3 Essential Habits CEO’s Need to Cultivate in Company Culture

3 Essential Habits Every CEO Must Build Into Company Culture

The world of work has changed. (You've noticed!)  Fiercer, faster, more competitive times demand a new caliber of modern leader. Ones who can juggle the mandates of innovation, profit, and caring culture.

Corporate culture – with its Dilbert-style politics, hierarchy, nonsense decision making - is dead. (and it's not just big corporations that have it.)

Entrepreneurial culture – the capacity to collectively and sustainably thrive in the face of failure, constant change, insurmountable odds – has never been more important.

To grow and be relevant in today's world ... CEO’s must build 3 essential habits into their company culture (which are the core habits of entrepreneurial culture.)  These core principles underpin a society in rapid change, characterized by diversity and inclusion.

And, cultivating a leadership culture must begin with the top leader. Always.

Habit #1: Empower Freedom.

Freedom of choice is the most precious and fundamental human drive.  It is especially near and dear in American culture. The Millennial generation did not invent the desire for freedom! (although they're flying the Freedom flag high.)

You cannot be in business without customers who choose your products or services, right? Employees are your new customer.  For one simple reason: They can and will choose where, when, with whom, and which cause to dedicate their time and energy.

In a job market where unemployment is the lowest in decades and expected to continue - the largest generation on the planet (Millennials) vote with their feet.  They won't be tied to a single company or job.  In fact, experts predict (conservatively),  over 50% of the workforce will be freelance status by 2020 – whether full-time or moonlighting.

Further, younger employees don't place as high a value on monetary gains and climbing the corporate ladder.  They want to grow and be challenged frequently, but not at the expense of their freedom.

  • Freedom from being micro-managed, viewed as untrustworthy.
  • Freedom to make choices and decisions that benefit their life and family.
  • Freedom to join friends on a trek in the jungles of South American without a cell phone and computer.
  • Freedom from an impossible choice between my well-being versus a job.

For this generation, empowerment means "I get to call the shots in my life."

Empowerment for ALL generations, is about claiming sovereignty over one’s life energy and well-being.

Old school thinking suggests unleashing empowerment organizationally will result in chaos. But in the natural world, systems navigate complex change perfectly during chaos - the system will correct and resolve naturally, even if a part of it becomes extinct. (What pet projects and ideas, if made extinct in your business, would make room for change?)

Consider this radical notion: Freedom and productivity are like a good marriage: Grounded in trust, constant compromise, and goodwill.  When good people flock together and invest in cultivating a culture of clear prioritization, decentralized decision making, good feeling vibes …miracles happen.  Ask Netflix and Zappos. Both disrupted entire industries while eradicating traditional hierarchies and rules.

Also, while scaling impressive growth and ROI.

Teaching freedom and responsibility is possible in every company; even highly regulated industries (airlines, food service, healthcare).  You can always find ways to feed people’s innate huger for freedom of choice.

Think of your employees as volunteers.  Empowerment means adopting a mindset that is natural to entrepreneurs: Growth and innovation are the engine of capitalism, and people are the fuel that keeps them moving.

Habit #2: Embrace Resistance.

Newton’s 3rd law of motion states: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  In an advanced society, freedom is defined by the ability to set limits. Yes is defined by No.  Wise leaders know that initiating change – the heartbeat of any business – will be met with resistance. (either passive or active?)

Smart leaders welcome and expect it.

The iconic “Yes-Man” of 1960’s culture has no place in today’s business. When a culture creates fear to speak up ... or the inability to say "No" to the boss or engage in vigorous debate ... this creates a brick wall to change.  When you're about protecting the status quo, you're not pointed to the future.

Do you, the President, walk AND talk a core value of challenging the status quo, ideas, sacred cows?

Conflict-aversion is a long-standing problem in many native cultures.  Speaking as an American, my generation (Boomer) was raised by the “children are to be seen and not heard” generation.  We were (mostly) not taught how to debate and disagree, effectively.  In business, healthy conflict, dissension and debate is crucial, yet most people are not schooled in it.  This leads to shuttles blowing up mid-air, costly mistakes and overruns on projects, being blind-sided by a more tuned-in competitor.

