McKinsey PEI: Inclusive Leadership Explained

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Last Updated on January 31, 2024

In today’s business world, strong leadership and inclusion are key factors for success. Companies that employ bold and caring leaders enjoy a competitive advantage, and those that don’t risk losing talent, innovation, and ultimately, revenue.

As such, consulting firms like McKinsey & Company are looking for candidates who possess the skills to lead diverse teams effectively. This is where the McKinsey PEI (Personal Experience Interview) comes into play. In this article, we’ll be discussing one of the dimensions of the McKinsey PEI, Inclusive Leadership, and how to master it to impress your interviewer.

What is McKinsey’s Definition of Inclusive Leadership?

Inclusive Leadership is the ability to lead a diverse group of individuals and make everyone feel valued, included, and empowered. It requires leaders to create a sense of belonging and to encourage and promote diverse thinking. According to McKinsey, Inclusive Leadership is all about “harnessing the power of diverse thinking to drive results” and “leading people with different backgrounds to create belonging where everyone can be at their best.”

Inclusive Leadership is one of the four key dimensions assessed in the McKinsey PEI, alongside Personal Impact, Courageous Change, and Entrepreneurial Drive, the latter of which is mostly discontinued.

McKinsey PEI Questions on Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive Leadership is one of the dimensions assessed in the McKinsey PEI interview. As a part of the McKinsey interview process, you will be asked to share a story from your life or career that demonstrates your ability to lead in an inclusive way. Interviewers might ask about a “leadership challenge you have encountered.” The way the question is phrased is not important. No matter the phrasing, the same dimensions are evaluated.

Now that the question is out of the way, how should you answer it?

A Perfect Inclusive Leadership Story

To ace your McKinsey PEI question on Inclusive Leadership, you need to demonstrate that you possess the skills to lead a diverse team to achieve challenging goals. The interviewer will ask you about a situation where you led a team through a challenging time to achieve a certain goal. For this dimension, you need to show the following:

Trait AssessedDescription
Handling Diverse GroupsShow ability to lead a group with diverse backgrounds, cultures, hierarchy levels, experiences, and opinions.
Tailoring Leadership StyleAdapt your leadership approach to different group dynamics and members, demonstrating empathy and understanding.
Team Success FacilitationIllustrate your skill in structuring, dividing, and delegating tasks, along with setting work plans and deadlines, and maintaining effective communication.
Motivation and Team SpiritExhibit how you motivate your team, boost team spirit, and foster a cohesive working environment.
Creating a Comfortable Sharing EnvironmentEnsure that every team member feels comfortable sharing ideas and opinions, and empower each individual.
Focus on Individual DevelopmentExpress genuine interest in the well-being and individual development of each team member.
Conflict Resolution and Collaborative Problem-SolvingHandle conflicts between team members and project goals effectively, promoting collaborative solutions.

Overall, showcase that your presence as a team leader had a positive impact on the team and led to a strong outcome for a particular project or task. It is important to note you do not necessarily need to be an official leader. You can also be an informal leader and your actions need to demonstrate that you were a leader in that situation (e.g., maybe you took a step-up opportunity and rose to the challenge once you saw that the team is not making any progress).

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Mistakes to Avoid When Discussing Inclusive Leadership in the PEI

When answering McKinsey PEI questions on Inclusive Leadership, there are several mistakes that candidates often make. Avoid these common pitfalls to make sure your answers are on point:

  1. Not focusing on diversity: Inclusive Leadership is all about leading a diverse team. McKinsey changed this a couple of years back from just “Leadership.” Make sure you highlight the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of the team members you worked with.
  2. Not providing enough context or background information: It’s essential to provide a clear picture of the situation, the people involved, and the challenges faced to help the interviewer understand the context of your story better.
  3. Not talking about your actions: It’s also crucial to emphasize your role in the story and the actions you took to address the situation. The interviewer wants to know how you demonstrated Inclusive Leadership and how you overcame any obstacles to achieve the goal. So be specific and provide examples of how you motivated, supported, and empowered others to work towards a common goal. Avoid the overuse of the word “We.” Otherwise, it sounds like you were part of it but not the driving force in this situation (a.k.a. the leader).
  4. Not sharing the results: Another mistake that candidates make is not highlighting the impact of their actions. It’s essential to demonstrate how your Inclusive Leadership skills helped the team achieve its goals and the impact it had on the team, the organization, or even the community. The story needs a happy ending.

