How Leaders Shape Company Cultures

As a leader, you play a big role in shaping the culture of your organization. Culture is learned behavior — it’s not something you create by edict or company memo. You develop a culture by the actions you take. Through the behaviors you model, you establish expectations for how people inside the organization will interact with each other.

For example, at one start-up company that I advise, we hold biweekly meetings on Fridays at 10 am. We go around the table and talk about one thing we’ve learned in the past week that’s relevant to the business, maybe a consumer trend or piece of financial news. For each item, we ask: “How could this affect our company?” By doing so, we’re intentionally building a culture in which understanding matters. It’s not enough to simply get information; you need to discuss it with people so that shared understanding occurs.

At another start-up, people constantly go the extra mile to serve their customers. Recently, a sales person came to the office at 3 am to talk to a client in China. When the CEO arrived at 8 am, the sales person was asleep at his desk. The CEO awoke him, thanked him, and told him to go home and get some rest.

In successful companies, culture doesn’t happen by accident. It occurs because leaders are modeling behaviors that lead to success. Try this: The next time you read about a highly successful company, ask yourself: “What’s the culture there? What are they doing each day that’s different from their competitors? And what can I learn from that?”

Learn more in my new book, The Leadership Equation: 10 Practices That Build Trust, Spark Innovation, and Create High-Performing Organizations

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