Embracing “No” energy – often suppressed or forbidden – doesn’t make it go away.  It just goes underground. Demonstrate visibly that the ability to call “No!” (in respectful ways) is an important skill for employees. The ability to act from curiosity and facilitate debate is an essential habit for the modern leader.

It also builds trust.  And it does not mean people have the final decision or authority to run toddler-style “No!” rampages in the business.  Just an expectation to discuss issues in a well-rounded way: “Why this will and won’t work.”   Entertain the debate!  Not because it's easy.

Because you know it will make your business stronger.

Practice this beginning with the top team, and promote leaders who can engage healthy debate.

In the chaos, inevitably will emerge order – and stronger buy-in to change.

Habit #3:  Train Resilience.

In the physical realm, resilience is the capacity to easily bounce back after being stretched, bent or compressed.

In the leadership realm, it is the capacity to bounce back from adversity, be emotionally stable, consistently “shake off” the past and keep moving forward.

It is also the capacity to digest stress – which is (unfortunately) synonymous with modern life.

In business, resilience is more important than ever. It takes intentional work to cultivate it culturally. There are some who believe it’s innate - perhaps true to some measure.  But resilience IS learned and strengthened with practice - and necessary in today's world of intensity, transparency, and constant change.  I'm not talking about "tough it out" resilience that lacks empathy (eg, military boot camp).  It's about Positive Resilience that creates steady leadership:  “We can do this” and “We always keep our feet pointed forward.”

Resilience is grounded in knowing what you stand for – really.  (WHY you do what you do, and what you will not do.)  Having a focused Mission.  Optimism against the odds.  Well-being and self-care as your fuel.

It is absolutely imperative for CEO’s and leaders to visibly model this skill, if they want to keep a team forward-focused and winning.

What happens when resilience is low?  Adversity (under-performance, unexpected setbacks) creates fear, turf-protection, finger-pointing, posturing. This undermines trust in your culture - your engine for innovation and progress.

Resilience is the wellspring of long-term renewal and growth.  Without it, extinction is a sure bet.


In the quest for rapid change, maximizing efficiency and elevating productivity, leaders can lose sight of how to cultivate the ongoing capacity for innovation, change, and renewal.

Remember: The engine is NOT the finish line. People are your engine.  In the race to the finish line, don't forget to maintain the engine!

Investing in these three habits - empowering freedom, embracing resistance and training resilience - helps you foster peak performance.

Because strong, competent, resilient, empowered people move mountains.

Or at the very least, create a culture that can leave your competitors in the dust.

2 Responses

  1. I agree, what got you here, won't get you there! The Gallup organization has reported that in the US about 70% of employees are not engaged. Neuroscience has revealed that autonomy in the workplace is a key driver for employee engagement, hence Empowering Freedom is very important. Resistance is one of those landmines that prevents organizational change success, and command and control change process almost always fail. Organizational Resilience can't be build without trust and visibility that senior leadership is walking the same path as the employees in the change process.
  2. Thanx Lisa Very well captured and elaborated. This summarizes the current scenario of any progressive organization and the expectations from the top leadership. Just to add on, people wish to work for organizations with flatter structures and simpler processes, which help them feel and perform better and support and motivate, when they fail. They want to work and grow under leaders and not just bosses. They look for inspirations and stories, which are more human, so they can relate better to them. CEOs who inspire the employees most are the guys who have failed and not given up, and then wrote a successful story. "Resilience" is the key to inspiring employees, as clearly mentioned in your article. Another winning tool is "Transparency" within the organization. Employees need to be updated regularly on the way forward for the organization and whats in store for them, if they stay and align with the goal and the top leadership. Better money is just one of the important aspects but continuous learning, regular updates/town halls and frequent connect with the top leadership is whats being appreciated by most of the employees adding on to their stability and performance in the organization. Thanx again for sharing this article. Best wishes Ramit

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