By Sarah Wells
Over the last few weeks I have been interviewing, reading, and gathering stories about what it means to be an Inspiring Leader and I am SO excited to share the amazing insights that have been shared with me!
Many of my interviewees identified similar character traits as “inspiring” but each person had a unique story of how those character traits came to life through a leader they worked with.
Check back each day as we roll out this Inspiration Leadership Series, and learn the many ways you can sharpen your inspirational leadership skills.
Inspirational LeadershipJun 08, 2022
Inspiring Leadership with Sandra Shime
Inspiring Leaders are Curious, Consistent, & Confident
In my conversation with Sandra Shime, who is the alternate chair of the workplace safety & insurance tribunal, she articulated that leaders can be inspiring when they follow the 3 C’s. Be Curious, Consistent & Confident.
Sandra told me that the assumption we often make when we meet someone inspiring is that they have something “special”. Something that is so different than what we have, that we would never be able to be like the person we look up to. But Sandra feels passionately about reminding us that the people we find inspiring often have had to put in some work to get to where they are or who they have become.
That is integral to remember because it gives us the growth mindset we need to recognize they are not distinctly different from us, they may have just had more time to refine their skillset.
How can you work towards building the skillsets people find inspiring?
Well, Sandra suggests we start with being curious. Simply finding something you care about, even just a little, so that you can begin to sift through what you do and do not like.
Then as you are pulled by your curiosity, it is important to remain consistent. Keep showing up, chipping away at your craft, seeking opportunities, letting one door open another.
And as you’re doing that, you’ll suddenly notice that you’ve built up some confidence in your area of expertise. The result is that you too can hold yourself with the same poise and confidence that will have others looking at you as their source of inspiration.
Inspirational Leadership with Cal Misener
Inspiring leaders are passionate.
Cal Misener, who is a Culture Champion and Operations manager at TELUS, spoke with me over video chat and I swear there was energy exuding through my computer screen during our conversation about inspirational leadership. He is certainly passionate about his work!
Cal told me that he strives to find meaningful alignment in his work, and he takes great pride in ensuring that he enables his team to do the same. Cal believes we can be a more inspiring leader when we foster passion in ourselves and others.
But what does that mean?
Yesterday in a really interesting post by my amazing friend and fellow speaker, Laura Gassner Otting (linked in comments), she highlights that “following your passion” is bad advice and it is instead we need to think about passion as an active investment, not a passive wait-until-you-suddenly-crave-to-do-your-work feeling.
When I spoke with Cal, I realized he was talking about that *active* passion. Cal told me that he finds opportunity to invest in his work, explores things that interest him, stays curious, and reshapes elements of his job that lead to future opportunities which light him up a little more.
Cal noted that if we can empower people to “be passionate”, which is really is about helping them stay curious and lean into their strengths, then they are more likely to put in the discretionary effort that some may label as passion.
So my take away, Inspiring leaders are passionate. Not in the way that is a they-found-their-calling kind of thing, but instead that they are so willing to do the work, to keep “swimming” and find the next thing that brings them a bit more energy. They work for passion. And that is inspiring.
Curious to hear what everyone else thinks. How do you define passion? Does it exist? And if so, how do you know if you’re feeling it?
Inspirational Leadership with Melissa Allen
Melissa once met a speaker who was also the CEO of a marketing agency. This leader was sharing an experience he had when one of his biggest clients unexpectedly did not renew their contract. This particular client accounted for a huge chunk of the company revenue and so this leader knew that if that revenue wasn’t coming in, he would have to lay off dozens of people who had their own bills to pay.
As soon as he realized this, he got to work on the phones all night, calling up past clients, current clients, non clients, all trying to book new business. Apparently he was in the office all night writing emails, leaving voicemails, and having conversations so that he would not have to let his team down.
It resulted in him winning enough new business that he did not have to lay anyone off.
Melissa said that hearing that story was such a privilege early on in her career because she saw what it meant to take true responsibility for your team, your company, and do what needs to be done to ensure that everyone is taken care of.
Now that Melissa is in a place of leadership as Executive Director of LOI, she has vowed to herself that she will always be there fighting for her team, fighting for the company, and fighting for the mission she is on.
So how can we cultivate responsibility in our work?
- Have compassion - Looking outward, take the time to connect and care for your team and stakeholders who are on this journey with you.
- Connect your work to your Why - Looking inward, how does the work you do enable you to be the person you want to be
- Understand what’s at stake - Looking broadly, reflect on what is at stake of being lost if you or your team do not deliver on your “promises” or deliverables. If you’re not the one to take on this challenge, what is the impact that could or could not take place.
Inspirational Leadership with Maryann Young
Inspiring Leaders ask great questions.
During my conversation with Maryann Young from Queens Smith School of Business I was reminded of the power of really great questions.
Maryann told me about an inspiring leader who helped her grow into her current position as Associate Director of the Masters of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Smith School of Business. Originally Maryann was hesitant to take on the additional responsibility and didn’t know if she would be the right fit. Her inspiring leader encouraged her to question why she felt she may not be “ready”. He took the time to listen but also asked questions like “What is holding you back?”, and “How might we overcome those challenges?”
Whether you’re having a conversation about career path or problem solving for a project, sometimes it can feel easier to just tell someone what to do. We want to save them the time and agony of figuring it out on their own, but ultimately we do not create an opportunity for learning that way. Being able to provide the support and the appropriate questions to help them arrive at an answer on their own can be far more powerful.
In Maryann’s case, her leader understood that this was a difficult decision for her, he didn’t tell her she “should”, or bully her into making the decision. He simply asked great questions that challenged her to reflect. Eventually Maryann saw what he had seen the entire time and is now happier than ever at work in her new role.
