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How Leadership Influences Culture

Sure. The title of this piece is ‘How’ leadership can impact culture – but ’how’ is really only one spoke on the company culture wheel.

‘Come again?’ you ask.

When it comes to company culture, how leadership influences culture is important but so are the why and the what, too. That’s to say that it’s equally important to know why they should seek to influence and shape their company culture, as well as what they can do to positively influence company culture, too.

Here, we’ve rounded up some hard-hitting expert answers to those exact questions so you can be sure you’re casting the right vision and helping your people be your culture.

Why Leaders Should Influence Culture

Ask 10 different leaders why they’ve chosen to do things the way they do and you’ll get 10 different answers. And that’s OK. Why? Because knowing your ‘why’ is a cornerstone to creating – and fostering – a company culture as a leader.

"In one place, I might ask ‘Why do you do things the way you do them here?’ People will recite their espoused values and say something like ‘We’re very informal here because we believe in teamwork and open communication.’

"Then I go to another place—in the very same industry supposedly operating by the same regulations—and someone will tell me ‘We’re very tightly structured, here. We play strictly by the rules. We don’t talk much. We just do as we’re told.’

"Different strokes for different folks.

“Managers today understand the importance of culture as a factor in whether a company performs well or not. But many of them mistakenly believe they can arbitrarily decide whether or not you will have a good culture. They still don’t understand that culture is a product of years of learning and experience, not something you ‘implement.’ You can find companies whose culture helps them perform, but they acquired that culture over a period of years through leadership that worked.”

But what about those companies where culture ‘implementation’ failed?

“Most culture change programs fail because they are just announcements of new values without a change in what new behavior will be required and how the structure and reward system will make that happen.”

The takeaway: Know your company culture why to establish the blueprint for what you’ll do to lead the charge.

Read more on why leaders should actively shape culture here.

What Leaders Can Do To Influence Culture

“One business buzzword we hear almost every day is ‘culture’, as in, our organization has a ‘strong’ or ‘innovative’ or even a ‘toxic’ culture. But what do we really mean when we say this? >”For me, an organizational culture is defined by how people inside the organization interact with each other. Culture is learned behavior — it’s not a by-product of operations. It’s not an overlay. We create our organizational culture by the actions we take; not the other way around.

"Picture the following scenario. A group of executives decides that their organizational culture needs to become more ‘customer-focused.’ But when you look at the agenda of their meetings, there’s no time devoted to discussing how they can improve their customers’ experience. And how much time do those executives actually spend out in the field, visiting customers, let alone fielding calls from them? If these executives prioritize something other than customers in their behavior, don’t you think the rest of the organization will follow suit?

"It’s easy to think that building a culture is about other people’s behaviors, not how you act as a leader. But I believe that culture change begins when leaders start to model the behavior they want the organization to emulate.

“The point is that building an innovative culture starts by looking at how you behave as a leader toward those trying to innovate. The same is true about any kind of culture: It all begins with the behavior of your leaders. To say that another way, if you are interested in changing the culture of your organization, your first step should be to look in the mirror and make sure you are setting the kind of behavioral example you want everyone else to follow.”

The takeaway: Leaders should lead by example so make sure your actions match your words.

Read more on what leaders can do to influence culture here.

How Leaders Can Influence Culture

We have one – yes, one – magic ingredient that shapes our company culture at BELAY.

"There is one thing – one oft-overlooked and neglected little thing – that, if cultivated and nurtured properly, can change the course of your business. Think you know what it is?

“Here’s a hint: It’s not synergy. It’s not culture. It’s not brand identity. It’s not foosball in the breakroom.”

Any clue as to what it is? It’s a small word that boasts a HUGE impact on your company culture.

“It’s trust. All of the aforementioned things are decidedly and categorically critical, and the foosball table is just awesome – don’t get us wrong – but all of those can’t exist without trust. Trust and just about every other mission-critical element of your business’ success are mutually inclusive; they simply cannot exist without trust.”

"You can tell someone you trust them, but if you’re not putting your money – and their paycheck – where your mouth is, it amounts to nothing more than lip service. You can tell your teenage child that you trust them to drive your car, but if you never hand over the keys, your actions paint a different picture.

"At work and in life, trust is a currency. And just like a currency, it can be earned and saved over time – and depleted in seconds.

"So how can leaders show their trust? Delegation.

"And not the ‘dumping-busy-work-on-someone-and-micromanaging’ kind of way. But the kind of delegation that entrusts people with key projects, offering support only as needed. This, incidentally, also benefits from the same compounding, multiplying effect as currency – the more you invest and entrust, the more you equip the employees of today to be the great leaders of tomorrow.


“Because when you teach an employee how to do a task – equipping them with the necessary tools, skills and information – and delegate responsibility, you are showing them that you trust them; your actions say, ‘I trust you to do a good job.’”

‘But I’m not good at delegating,’ you mutter defeatedly to yourself.

And we totally get that. Relinquishing control of any aspect of your business – your baby – can be hard. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered. Do these five things to simplify delegation.

The takeaway: Show your people that you trust them to see how culture can grow from planting that tiny seed.