Cultivate Strong Organizational Culture

3 Essential Habits Every CEO Must Build Into Company Culture

The world of work has changed. Fiercer, faster, more competitive times demand a new caliber of modern leader. One who can juggle the mandates of innovation and profit, while cultivating entrepreneurial company culture.

Corporate culture, defined by Dilbert-style politics, hierarchy, and slow nonsense decision making is dead.

Entrepreneurial culture, defined by the capacity to make mistakes while collectively and sustainably thriving in the face of failure, constant change, and insurmountable odds has never been more important.

To grow and be relevant in today’s world CEO’s must foster a culture of leadership and build these core habits of entrepreneurial culture into their company. 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, and while they’re flying the Freedom flag high, the Millennial generation did not invent the desire for freedom!

Your People Are Your Business Organizational Culture QuoteYou 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. Millenials will not be tied to a single company or job for the sake of security. In fact, experts conservatively predict that – whether it’s full-time or moonlighting – over 50% of the workforce will have freelance status by 2020.

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

  • Freedom from being micro-managed and seemingly viewed as untrustworthy.
  • Freedom to make choices and decisions that benefit life, family, and friendships.
  • Freedom to join friends on a trek in the jungles of South American without a cell phone or computer.
  • Freedom from an impossible choice between 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 the 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, and good feeling vibes miracles happen.  Ask Netflix and Zappos. Both disrupted entire industries while eradicating traditional hierarchies and rules while scaling impressive growth and ROI.

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

Think of your employees as volunteers. Empowerment means adopting a mindset that is natural to entrepreneurs. To lead you must ignite, not mandate. If you want to lead people somewhere, first think: why would they want to be there? From that point of view, get busy creating reasons for them to join the journey. If you exude the passion and belief, others will follow. Growth and innovation are the engines of capitalism, and people are the fuel that keeps them moving. Lead your people to lead themselves and your bottom line will benefit.

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.

Whether this change resistance is passive or active, smart leaders both welcome and expect it.

The iconic “Yes-Man” of 1960’s culture has no place in today’s business. When a culture breeds fear of speaking up, and the inability to say “No” to the boss or engage in a vigorous debate this creates a brick wall that impedes 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, and sacred cows?

Conflict-aversion is a long-standing problem in many native cultures. Speaking as an American, my generation (Baby Boomers) 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 are crucial, yet most people are not schooled in it. This leads to shuttles blowing up mid-air, costly mistakes and overruns on projects, or being blind-sided by a more tuned-in competitor.

Suppressing or forbidding “No” energy doesn’t make it go away. Rather it pushes it underground to fester and grow. Demonstrate visibly that the ability to disagree in respectful ways is an important skill for all employees. The ability to act from curiosity and facilitate debate is an essential habit for the modern leader.

Encouraging your team to question everything also builds trust. 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, but because you know it will make your business stronger.

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

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

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, resilience 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, which is perhaps true to some degree. However, resilience can be learned and strengthened with practice. It’s necessary in today’s world of intensity, transparency, and constant change. I’m not talking about “tough it out” resilience that lacks empathy, but rather about Positive Resilience that empowers steady leadership: “We can do this” and “We always keep our feet pointed forward.”

Resilience is grounded in knowing what you really stand for. You must be clear on why you do what you do, and on what you will not do. Having a focused mission and a persistent optimism against the odds are critical components. Well-being and self-care are your fuel.

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

What happens when resilience is low? Adversity in the forms of under-performance and unexpected setbacks creates fear, turf-protection, finger-pointing, and posturing. These behaviors undermine trust in your company culture, which serves as 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 company culture with 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! To do this you must cultivate the seeds and pull the weeds. Watch for the people who naturally rise. Look for those who demonstrate creative thinking, are positive role models, and whom others turn to for help. Shower these employees with opportunities for growth. People who regularly choke out good ideas, who live in negativity, and who bring the team down require active coaching to change. If they continue to be weeds, you have to let them go. This is essential if you want to build a thriving, high-performing culture.

People Investments Are As Important As Capital Investments

Investing in these three habits – empowering freedom, embracing resistance and training resilience – helps you foster peak performance and a leadership culture capable of changing with the times.

Strong, competent, resilient, and empowered people move mountains and create a culture that can leave your competitors in the dust.

Make a list of the top leadership qualities you have admired in other leaders throughout your career. Keep it nearby. How many of these do you exhibit in a week? Really? How many do you violate?

Be the change you want to see in the world.

And watch who changes around you.

Need Help?

Does your team need a new face and fresh perspective to deliver these ideas and motivate behavior change within your organization? Tie together disconnected messaging across teams and departments, boost engagement, inspire your employees and build trust. Schedule your keynote today!

Comments ( 3 )

  • Stephen Moulton

    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.

    • Lisa J

      Hi Stephen, I missed this comment from earlier – you and I are in full agreement! And, this work takes courage and patience. It’s easier to just “tell people what to do.” I see alot of executives pay lip service to this, but in the trenches, resort to “we have to move with speed”and other such mindsets that don’t support what you’re saying

  • Ramit Tyagi

    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


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