanism for active prioritisation. Exclusion still occurs, given the limitations of time and space, but we now have no ability to influence it. The second

By Justine Lutterodt

34 | Developing Leaders Issue 22: 2016

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