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.

Sandra's Bio

Sandra is the Alternate Chair for the Workplace Safety & Insurance Appeals Tribunal. She also volunteers as a Diversity Equity & Inclusion executive and lead women in Leadership Toronto-U.S.


Sarah Wells: Hello, everyone. We have Sandra Shime here and I am very honored to be talking to Sandra who actually leads the diversity, equality, and inclusion at Women in Leadership. I have no doubt that you are a leading force of that group, and they’re lucky to have you, so thank you for joining me here today.

Sandra Shime: Thank you, Sarah. I’m so excited to speak to you today and to be part of this series that you’ve sponsored as part of your organization that’s doing amazing work out there in the world, inspiring young leaders and leaders in different industries, across the spectrum of business and law and technology.

Sarah Wells: Thank you so much. I appreciate that. As you know, we are looking for every definition of inspirational leadership, no matter. People are inspired by different things and every person’s experience and background will lead them to see inspiration in different ways and so I would love to know, what is Sandra’s definition of inspirational leadership?

Sandra Shime: Well, I think this is an interesting question ’cause I think my definition’s probably changed over the years as I’ve been in different workplaces, but I did hear a speech earlier this year, and I’ve adopted that mantra from a leader here in Toronto, and I’ve adopted her mantra, really, ’cause I thought she defined it really well. I’ve adapted it to my own, and so my definition of inspiring leadership is one to be curious, always be curious, and the second part of that is expose yourself to new people and new ideas, so never stop learning is really my definition. Never stop learning. Don’t ever believe that there isn’t somewhere or someone out there that you can’t still learn from and to always engage in that learning, so to me, inspiring leaders are people who will never stop being curious, going out there, seeking new ideas, seeking new input, and always being able to adapt and have a flexible mindset to absorb that new information into how they lead in their organizations or workplaces.

Sarah Wells: Oh, I love that definition so much because I feel similarly of I’m so inspired, you know those people at a party who ask zinger, great questions, and you’re like, “Wow, yes, that is a great question. I want to think like that,” it really is something that I can draw a lot of energy from and be inspired by when I see someone who is so curious and ask these really brilliant questions, so I really love that definition.

Sandra Shime: I work a lot with young women and leadership and one of the things I’ve also changed my mind about defining leadership is that leadership doesn’t just have to be a role or position in an organization. Many people think of leaders or inspiring leaders, someone who’s a CEO, a CFO, high-level executive, and I teach my mentees, my young women that I work with at high school university and law students that they can be leaders in their role wherever they are, whether that be as part of a club, whether that be among their peers, and so to me, also inspiring leadership is knowing that leadership can come in many forms. It’s not just a position that you have in a company or organization, it’s also just, how are you among your peers? Do you push your peers to think outside the box to advance themselves? That’s another aspect of leadership that I have learned to over the past few years to think about in a different way.

Sarah Wells: Yeah, almost like not hierarchical leadership, but kind of intercompany leadership, that it can happen at every level in every direction, absolutely.

Sandra Shime: Right, and at every age, right?

Sarah Wells: At every age.

Sandra Shime: That you can be 16 and be a leader among your peers, to push them to think in a different way, or to try something new. One of the things I like to do is try to have young women define themselves as leaders in their different spheres, as opposed to looking at leadership as something far away they can obtain when they’re 25 and working at an organization.

Sarah Wells: Yeah, absolutely. No, that’s brilliant. With this definition of staying curious, being flexible, understanding leadership at every level, or that leadership is at every level, where have you had an experience with an inspiring leader, or maybe a story of your own experience as an inspiring leader, but I’d love to know, who is someone that you encountered or had an interaction with that you’re like, “Wow, they were inspiring”? Who was it, what did they do, and what was the result of that?

Sandra Shime: I thought about this question because I knew it before the video podcast, so I thought about this. I came back to an experience I had when I was a lawyer. I was probably mid-career lawyer at that time and there was a senior lawyer there, she was a prosecutor, I was working at the time in Boston, Massachusetts as a prosecutor assistant district attorney, and there was a senior woman prosecutor. She prosecuted homicide cases.

Sandra Shime: While she was not a mentor to me, per se, I think she inspired me because I saw that she was someone who was the first female that I saw in a really strong leadership position at that time as a lawyer. I had not had extensive experience with female leaders in law yet at that time. The people in law primarily when I was in my sort of mid-career were male partners or heads of departments and I think the inspiration I got from her is that when she walked into a courtroom, she commanded respect and the reason she commanded respect and people would defer to her, and we’re talking about tough detectives, tough judges, defense counsel. These are really hardcore people in the legal world and they’re not giving anyone an inch.

