Taking People to the Window: Inclusive Leadership in Four Steps


Inclusive leadership has the power to accelerate the pace of business, not slow it down. In my last post, I shared how Gary Wenet introduced me to the concept of “Taking People to the Window,” a model for inclusive leadership that he has developed and implemented over many years:

  1. Define the Focus
  2. Identify the Stakeholders
  3. Structure the Pre-work
  4. Convene and Share

While deceptively simple, many leaders struggle with putting this into practice. This article is meant to illustrate a couple real-world examples. When Gary and I last met up, our aim was to discuss the practical applications of the model across different business scenarios. An edited transcript of our conversation is below, and the key steps are highlighted in bold type so you can see how the model played out in each example.

Gary, what is the range of possible applications for this model?

To name a few, Taking People to the Window is effective in one-on-one conversation, in a group setting, and even on the fly. Let’s go through a couple real examples.

A NEW TEAM, A NEW MARKET

Jennifer was a leader in an American business preparing to launch its product in the Chinese market. As you probably know, that country requires a very specific strategy to enter successfully. Early in the planning stages, Jennifer could sense some discomfort with her team members, many of whom were of Chinese descent. As a result of their cultural background they were used to directive leadership, but Jennifer did not want to be a directive leader; she wanted to draw out the leadership acumen and collective expertise of her stakeholders. Jennifer scheduled a planning summit and defined the focus on the go-to-market launch of this new product. She understood the risks of an American company entering the Chinese market, and framed the pre-work as a way to share the responsibility of preparation and thus meaningful participation in the summit. When the team members convened they each took turns sharing. As they saw their inputs being incorporated into the plan, it empowered them to take a more active role in shaping the solutions for their customers and their organization. For a new team having never worked together before, this was foundational. Inclusive leadership was now embedded into the organization’s DNA, and Jennifer felt relieved that she didn’t have to carry the whole burden of responsibility herself. She could share responsibility with her trusted team members.

I like how something as abstract as inclusive leadership can be ingrained so early on in a team’s development. What about when a leader is notorious for being non-inclusive?

We all know leaders that are perceived as domineering and non-inclusive.

BUILDING LOYALTY IN A GROUP SETTING

Ravi was a leader at a company focused on how to build customer loyalty. He was known for being a domineering leader. In fact, Ravi had a big reputation of running right over people and not being an inclusive leader, so he decided to use Taking People to the Window as an opportunity to do things differently. He defined the focus and convened an offsite, asking the attendees to do the pre-work: The opportunities they saw to build customer loyalty, the questions to be asked and answered, the issues they saw, and the risks that needed to be managed. He invited every stakeholder who would be invested in engaging and retaining customers, totaling about 14 mid-level managers across eight functional areas. In light of existing perceptions, he decided that he would present last, after all the other attendees had shared. What happened at the end was just as remarkable as what didn’t happen: The attendees didn’t hear Ravi’s usual debate or claims that they were all wrong. When the meeting ended, he turned to the group and said, “Based on what you all have described in taking us all to the window, I have changed my core position about what we should do to increase customer loyalty.” The people sitting at the table were speechless. They could not believe what had just happened. Afterwards, they thanked him for creating a space where there could be meaningful dialogue and where diversity of opinion was valued. Ravi’s self-awareness and intellectual curiosity had driven a great result for the business and its people.

So it seems like this model works well for shifting people’s existing opinions and perceptions. What about for a leader who is not at the top of the org chart?  That’s a good question. Let me tell you about Ed. 

ON THE FLY

Ed was the head of finance in a business group that was growing in size. At that time, the stakeholders in that business group viewed Ed as the “controller” of resources, a “piggy bank with a pulse.” One day he found himself in a large conference room, sitting through a presentation by this group of stakeholders requesting approval of additional headcount for a new business initiative. Everyone was very well-prepared and had done their respective pre-work. Suddenly, Ed spoke up. “I think there may be some things that you are missing, things that if you were to examine them you would want to potentially allocate headcount differently.” As the financial steward of the group, Ed saw an opportunity to shepherd his peers through the process of going “to the window.” First, Ed took them to the window to review the new business opportunity, the landscape he saw, the issues that were likely to surface, the anticipated switching costs that had not yet been considered. After he had done that, he gave everyone else a chance to go to the window and share their perspectives. After a meaningful discussion, he was able to change the group’s perception of him: From a “blocker” who was always slowing down progress to an “enabler” who could facilitate the refinement of a business initiative. In this case, there was an existing forum where a leader was able to deploy “Taking People to the Window” on the fly because he had a meeting with a well-defined focus, the right group of people and the right level of preparation.

____________________

So there are clearly many ways to apply this model of inclusive leadership. No matter how you decide to use it, you will be taking concrete steps toward building a stronger organization. In my work as an organizational consultant, I frequently meet people who don’t feel empowered and are thus unmotivated in their work. This model provides the blueprint for you to lead from a place of collective empowerment, no matter your title.

For the sake of convenience, I’ve embedded a detailed step-by-step guide in the Prezi below. I would encourage you to review it, use it as your reference guide the next time you need to “take people to the window,” and share how it worked for you using the comments section below.


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