Maryann’s advice to start becoming a more inspirational leader today is:
- Let people know that your door is open - give permission to your team to come to your office and be vulnerable and discuss what’s really going on for them.
- Stay curious and ask questions - You can get a lot more out of your team when you ask things like: “How can I help?”, “What do you need?”, “What would make this easier for you?”, “What are the challenges”
Inspired by this conversation with Maryann, what is a great question you’ve been asked?
Inspirational Leadership with Carmen Spencer
The incredible Carmen Spencer is Sr Director in People Experience at Sony Music Entertainment and last week she shared her perspective about what makes a leader inspirational.
A few years ago Carmen worked with an inspirational leader, Richard Lan, who she says inspired who she is as a leader today. Early in Carmen’s career she had the impression that work was about the hours you put in. She assumed that if she logged off for 2 hours mid day, she must let her boss know she was going to log back on 2 hours that evening to make up for it. Fortunately when working with Richard he told her, “As long as you’re getting your job done, I don’t care how many hours you’re logged on for”.
This stuck with Carmen, because she realized Richard had a mindset that focused on what was important and got the most out of his people. He realized that everyone works a little differently and that it wasn’t about the hours someone put in, and instead it was about the quality of work they could deliver. To Carmen this was inspirational because it showed her Richard truly listened to his team members and saw them as individuals, he empowered them to get their job done in the way that works best for them, and he knew that what was best for the company was to focus on the output and the goal, not micromanage how they got there.
Inspirational Leadership with Jess Jennings
Jess told me a story about a time she accepted a role that was brand new. She told me it was exciting because she was going to be able to carve her own path in this new role that had never existed before, but that was also what made it a little bit scary. The mandate was fluid and though the role came with expectations and deliverables, how she got to those deliverables was undefined.
Luckily for Jess, she had an inspiring leader who trusted her ability to think critically, try things, and make decisions that she felt would be most beneficial for the organization - because at the end of the day that’s why she was hired! She felt safe to experiment and think differently, and sometimes that didn’t work out, but sometimes it did and that was where magic was created.
The line that struck me the most while Jess was describing all this was, “He trusted me to do my job and he knew that there were many ways to answer the same question.” What I loved about that was, Jess found her leader to be inspiring NOT because he had the right answer, but because he DIDN’T.
He created a space of mutual trust. HE trusted Jess to do her job, and SHE trusted that he would be there to support her and encourage her to try-fail-learn. This led to Jess feeling truly supported and inspired by her work. Jess attributes her ability to achieve some incredible things during her time in that role to this very inspiring leader.
Trust your team. As Jess says, that’s why they were hired!
Inspirational Leadership with Kath Carter
We know that leaders show confidence, but Kath believes that true confidence allows a leader to put her ego aside and be fully present and invested in her team. I’m lucky to have Kath as a friend and mentor through EY’s Women in Sport and Business program and have felt her investment in me, which has encouraged me to set more ambitious goals. That’s the power of inspirational leadership.
If you want to show up this way for your team, Kath offered the following advice:
1. Figure out what your team needs to feel love, trust, and respect; everyone needs to feel this support to be in the best mindset to perform
2. Go beyond your 1:1 relationships and take responsibility for developing more connected teams; this creates an ecosystem that fosters growth and creativity
3. Be intentional about creating moments; punctuate each person’s experience with opportunities for team connection, individual achievement, and personalized recognition
My hope is that we can create more managers like Kath.
Inspirational Leadership with Janelle Sasaki
During our conversation, Janelle told me that "Mentorship is a start. If you're having challenges, a mentor can give you advice and share stories about lessons they’ve learned or how they've built their own leadership skills. But sponsors will take it to the next level. They will talk about you to the key decision makers. They will consider you for prime opportunities. They will advocate for you and give you the career opportunities that will move you ahead. Because they believe in your potential.”
Hearing these words from Janelle resonated so deeply with me. When I think about the leaders I truly admire, the ones I want to emulate, I see that those people are sponsors to others. They lift the people around them up, they help people succeed, and they find opportunities that will help their team grow. This ultimately enables the greater "machine" to operate more efficiently, more effectively, and with great joy and capacity.
So my question for anyone reading this is, where can you become a sponsor and not just a mentor?
Inspirational Leadership with Zabeen Kirji
Inspiring leaders bring their humanity to work.
During my conversation with the amazing Zabeen Hirji, we discussed how the pandemic has shone a light on the power of humanizing ourselves. Zabeen explained to me, “During the pandemic we were authentic in so many ways. We were seeing people in a way we had never seen before, we were seeing their homes, their kids, their pets, and that really humanized us and brought us together in this very connected way”.
She said that it can be inspiring when we see our leaders without a “mask”. When we feel we get to know the real person behind the title, we can feel united in a way we may never have felt before.
This increased connection draws people in to contribute and creates the psychological safety that helps a team be more creative, more collaborative, and can lead to more innovative solutions.
Zabeen said we have so much to learn from the last 2 years that have humanized us more than ever before. It is her mission to help others turn this moment into a movement by incorporating #empathy, #compassion, and #wellbeing into our daily behaviours and embedding them into organizational cultures.
I was encouraged while listening to Zabeen provide this incredible insight because I was witnessing the impact in real time. I was virtually “in” Zabeen’s home and I could tell she was sharing the real her! Her stories were wrapped in enthusiasm showcasing her personality and her insights were balanced between, “here’s what I know” and “here’s what I am looking to continue to learn”. Zabeen showed me her human side, and in the matter of 20 minutes, I felt like I had known her for years.