It’s hard to be on the outside looking in, but that is the experience of many people in their work environment.

I worked for someone many years ago who believed in having an inner circle of what he deemed to be his superstars around him. These were his go-to people, the ones who got the great projects, were always in the know, and usually snagged invites to the “right” meetings and conferences. He firmly believed that one gained access to this inner sanctum of opportunity through merit, but I saw things differently.

From outside of that circle, it didn’t seem possible to break in. This group had power and information, and they weren’t looking to share it. And, of course, with the advantages inherent in being an inner circler, they continued to excel, get more and more visibility, and shine in their superstar status. The only problem was there were other strong performers who, if given the same opportunities, could have added even more value to the company.

Of course, on any team there are people with varying degrees of ability. Creating an inner circle runs the risk of exacerbating those differences. As a leader, creating what amounts to a caste system on your team pits colleagues against each other, deepens silos, damages morale, and leads to a toxic environment for everyone.

If you think this post has nothing to do with how you lead, ask yourself:

  • Who are my go-to people?
  • Who else might be capable of doing these tasks and projects?
  • What are the characteristics of this group? What makes them similar?
  • What have I personally done to develop people outside of that group?
  • With whom do I tend to share information that is not widely known?
  • How well do I know the people I lead?
  • Who are the first people who come to mind when I have a new project to assign?
  • Which team members may feel like they are on the outside looking in?

If any of your candid answers to these questions gives you pause, then think about what you can do to widen your view of your team. Start by reaching out to those team members you don’t know as well. Get curious about their interests, their knowledge, and their career goals. Consider what opportunities you can offer them.

It is human nature to gravitate toward those people on the team with whom we easily connect and who we believe we can rely on. As a leader, you have to actively practice more inclusive approaches and ensure that you are creating an environment where everyone feels a part of the inner circle with access to you, equal opportunity for growth, and a sense of belonging on the team.

What is your experience being in or out of the inner circle?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

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