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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

"If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got," Albert Einstein once said.

I've always liked this quote, and I shared it with my employees a few months ago as we began our journey to restructure the way our teams operate. As I mentioned in a previous article, while this restructuring is evolutionary for our firm and will allow us to do better, smarter, more robust work for our clients, it's still a big transition for many of our employees, who simply due to human nature are naturally skeptical of change and uneasy in an environment of uncertainty.

Despite this inevitable uncertainty, however, this transition has also revealed those employees who exhibit true leadership potential – who acknowledge the challenges, yet have the confidence and foresight to see the benefits that the end result will bring.

Even if you're not currently going through a shift in your business, strong leaders reveal themselves under ordinary circumstances too. Of course, leaders deliver solid business results, but they also demonstrate less quantifiable behaviours, such as looking out for the best interests of the business, as opposed to their own; making a point of walking around the office to connect with others; sharing information freely; keeping themselves and their teams motivated; showing passion for their work; and ultimately, being great listeners. It's a winning combination of functional expertise and communication skills.

It's easy to assume that the natural leaders in your company will always display those winning qualities. But if the executive team doesn't make a conscious effort to lead those leaders – and that includes communicating with them frequently and openly – the trust that's so crucial to retaining and nurturing these top-performing employees will be lost.

In fact, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global study of trust, "treating employees well" is one of the most important things a company can do to build trust – yet both employees and executives alike say that companies can do better.

But how does treating employees well translate into nurturing leaders? Here are some key insights from my own experience and from Edelman's Employee Engagement team:

Enlist the C-suite as champions

Any behaviour that you want to instill across your company will only catch on fire if your executive team is fully on board first. Potential leaders look up the hierarchy for role models – so if your senior leaders aren't sold on upcoming changes, their skepticism will cascade throughout the company. The success of the implementation our reorganization was contingent upon our executive team's support and advocacy of it.

Offer opportunities to make an impact

Finding your company's purpose – its reason for being beyond making a profit – is a must in order to engage employees and foster leadership in the workplace. In fact, employees who say they can make a social or environmental impact while on the job report higher levels of job satisfaction than those who can't by a 2:1 ratio. At Edelman Canada, our annual corporate social responsibility initiative The Little Give is one example of how we've aligned purpose with our business competencies.

Encourage communication

Promoting a collaborative workplace environment and fostering a culture of advocating for the company can be a powerful form of ambassadorship. By engaging your up-and-coming leaders in the business, they will in turn have the skills and context to initiate conversations with their teams to explain new information, engage employees in dialogue, and agree on actions they will execute. An employee-suggested initiative that we've created is having a junior employee shadow me for a week. I've encouraged and stressed my expectation that he/she will participate in strategic discussions throughout the experience, and I've been amazed by the solid contributions that have been made.

Recognize your all-stars

Make a point of honouring the employees who demonstrate true leadership. This can be as simple as a handwritten thank-you note, recognition at your next staff meeting, or peer recognition awards. For example, twice a year, we hand out biannual "Q awards," which represent quality within the firm. Employees are voted on by their peers for their exceptional client service, team spirit, and more. These awards not only say thanks to the recipients, but they demonstrate to others the leadership qualities that are valued within the company.

Investing in your leaders allows you to minimize distractions caused by rumours and speculation; discover emerging issues early; retain top talent, and importantly, promote increased trust in executive leadership.

Lisa Kimmel (@lisakimmel) is president of Edelman Canada (@EdelmanTO). Edelman (@EdelmanPR) is the world's largest public relations firm.