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Michelle Ray is a Vancouver-based leadership expert. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Michelle Ray is a Vancouver-based leadership expert. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

LEADERSHIP LAB

How dressing like Catwoman earned me new business Add to ...

As the economy slid into a downturn, I was about to embark on a business road trip. Conrad, my manager, gave me a pep talk and, despite the adverse circumstances, showed complete confidence in me.

In the midst of the doom and gloom, we landed the rights to sell advertising on behalf of one of the largest cinema complexes ever constructed. Conrad charged me with the responsibility of making our latest business venture a success – a challenge when you have very few staff and clients who are hunkering down in “survival” mode.

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I quickly realized that I had only one option. I had to set an example on my trip by cold-calling local businesses in person.

The first visit did not go well. I called the office knowing that my boss would be my sounding board as I vented my frustration. Without offering any advice, he simply said: “I know you will find a solution.”

As I drove to my next destination, a flashing neon sign suddenly caught my eye: “Costumes for Rent.” I could barely contain my enthusiasm. Once inside, a shimmering black body suit caught my attention. I tried it on and looked in the mirror. “Holy heart failure, Batman! Can I really do this?” I was instantly transformed into Cold-Calling Catwoman – donning the cape, ears and mask for good measure. I could hardly wait to jump in my Batmobile and hit the streets. By the end of the day, I had six new contracts and generated thousands of dollars of new business.

I will never forget Conrad’s reaction when I told him about my cold-calling escapades. He listened without saying a word. The silence was deafening. After what seemed to be an eternity, he began to laugh uncontrollably, asking me to repeat the story to be sure he heard it correctly. He commended me for being an innovative, imaginative and bold manager. (By the way, I still have the outfit.)

My adventure proved to be an exhilarating, profitable and memorable experience. It taught me early in my career about the importance of leaders always having your back. Not only was Conrad the best manager I ever had, but his unqualified support of my initiatives, however far-fetched, allowed my resourcefulness to flow and inspired me to new heights.

Employing a leader like Conrad is beneficial for everyone, in any enterprise. Here are three reasons leaders should look out for their employees’ best interests:

1. Supportive leaders build employee loyalty

The actions of a leader are a powerful influence on employee behaviour. Numerous studies on the characteristics of sought-after workplaces highlight the critical role that leaders play in engaging and retaining employees. By inspiring individuals to be the best they can be, the organization as a whole will also realize the benefits that come from lower turnover and a happier atmosphere.

2. Supportive leaders build trust and initiative

By giving their team members autonomy, leaders can demonstrate trust in their ability to get the job done without supervision or suspicion. Employees who are performing at a high level want to be self-directed and are motivated by leaders who appreciate their capacity to be inventive.

3. Supportive leaders boost creativity and productivity

Leaders who give unequivocal permission to individuals and teams to harness their creativity are helping their organizations realize greater bottom-line benefits. As a result of letting their employees’ flights of fantasy take hold, leaders and teams experience a new level of passion and excitement for their work, one that is often contagious.

Conrad left an indelible mark on my career, even to this day. No one wants to work for a leader who does not have his or her back. Great leaders are flexible, accessible and support their employees unconditionally through good and bad times. The leader who understands how to motivate every team member by demonstrating steadfast support, regardless of the state of the economy, is the leader who will stand out from the crowd.

Michelle Ray (@MichelleRayCSP) is a Vancouver-based business keynote speaker, leadership expert, author and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute.

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