10 Ways Great Leaders Encourage Company Culture

10 Ways Great Leaders Encourage Company Culture

Business leaders play a fundamental role in the success of company culture.

In 2016, The Edelman Trust Barometer found that employees who trust their leadership are significantly more likely to advocate for their company, its products and services. 

As discussed in the breakdown of the nine core elements of company culture, leaders are ultimately the ones who can make or break the culture. There is a strong link between great leaders and successful company cultures. 

However, in the UK, we still struggle to nurture leaders to build strong company cultures. Or see company culture as a valuable asset to the business. 

“Them and us” cultures are high among organisations, with staff often feeling that leadership operate to a different set of rules. For example, with leaders coming and going to the office as they please, but employees working set core hours.  

Establishing such divided cultures creates barriers to business success. Making employees resentful and disengaged. 

For a company culture to truly thrive and be taken on by the team, the actions and behaviours must start at the top. 

Own and live the values.

Do as I say, not as I do – that is often the case for leaders. Demanding and controlling rather than leading by example.

Any leader within the business must be the role model for the company’s mission and values. Living and breathing the values in everyday actions and taking every opportunity to apply those values. 

You cannot expect to ‘lead’ people by the values if you are not living them yourself, and showing the impact of those values on real-life decisions. 

I’ve heard it many times in organisations where leaders complain that their team are doing something in a certain way. For example, “they all keep eating at their desks, but I tell them to take a break.” – Does this leader take a break? – No, he also eats at his desk. 

Live the values and the culture, and your people will follow.

Communicate openly and early.

There is an outdated assumption in business, that if you tell people what’s really going on, they’ll worry and leave. The truth is very different. 

People need leaders to communicate when there is a problem, but that nurtures the expectation from them as well. 

In a time where the economy feels uneasy, and change is rife, people would rather ‘know’ what’s going on, rather than be blindsided. 

No matter the issue, large or small, as a leader, you should communicate openly about the business, and as early as possible. 

Businesses perform better when honesty is encouraged, and this goes for leadership too. 

Inspire people.

Today’s leaders run the risk of being rejected by their own people. We’re no longer in a world where people have a job for life – they will keep their job as long as it ‘fits their life’. When the job doesn’t fit, they will move on. 

As a leader, you must lead by example and inspire and encourage people to do their best work. You want people to push themselves, but how are you pushing yourself as a leader.

Own their mistakes.

You want people to own up to their mistakes and learn from them, but as a leader, this starts with you. 

People don’t want a ‘perfect leader’; they want positive, human role models that will encourage them to do the same, and not feel that a mistake is the end of them. 

When you own up to your mistakes and share the lesson you have learned, you enable people to do the same and give them the confidence to take risks and be more innovative. 

Some of the best mistakes in the world have created some of the products we know and love today. If we can’t harness these errors, and confidently own them, we stifle our creativity and productivity. 

Trust people.

In a study by Harvard Business Review, 58% of UK employees trust strangers more than they do their own boss. Yet, trust is key in cultivating strong company culture. 

Trust has to start with leaders; you have to trust your people to make the right decisions, trust them to do the job you have given them, and trust them to act like an adult. 

In too many organisations, we continue to control and constrain people as if they were bad and not to be trusted. There appear to be unconscious assumptions that we hold on people and their motivations. For example, people are lazy, they just want money; they put their own interests above others. 

These assumptions sound harsh when put into words, yet they are the structures and practices we have in most organisations today. 

When you move your motivation to trust, your team will be more accepting of you, and open to change. 

People will feel that leadership cares about them, is telling the truth, and know they’re focussed on the same mission. 

Trust works both ways, but it must be nurtured from leaders. 

Add value to their teams.

Just like the captain of a ship, your team must see the value you add if there is not to be a mutiny. 

While most leaders in the organisation believe their role is to deliver results, this traditional mindset is shifting, as more leaders realise their true role is to be effective for their teams.  

How are you supporting your team? How are the decisions you are making going to add value? 

Too often, leaders hide behind a desk in a separate office, disconnected from the daily runnings of the business or the problems that occur. This disconnection only makes the team question your role, your authority and your decision-making. After all, how can someone so detached from the team make a valid decision? 

Have the courage to be authentic.

People don’t want to work for a robot, they want to work for a leader who they feel is a real human-being and can understand them. 

Great leaders are humble, genuine, show vulnerability and lead with compassion. Being authentic, allows your team to do the same, and not feel that they must come to work wearing a mask. 

When mental-health at work is becoming such a crisis, more leaders must work to encourage a compassionate culture where people feel they can be honest, emotional and real. 

Hiding behind a mask in a company culture, only spreads miscommunication, disengagement, and distrust.

Take care of the people.

Life and work are one, yet we continue to request our team to leave their home-life at the door. For many people, this no longer works for them. People want to feel connected to where they work, and be able to work somewhere that has their interests in mind, just as they’re expected to uphold the interests of the business. 

Taking care of people, not just in terms of ‘work-perks’ but in the culture that is created, enables people to feel that they ‘belong’ in an organisation. 

The more you care, the more they will give to the business. 

Recognise hard work and small wins.

Dishing out praise and appreciation even in forms of verbal recognition goes a long way in making people feel valued in the organisation. 

Unfortunately, in most company cultures, those who’s roles impact the bottom line receive more rewards and recognition than other roles. 

The divide that you ultimately create by doing this causes issues among the team, as fairness is something which all leaders should aim to create. 

‘Being seen’ and valued for contribution, no matter how big or small, helps people to feel that the work they are doing has meaning and purpose. 

All too often, leaders feel that rewards have to be cash-heavy or a grand gesture, but even small acts and verbal appreciation can make people feel connected to the organisation and appreciated. 

Make the right decision, not the popular one.

Leading a culture by consensus is a fool’s game. You cannot lead by constantly making popular decisions, you have to make decisions based on what is right for the business and the people collectively. 

Those who lead by trying to be popular, will ultimately not lead with the mission and values in mind, which will eventually cause the culture to fail. 

It’s a sad fact of life that those who will disagree with the way you are leading the culture may not be right for the business. Losing a few to the culture change you want to see, is better than losing many to a culture that takes the business nowhere. 

If you want to learn how to establish a strong company culture, contact us for more information on our company culture workshop, or download our free eBook, How to Build the Company Culture You Really Want.

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About The Author

Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.