Part of being a leader for your small business involves accomplishing practical tasks. You must remain realistic and encourage employees to achieve concrete objectives with measurable results. Another aspect of leading involves symbolic efforts. These act to inspire or enlighten staff members. You lead by example and trust that the practical application of what you do will emerge later as employees follow your example. Leaders who master symbolism can unite employees and successfully guide businesses.

Projecting Confidence

Symbolic leadership requires appearing confident even in trying times. If you wander through the workplace with your shoulders slouching and your face grim with worry, you symbolically represent fears your employees might be experiencing. Instead, you can square your shoulders, look people in the eye and smile. Your confident posture can become a symbol for employees who need reassurance from your presence.

Accepting Change

Change can dishearten your workforce. New managers, new ways of doing things and new procedures can make employees feel uncertain about their ability to adjust. You can take symbolic action in such circumstances. For example, you could hold a meeting and throw out all the old logos for a discontinued product. You could stand arm in arm with new managers, or you could personally demonstrate a new production method. This shows that you are willing to adjust, and that it can be done.


Employees tend to respect leaders who are not just authoritative, but authentic. A leader who maintains the same temperament in private as well as in public offers herself as a symbol of steadfastness. For example, a leader conducting an employee evaluation should maintain the same tone of voice, mannerisms and values as she uses when addressing employees as a group. This symbolic consistency lets employees know they can trust a leader to treat all people the same. Your office decor should contain pictures of you with family and friends, or on vacation. This symbolizes that you bring your personal life to the office and that they are not two separate lifestyles for you.

The Corner Office

The size and placement of offices have long represented status and authority. If you need to remind employees who is the boss, your large corner office may achieve your goals. However, if you adopt a leadership style that relies more on teamwork among equals, you may want to choose a less ostentatious office. This will symbolically let employees know you consider yourself one of them.

Handwritten Notes

A boss who sends a handwritten note to commend an employee sends a symbolic representation of his personal interest in that person. Whereas email once replaced the handwritten note, its rarity now symbolizes compassion and caring. Handwritten notes are a good symbolic gesture when offering condolences as well.


Holding company-wide celebrations for employee achievements can symbolize your appreciation of your employees. This can let people know that you not only applaud their efforts, you keep up with the progress of your projects.