Sixty years ago, Bob Dylan’s stripped-down folk album “The Times They Are A-Changin’” turned the singer/songwriter into the voice of a generation. Strumming on an acoustic guitar and blowing on an ever-present harmonica, Dylan took on poverty, racism and societal upheaval in a way that few artists had ever attempted.

Encapsulating his era and the times, Dylan warned those who fought progress, singing, “Your old road is rapidly agin’ / Please get out of the new one / If you can’t lend your hand.” Then the familiar refrain about the changing times the world faced – perhaps just as prophetic today as it was then in describing the turbulent transformation the world is experiencing.

Rather than examine the upheaval from a macro-level, however, I am focusing on how Dylan’s call for change provides a new way to think about what we as senior leaders can do on a very personal level to affect change. Really, this was the singer’s aspiration – inspire and amplify individual progress that would snowball to change the world.

New leadership for a new era

Dylan railed against critics who attacked ideas they didn’t understand. See a corollary with today’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) skeptics? What it takes to lead today – and what it will take to be successful as Gen Z arrives en masse in the workplace – is undergoing wholesale change. Yet, critics use DEI as a rhetorical bomb to stir up political discord and divisiveness.

Organizations that plan to win, however, are going to turn to inclusive leadership. As we define it at The Diversity Movement, “Inclusive leadership is the ability to instill in others a sense of being valued for their uniqueness and belonging in the organization or team, while maintaining the ability to meet organizational financial and business outcomes.”

This new vision of inclusive leadership is not just based on opinion. This analysis is derived from 500,000 data touchpoints from engagements with clients and discussions with C-suite executives from across the globe. Whether advising senior leadership teams or working with teams that want to empower their employee resource groups (ERGs), I’m hearing the same question over and over – how do we create authentic culture change?

Strong return on investment and greater profitability

Why does it matter? Let’s put this in terms that every CEO can understand: will diversity-led initiatives make me money, save me money, and mitigate risk? Inclusive leadership hits every one of these points with a resounding “yes!”

Let’s take, for example, employee engagement. What we know for sure is that upwards of 65% of American workers do not feel engaged at work. They aren’t inspired, don’t understand how their work reflects the company’s goals and, as a result, aren’t efficient or especially innovative. Most organizations around the world face similar challenges when trying to keep employees engaged.

But, what great things happen when employees are engaged? According to research by Jim Harter, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Workplace, for Gallup and bestselling author of Culture Shock, “Engaged employees are more present and productive; they are more attuned to the needs of customers; and they are more observant of processes, standards and systems.” Here’s the critical takeaway: “Taken together, the behaviors of highly engaged business units result in a 23% difference in profitability.”

Inclusive leadership in action

The definition of workplace excellence has shifted in lockstep with the cultural changes that have swept organizations worldwide. The global transformation we’re experiencing demands a paradigm shift. One truth stands unshaken – no individual leader can outpace the prowess of a high-functioning team. So, how do we layer inclusive leadership on top of this team focus?

The link seems to be at the intersection of inclusive leadership, culture transformation and how these attributes lead to stronger employee engagement. The current reality persists – good teams remain an elusive asset – but the key to unlocking the power of engagement resides in a leadership mindset shift to inclusion. Culture, once a peripheral concern, now sits at the core of organizational success, directly tied to the well-being and sense of belonging of each team member.

The new leadership era is on display at BAYADA Home Health Care, where culture-building has transformed how the organization responds to global health care needs.

“I think the places where we really think about standing out are being anchored to a sense of long-term commitment to the community, along with a culture that unifies both purpose and performance. I do think that leading change and innovation in healthcare services requires a long-term view,” says CEO David Baiada.

“We think that the real leaders, in the long run, will be those that are people-centered and are thinking about how to build a movement and inspire a community of connected team members that are really trying to make a difference in the homes of our clients and their families,” he explains. “I think a lot of people don’t adequately spend time thinking about the talent implications of the growth of services in the home and the culture implications, so we see a really important opportunity to stand out as it relates to talent and culture.”

Prioritizing culture – being “people-centered” – takes real effort by leaders. But, the payoff is enhanced employee well-being and stronger work satisfaction, which leads to sustainable success. And, it’s this kind of culture-first mentality that led Newsweek to name BAYADA among America’s greatest workplaces for diversity two years in a row.

What leaders like David Baiada understand – and Dylan saw back in the early 1960s – is that championing a people-first outlook can start a revolution. Inclusive leadership aligns team interests with broader organizational objectives, ushering in a true “win-win” mentality. It goes beyond rhetoric, recognizing that diversity, equity and inclusion are not mere corporate jargon, but serve as the bedrock of robust relationships and sustainable workplaces.

Yet, becoming a culture-centric leader is not easy. Gallup’s Harter explains, “This means a culture of engagement is no longer an option – it is an urgent need.” He views an “engaging work environment” as a “fundamental expectation,” if not met, will cause employees to leave, most likely to your competitor.

For leaders proactively changing with the times, inclusive leadership allows them to tap into the collective intelligence of diverse teams, fostering innovation and prioritizing well-being.

Reflecting the wisdom of Peter Drucker – the original management thought leader – who famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” today’s leaders are realizing that navigating change demands more than strategic acumen. Compassion and resilience are indispensable tools for steering teams and individuals through the complexities of the global business landscape.

Free copy of TDM Leaderview EBook

Before you go, download TDM LeaderView: Elevate Team Performance Through Inclusive Leadership, an eBook that provides detailed analysis of inclusive leadership and TDM’s LeaderView product, an innovative way to assess whole-team skills across seven professional competencies. Leadership groups that have used LeaderView report increased team productivity, retention and organizational impact. Get your copy here.

About Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 SE Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement (TDM) to fundamentally transform the modern workplace through diversity-led culture change. TDM was recently acquired by Workplace Options, which brings holistic wellbeing services to more than 80 million people in more than 200 countries and territories across the globe. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics.

Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. TDM has created LeaderView, a leadership assessment tool that uses cultural competency as a driver for improving whole team performance. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.