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Inspiring Leadership in the Workplace

By ATB Financial 5 November 2020 4 min read

“For the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”

So said Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu more than 2,600 years ago but his take on remarkable leadership remains relevant today, especially for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) seeking to elevate their staff to leadership roles while also inspiring them with a model to look up to on the company floor.

And even before your work on your own leadership capabilities, it’s also helpful to analyze your hiring process when your business is looking to bring into the team the type of employees brimming with resiliency, strategic thinking and bold ideas.


Hiring smart for your company culture

Finding new hires who can infuse your business with managerial thinking is difficult but important for your business. You might think you can’t gauge those leadership qualities from someone you meet for 30 minutes. After all, job candidates will aim to reply with the most positive answers to your questions.

You can still get a handle on their strengths and weaknesses beyond the CV by adding some fresh angles to the standard job interview. As the New York Times wrote, three principles can boost your chances of finding the right person for the job:

  • Be creative with your questions. Every candidate will be ready for ho-hum interview questions so you should discover new ways to truly understand how a person thinks.
  • Be challenging. Position the candidate in situations where they may be more likely to demonstrate who they truly are, beyond what’s on their CV.
  • Allow your employees to help. Since you’re not the only one who is going to have to work with this candidate, you should cull together a team of staffers you trust that will have to interact with this candidate every day. Their opinion should play a role in the interview.

Michelle Steil, senior organizational development specialist and professional coach with ATB, adds how it can be beneficial to ask candidates to share examples of when they’ve demonstrated exemplary leadership. “Look for how they might work through various challenges and in what situations they saw themselves shine,” she says.


To develop great leaders, mentorship matters

Do you remember looking up to a manager or colleague who always impressed you with either their accomplishments or work ethic? Such inspirational leadership can be cultivated in your business so your employees can learn from each other.

That’s where mentors-mentees come in, says Steil. To strengthen employees to feel comfortable taking leadership roles, you might consider pairing an experienced leaders with someone seeking advice and insight.

“Mentorship provides the mentees feedback and coaching, and places the mentee in a position to understand how they should react in various scenarios,” she says.

This kind of program needs structure and cohesion, so you might want to take the advice of BetterSMB’s post on laying out the key steps to developing this type of initiative:

  • Establish a meeting cadence of weekly or bi-weekly sessions.
  • Ask the mentee to create a meaningful meeting agenda and share it with the mentor in advance of each meeting.
  • Offer suggested discussion topics and goals for those who aren’t sure where to start.
  • Create “checkpoints” for the mentor and mentee to regularly provide feedback to the program manager.

How you can be a leader to inspire your employees

Now that you have the foundation in place to inspire your employees to level up, you have to do the hard work of fine-tuning your own leadership role.

“Command and control leadership style is no longer a successful blueprint for business success, "Steil notes. " You can't be an expert in everything, a great leader will understand the importance of collaboration and effectively using the team's strengths while having an overarching vision for the business that everyone is on board with, Steil notes.

Also, Steil adds, walking the talk builds trust and loyalty. She stresses that as a leader, you have to show by example what it means to be responsible and decisive, instead of just saying all the right things in company meetings or memos.

Strong leadership requires empathy and a learning mindset for each project or task. " If my boss responds to an error or mistake with scolding, blame or belittling, I know I am not in a safe place,” Steil says. “Model your behavior in order to show how you would like to be seen as a leader.”

Holding a position of authority might have you thinking that your staff will comply with your direction simply because of the corner office you occupy. Not so fast, according to the Harvard Business Review’s Manager’s Handbook. Communication and personality could tell your employees a lot about your leadership capabilities.

“You can’t simply announce a new professional development plan to your team; you also need to persuade them to take it seriously. You can’t just decide on a budget for your division; you also need to convince the executive team to allocate the funds. When you exercise influence, your people act because they find you personally persuasive—your character, your competence, your words or actions. You’re not making them do something. They’re choosing to do it because you are leading them effectively.”

Steil echoes this insight, remarking how inspiring leaders "bring the 'why' alive through clear short and long term goals so employees feel committed and can add real value. Great leaders translate a purpose and vision through their words and actions, creating an environment in which employees can thrive."

And that kind of workplace mirrors what Lao-Tzu said: If you’re an excellent leader, you’ll instill confidence and pride in your staff, so much so your accomplishments will feel like their prized trophies.


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