Finally, be prepared to answer follow-up questions. The interviewer may ask for more details or ask you to elaborate on certain aspects of your story. So be ready to provide additional information or examples that illustrate your Inclusive Leadership skills further.

Inclusive Leadership Example Stories

Below I have compiled two sample stories on a higher level. You could use them to take some building blocks for the foundation of your own personal and authentic stories. These are just starting ideas as during the live interviews, interviewers will dig a lot deeper to discuss the situation over 10-15, sometimes even 20 minutes. Interviewers will dive deeper and ask many follow-up questions to understand your actions and behaviors in great detail.

Leadership in a Professional Context

First, let’s look at a story from a professional context:

In my previous role as a team lead at SoftwareCo, I had the opportunity to manage a dynamic team of sales managers, each coming from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and professional experiences. Recognizing the value of this diversity, I committed myself to fostering an environment where every team member felt included and appreciated. This commitment involved taking time to understand each individual’s unique strengths, challenges, and perspectives, building a connection that went beyond just professional interactions.

A particular instance that stands out in my memory is a challenging project we undertook, which required a diverse range of inputs and expertise. To navigate this complexity, I implemented regular brainstorming sessions, where I encouraged each team member to voice their ideas and suggestions, no matter how unconventional they might have seemed. This approach not only fostered open communication but also helped in breaking down hierarchical barriers, making everyone feel equally important and heard.

During these sessions, I paid close attention to the dynamics of the group, ensuring that quieter members were given space to express themselves. I realized that some team members were hesitant to share their ideas in a larger group, so I arranged one-on-one meetings to ensure their voices were also heard and valued.

The diversity of thoughts and approaches brought forth a spectrum of innovative solutions, enabling us to tackle the project with a fresh and multi-faceted strategy. My role involved synthesizing these ideas into a cohesive plan, aligning them with our project goals while respecting and celebrating the unique contributions of each team member.

I also placed a strong emphasis on providing continuous feedback and support. This wasn’t limited to just work performance but extended to personal development and well-being. I made sure to acknowledge individual efforts publicly, giving credit where it was due, which significantly boosted morale and fostered a sense of belonging among the team.

The culmination of these efforts was not just the successful completion of the project but also the development of a more cohesive and resilient team. By embracing and leveraging the power of diversity, we not only achieved our project goals but also laid down a strong foundation for future collaborative success. Through this experience, I learned the true essence of inclusive leadership – it’s about creating an environment where diversity is not just accepted but is seen as a key driver for innovation and success.

Inclusive Leadership PEI story in a professional context

Leadership in an Educational Context

Second, an educational context.

As a student, I had the opportunity to lead a diverse project team tasked with crafting a new marketing strategy for a local non-profit organization. Our team was a melting pot of various academic disciplines, with members hailing from marketing, communication, and social work backgrounds. Initially, our progress was hindered by a lack of organization and alignment, exacerbated by differing opinions that naturally arise in a group with such diverse perspectives.

Recognizing the need for structure and unity, I took the initiative to streamline our efforts. I established a regular meeting schedule, which was the first step towards bringing a sense of order and predictability to our collaboration. But more importantly, I wanted to ensure that these meetings were platforms for inclusive dialogue. At the start of each session, I encouraged every team member to share their ideas and viewpoints regarding the project. This practice was not just about listening; it was about genuinely understanding and valuing the unique strengths and experiences each person brought to the table. This approach helped to democratize our work process, ensuring everyone had a voice and felt like a vital part of the team.