Sandra Shime: I found that at the end of the day, you had to know your stuff, so she always knew her stuff. When you walked into that quorum, you have to sit and do the hard work. That inspired me to really, to spend a lot of time thinking, “What areas in the law am I good at?”, and become really good at it. Sometimes you have to sit in a room by yourself and just sit and do the hard work, so you can be curious, you can be open-minded, you can meet new people, but at the end of the day, what’s really going to inspire other people is you know what you’re doing, you know what you’re talking about, you have a command of your area of expertise. I know you know this better than anyone because as a Olympic athlete, you had to probably spend many hours alone training in the rain, in the cold.

Sarah Wells: Yeah.

Sandra Shime: There wasn’t really anyone out there with you, it was you just doing the grind to get where you want to go, so I think it was the same for me in law, watching her, and seeing she sat and did the hard work to be the best in her field. That’s what made her an inspiring leader because she knew she’s doing and that commanded the respect of those around her, so to me, it was inspiring watching her walk into a courtroom, prosecute murder cases, go up against all-male courtroom, other than her, and be able to commenter that room basically by her expertise and evidence in the case she was presenting, and by knowing she had that power from her knowledge of the evidence and facts and law.

Sarah Wells: Oh, wow. She sounds, yeah, like an infectious energy, for sure. I love how you’ve pointed out that it was her confidence, it was the way she held herself. Yeah, it wasn’t that she had a certain title, or a role, it was that the way she carried herself, which is something I think that is important to highlight because like to your point previously about leadership being at every level, that means you don’t need to wait till a certain title to be inspiring, to just carry yourself that way. It sounds like a big way of what you believe is the way she got that confidence was being curious, doing that work, constantly looking through every square inch that she possibly could, so she had a ton of, in her case, true evidence behind her. Is there any other way you maybe heard her mention or that you would suggest that someone can cultivate that sense of confidence through curiosity? Or maybe it’s confidence through a different avenue?

Sandra Shime: I think the confidence through curiosity is you start at that point, that’s the starting point, and then find what you love, or find something you care about, and just keep showing up. As you show up, you start to become part of whatever organization or item that you’re working with. Then the knowledge comes and with the knowledge comes the confidence. Her inspiration to me was she knew and had done the hard work on her own, sitting with the law books, with the facts of the case, and then her confidence came from that, so I think going back to that message is to be curious, but also you have to sit and do that hard work. The confidence comes from knowing your stuff.

Sandra Shime: One of the other things someone said in this mantra that I adopted after hearing a leader speak this year through Zoom is “Know what you’re good at and keep getting better at it,” so I think she knew she was good as a lawyer, as a prosecutor, ’cause she kept getting better at it. That’s my goal, too, and that’s something I’ve done is to figure out what I do well, and then keep working on that, and you bring in that curiosity and that confidence as you keep following that path of knowing what you do well, and keep at it.

Sarah Wells: I love that. I’m taking that note down ’cause I really love what you just said there of it’s almost like you start with being curious, then you find that momentum, you then are consistent. It’s like the three cs, it’s like you start with curiosity, then you’re consistent, and then you gather that confidence over.

Sarah Wells: So, you’ve already kind of alluded this and touched upon this, so if there’s anything else that comes to mind by all means, I’m curious if someone says like, okay, I want to be an inspiring leader tomorrow. I want to be more curious tomorrow to help me work, work towards that confidence. What is one action? What’s a small step that’s very manageable someone could do tomorrow if they’re like, “I’m going to do that”? What would you suggest?

Sandra Shime: That’s a really good point. I think actually it took me a long time to figure that out. I think I was more reserved and more shy earlier on in my career and I didn’t necessarily know how to pursue that. It’s interesting because as I’ve worked with young women this year and I see a lot of them come in being a little more shy or a little more reserved and I know you do a lot of work with young leaders and people in the workforce.

Sandra Shime: I think the thing I would say is join one thing that you’re interested in, and as I said, find what you’re good at, and keep at it. If you think, “I’m interested in politics,” or, “I’m interested in business,” or, “I’m interested in sports,” “I’m interested in law,” join one small club, and keep going, keep showing up.

Sandra Shime: A good message from this is my daughter, actually, she went to university, interviewed to be the first-year rep for a lot of clubs, got rejected from every single one of them, and I told her, “The one you’re really interested in has a conference. Just go volunteer yourself to help at that conference, even if it’s opening doors, or writing name tags,” and she did, she took that advice, and she just kept going. Of course, after six months, they said to her, “Hey, we want you to come and take more of a role,” and she then moved to the next level for the next year of being on the executive team, and ended up running and co-chairing the entire conference this past year.

