‘Some people listen and some people wait to speak’

Gemma Greaves, Co-Founder of Nurture and Cabal, on why creating safe spaces is a must for inclusive leadership

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


“Everyone in the room has a voice and as leaders, we need to create that space where people can be really heard."

Gemma Greaves (She/Her), Co-Founder of Nurture and Cabal, is a believer in the power of honest and uncomfortable conversations. So much so that her award-winning podcast is called Are You Sitting Uncomfortably?, where she invites guests to share previously untold stories.

At Rise this year she hosted a ‘Fishbowl’ on inclusive leadership. “Inclusive leadership is all about creating a safe space where we harness the power of our collective differences and where people feel truly valued, heard and respected”, she explains.

The event marks the third Fishbowl that Greaves has hosted at Rise, a concept which was born out of her drive to create a space where the audience could become the focus and take part. Greaves, who was formerly CEO of The Marketing Society, built her legacy on a global ‘brave’ agenda which pushed boundaries and tackled taboos. She went on to put that bravery into practice, branching out into entrepreneurialism with the launch of Nurture, a business designed to supercharge change and connect the dots between people, ideas and opportunities.

Some people listen and some people wait to speak. Inclusive leaders embrace the art of listening.

Gemma Greaves, Founder of Nurture and Cabal

Fishbowls have historically been used in coaching circles, but Greaves has taken the concept across the globe. At her sessions, leaders have talked publicly about vulnerable and personal experiences spanning from mental health to sexual harassment, sharing things which are often left unsaid.

“There is nothing better than empowering people to speak genuinely from the heart. I find our fishbowls terrifying and brilliant in equal measure, the format relies on people authentically stepping forward and sharing, and that takes vulnerability and courage.”

The stories shared at these Fishbowls have created positive ripple effects across the industry. They serve to remind people that they are not alone; courage is collective.

The truth about bringing your whole self to work

Creating a genuinely safe space where employees feel able to share their opinions is not always easy to do, yet in many ways it is the foundation of inclusive leadership.

“The truth is that fear of sounding stupid really holds people back,” explains Greaves. She continues: "From my experience, a lot of the time people sit in meetings too nervous to speak, which is such a waste of talent and good ideas.”

This silence also contributes to workplace conflict. Greaves explains: “The amount of people who I mentor who say that someone at work is affecting their confidence and morale, resulting in them feeling they can’t speak out, is palpable.”

Listening is key to inclusive leadership

Active listening is a crucial, yet arguably underutilised, benchmark of inclusive leadership. Consider how many times you sit in a meeting waiting to speak, rather than actually listening to other people’s points of view. “Listening is such an important skill,” explains Greaves “I always say to my son Josh, you have two ears and one mouth, try and use them in that order, which is normally greeted with an eye roll!”

She continues: “Some people listen and some people wait to speak. Inclusive leaders embrace the art of listening.”

For Greaves, this focus extends to encouraging a non-interrupting culture. “It is so important to create space to really understand your colleagues as individuals,” she explains. This can be from the very simple, such as realising who is a morning person (and who is not, like me) and giving your colleagues the grace and space of a cup of coffee before they start the day, to the more complex. For example, are you berating a colleague for a lack of attention to detail, when those mistakes are simply the Easter Eggs of dyslexic thinking?

Crucially, listening is an active verb, rather than a passive act. Inclusive leaders need to challenge themselves to not just prove they are good listeners, but to actively create the space where colleagues can speak their minds.

Greaves shares that a moment of clarity on her leadership journey came for her when hosting a Fishbowl on neurodiversity, and a colleague shared her challenges with dyslexia. “It was something that she was really holding as a secret and she had always felt she needed to hide this,” she explains.

It was an experience which Greaves says has not only made her look out for her colleagues and peers more, but has made her laser-focused on contributing to working environments which genuinely play to people’s individual strengths.

“Inclusive leadership is about creating the space to celebrate the individual and their differences,” she explains. According to research from the CMI and YouGov, 82% of leaders are accidental managers who haven’t had any training. Greaves believes that it is only natural that leaders might find themselves in situations where they are unsure of how to proceed.

Pointing to the disconnect between impact intended and impact felt, Greaves believes that it is easy for leaders to lack understanding of their real impact on others.

“You can’t be an inclusive leader if you don’t understand the shadow you can cast or the light you can shine. The more influence you have, the brighter that light can be, or the darker the shadow,” she explains.

As a leader who is not afraid to shine a light on the challenges and human complexity surrounding inclusive leadership, Greaves is successfully making a genuine difference, one story at a time.

To find out more about nurture and partners click here.


Photo credit: (C) BronacMcNeill

Related Tags

Inclusion Leadership RISE