As we delved deeper into the project, we faced a significant challenge in developing a dual-purpose messaging strategy that would resonate both with potential donors and the community served by the non-profit. This task required us to blend creativity with empathy and insight – qualities that our diverse team was well-equipped to provide. By actively seeking and valuing diverse perspectives, we were able to craft messaging that was not only inclusive but also deeply impactful. Each team member’s input was instrumental in shaping a final product that reflected a comprehensive understanding of our diverse audience.

I also prioritized incorporating feedback from all team members throughout the project. This practice was crucial in ensuring that everyone felt their contributions were not only heard but also acted upon. It was a continuous loop of communication, feedback, and improvement that kept the team engaged and motivated.

Through my leadership, I strived to create an environment where diversity of thought was not just welcomed but was seen as our greatest asset. By the project’s end, we had not only developed a compelling marketing strategy that effectively addressed the needs of both donors and the community but also forged a team that was stronger, more unified, and more cohesive. The experience was a profound lesson in the power of inclusive leadership – it highlighted how a leader’s role is not just to lead but to unite and harness the collective strength of diverse talents towards a common goal.

Inclusive Leadership PEI story in an educational context

In conclusion, Inclusive Leadership is an essential skill for any management consultant, and it’s a core part of the McKinsey PEI interview. To answer these questions successfully, you need to demonstrate that you can lead a diverse team, both formally and informally, with empathy, motivation, collaboration, and teamwork. Remember to provide enough context, highlight your role, actions, and impact, and be prepared to answer follow-up questions. By doing so, you will show the interviewer that you have the skills and experience to be a successful management consultant at McKinsey.

Preparing for the Inclusive Leadership Dimension in the McKinsey PEI

When preparing for the Inclusive Leadership dimension of the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI), it’s essential to reflect deeply on your past experiences. This will help you identify and articulate situations where you demonstrated the key qualities of an inclusive leader. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you prepare effectively:

  1. Identify Two Relevant Situations: Start by thinking of at least two instances where you exhibited inclusive leadership qualities. These situations can be drawn from a professional setting, your time at university, or any extracurricular activities you’ve been involved in. Look for examples that showcase your ability to lead and work effectively with diverse groups, adapt your leadership style, facilitate team success, and resolve conflicts.
  2. Contextualize Your Stories: Ensure that your chosen stories are contextually rich and relevant. They should clearly demonstrate your leadership skills in action, focusing on scenarios where you had a significant impact. The context could include leading a project team, organizing a university event, or spearheading a community initiative. Remember, the more diverse and challenging the situation, the better it reflects on your ability to handle complexity and diversity.
  3. Structure Your Story with the SCORE Framework: Utilize the SCORE (Situation, Complication, Outcome Expectation, Remedial Actions, End Result) Framework to structure your stories. While all aspects of SCORE are important, place a special emphasis on the ‘Remedial Actions’ part. This section should vividly detail the specific actions you took to address the challenges and lead your team effectively. It should highlight how you adapted your leadership style to different individuals, facilitated task delegation, motivated the team, and managed conflicts.
  4. Practice with Peers or Professionals: Discuss your stories with friends, peers, or professional case coaches who have a deep understanding of the McKinsey PEI format and the nuances of the Inclusive Leadership dimension. They can provide valuable feedback on the clarity, impact, and relevance of your stories, and suggest areas for improvement. Practicing aloud will also help you refine your storytelling skills and ensure that your narratives are coherent and engaging.
  5. Anticipate Follow-up Questions: McKinsey interviewers often probe deeper into your stories with follow-up questions. Anticipate what these questions might be and prepare thoughtful responses. Common questions might include, “What were your feelings during this challenge?” or “Why did you choose a particular course of action?” Be prepared to discuss your thought process, emotions, and the rationale behind your decisions in detail. This preparation will help you respond confidently and effectively during the actual interview.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to identify and articulate compelling stories that demonstrate your inclusive leadership qualities. This thoughtful preparation will help you impress your McKinsey interviewers.

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