The culture of any business or organisation rises and falls based on the leader. It is the responsibility of the leader to build the culture that fosters and grows people and profits. There are very broadly three things that a leader can do to set the culture of the business through the things that they do and say. The three things are; what the leader creates, what the leader hates and what the leader tolerates.

What the leader creates is a very positive way to build culture. Every leader has an idea of what a great culture looks like whether it is conscious or unconscious and it is up to them to build and create the dream. Values are a massive driver of culture and having a visible set of core values that the team operate by and are talked about is one way of creating the culture you want. For example if you want a culture of accountability, then as a leader you need to model accountability in all your actions to lead by example. Then you need to make the team accountable for their actions and this is a way to create the desired culture of accountability. The positive things you say and do intentionally move towards an improved culture, in which the leader guides the way.

In the same way that the leader can create the ideal culture by building and fostering the desired behaviours, the leader also shapes the culture by what they hate. The activities or actions that occur inside and around an organisation that the leader hates are usually very obvious to the people around the leader because the outworking of that hatred is put on display by the leader. The very things the leader hates will be made abundantly clear and this will cause the behaviours of the team to change to either stop the undesired behaviour or at least hide the undesired behaviour from the leader. The way the leader acts or reacts to these can be positive or negative, and as you read this I am sure you are thinking of a time when you have seen this as your boss losses it and the resulting change. Done well it empowers the team to ensure inappropriate behaviours and actions are in no way tolerated in the organisation. Done poorly and the team is left fearful and uncertain.

As a leader it is your responsibility to appropriately communicate the actions and behaviours that you hate to empower the team to a higher level of productivity, efficiency and most importantly trust. The higher level of trust a team has the stronger the culture, the more resilient they are when encountering difficulties.

The third and least thought about or considered in steering a culture are the things tolerated by the leader. Things tolerated are not obvious and unintuitive because you are ignoring something as a leader you think it is isolated. The fact is that nothing is further from the truth because by not correcting the behaviour you as the leader are affirming it and it will grow and be done again and again. Then it will flow into other areas and it will flow onto other people in the team and what was a minor thing tolerated now may become a giant issue that you hate and explode and probably not in a good way leaving a destructive mess to clean up. The seeds of discontent will soon grow into resentment if not dealt with properly.  

There are things you tolerate and that is just life. You will always have people and things you struggle with and you need to ensure it is the behaviour you are correcting and not the person. That means you address the issue and not attack the person, as soon as you attack the person they do not hear what you are saying. Again as the leader it is your responsibility to ensure in that instance and for the team they know your actions are done out of care for the person, the business and the mission.

The three work together and to build a great culture it needs thought, planning and action around the things the leader creates, hates and tolerates.

Applications Questions:

What is one thing in your culture that is going well that you could amplify?

What is one thing you wish your culture had that you can start building into the culture?

What creative ideas can you think of to build into your culture?

How are you going to act when you see things you hate to build trust in the team?

What can you tolerate because you cannot be a control freak?

When is the best time to act on the discontent so that the behaviour is not repeated?