Sarah Wells: Wow.

Sandra Shime: So, if you’re interested in something, just keep showing up, go find one small club, whatever that is, join, even if you’re the quiet person in the room. As we talked about, as you’re curious and you hear people talk and then you put in your ideas and thoughts, you gain that confidence, and then that will move you along to the next place, so that’s what I’d say to everyone, find that one thing you think you like, you think you’re interested in, and just find one club, whether it be at university, high school, or if you’re in the workplace, join a committee at your work, or join an organization outside your work, and just keep showing up, so even if you’re starting at the bottom, if you keep showing up, keep being curious, keep learning, you will eventually become part of that entity.

Sandra Shime: I think that builds confidence to then go do the next thing and build the next thing. As you know, Sarah, as you get into something that you are feel passionate about, it opens a lot of doors and paths to other people and other things. I mean, our conversation here today came from your inspiring work as a leader building leadership and came from my work with the women in leadership organization and also as the alternate chair to provincial government tribunal and led to us meeting and yeah and having this amazing conversation, so I would say start small.

Sarah Wells: Perfect.

Sandra Shime: Just join something that you care about and feel like you’re interested in and keep showing up.

Sarah Wells: Yeah, I think that’s awesome. You’re so right that no one’s sitting in their desk chair, whether like you said, at school or work and being like, “Okay, so I’ll do this and then I’ll do that and then I’ll do this and then I’ll go perfectly to plan and not even one hiccup will take place.” It’s like, no way, that’s so unrealistic. There’s going to be bumps in the road. There’s going to be something you didn’t expect. It’s simply a matter of, I think, absorbing, or being open to that opportunity. Like you said, one door leads to another door, leads to another door. Even if it’s not the path you thought you were going to walk down, more often than not, you’re grateful that it’s where it led you to where you are. I think I often will tell people too, who are afraid, like, “Yeah, but is it the right thing? Is that the thing I should be choosing?” I’ll often explain that every time we walk down a path, finding out something is not a thing is a thing.

Sandra Shime: Yeah, right. Right.

Sarah Wells: It is also productive. It is also helpful because-

Sandra Shime: Sometimes it’s more productive, right? Learning what you know you don’t want that helps push you to where you do belong or the skills.

Sarah Wells: Absolutely.

Sandra Shime: Like I said, knowing what you’re good at and moving along that path.

Sarah Wells: Yeah, absolutely.

Sandra Shime: I agree. I agree.

Sarah Wells: Yeah, so, no, I think that’s great advice. Find one thing and just start moving towards it and chip away consistently to build that confidence. Amazing. I love this. This is really, really cool. I think very tangible, not frightening to build towards that inspirational leadership, just find one thing. I think that’s important in a world that can feel very big and there’s a lot and we have to do it all and so that’s really, really great advice.

Sandra Shime: Right. I think also, just jumping on that, I think also we teach a lot for people to push themselves outside their box, outside their comfort zone, and I think that can be great advice, but I also think it can be great advice to find that sweet spot in your comfort zone, and do that. That also builds confidence. Like I said, if you’re interested in politics and you know, we have an election going on right now, here in the province, you can go volunteer and door knock, hand out pamphlets, you can just start small. As you move along, “This is an area, oh, I’m interested in, I’m good at talking to people,” for example, or, “I met some interesting people that made me think about policy or different issues,” so like I said, I don’t think you always have to push yourself outside the box. Sometimes I think that is a good message, but sometimes the message is find the thing inside the box that you’re comfortable and digging away that.

Sarah Wells: Absolutely.

Sandra Shime: So, I think we have to have those two messages to leaders out there and young leaders coming up through the ranks, whether it be in business with politics, law, etc.

Sarah Wells: Yeah. No, I think that’s a great highlight of, yes, explore, try new things, but also lean into your distinguished strengths because that’s what’s going to make you inspiring is people are like, “Wow, you are exceptional at that thing.”

Sandra Shime: Right. I think that’s a good way to say it. I like how you framed it. That was good. You framed it in a good way.

Sarah Wells: We’ll put it in the post. We got this.

Sandra Shime: Okay.

Sarah Wells: Awesome. Well, thank you again, Sandra. I really, really appreciate your time. Looking forward to sharing your wisdom.

Sandra Shime: Thanks, Sarah. It’s been great connecting with you. I’m following you and your inspiring leadership program on LinkedIn and through your podcast.

Sarah Wells: Thank you so much.

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