At 2,320 miles long, the Mississippi River is the second-longest river in the U.S. It has the world’s fourth-largest drainage basin, including all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
And it all starts from Lake Itasca, a small glacial lake only about 1.8 square miles in area, with an average depth of 20 to 35 feet.
Just as that small lake fuels a gigantic network of rivers and tributaries, the leader of a company has an exponential impact on the workplace culture. As a leader, one of your most important jobs is as CCO—chief culture officer.
Everything trickles down from the leader. You are responsible for shaping the culture, and you do it by creating safety for your employees and upholding the company’s Core Values.
Create Safety through Vulnerability
If you want a culture where your employees are bringing their best to work, then you need to bring your best to work. In no area is this more important than the area of building safety.
In a safe work culture, employees feel respected and are able to share ideas and concerns without fear of being humiliated or penalized. When they make mistakes, they address and own them, instead of hiding them to avoid being punished. Essentially, when employees feel safe, they are able to be vulnerable.
People have to feel safe to bring their best selves to the table. If your staff feels afraid that they’re going to get laughed at or slammed every time they offer input, they’re going to stop offering input. As the leader, you’re in charge of protecting employees from ridicule. If one staff member scoffs at another person’s idea—what are you going to do about that, to make sure that doesn’t happen again?
It’s not enough to simply shut down the behaviors that create an environment of fear. You must show your employees that it’s safe to be vulnerable by practicing vulnerability yourself. Being vulnerable is not always easy for leaders, but if you want to create a culture of safety and trust, vulnerability has to start with you. How will you model what it looks like to own your mistakes? Can you admit in front of a group that you dropped the ball, and recognize that you need to correct it now?
When you model that willingness to be vulnerable as a leader, then it’s safe for an employee to admit when they dropped the ball. And when they do, and when you respond with grace, honoring their dignity—what happens? Your staff learns that this is a safe place to bring their best, to experiment, to risk mistakes in pushing forward.
An environment of safety is the minimum for every work culture. What sets your company’s culture apart from another’s is your Core Values, and just as vulnerability must start with you, so must your Core Values come from the top.
Live by Your Core Values
Your Core Values articulate the deeply held principles that guide your business’s operations. They are the three to five values that are so critical for you, that if they were to be violated, you would rather close the door of the business than keep moving forward. They are the “rules of the road” for your company, defining what behaviors are acceptable and what are unacceptable.
Core Values must come from the top of the organization. No matter how big the company is, water runs downhill. If there’s a jerk at the helm who doesn’t honor the company’s stated Core Values, it says to everyone else in the company that there’s a lower standard by which they can and should operate. When you live your Core Values, you show your employees that they are not simply words on paper but real principles that define your company.
Keep your values central and live them out. Hire, train, and fire according to your values. Keep your employees accountable to maintaining them. Reinforce your values in meetings, in emails, and in your decisions. By taking the Core Values seriously and working to maintain them, you’re helping impact your company’s culture for good.
So are you living out your Core Values? Do you embrace them in a way your staff can see?
Grow as a Leader
Whatever is poured into Lake Itasca will trickle down into countless other rivers and streams. Similarly, the actions of a leader trickle down through the company, shaping the work culture, and the culture affects every aspect of a business.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to make sure that we’re leading people toward dignity, toward prosperity, and toward happiness—and not away from them. We need to bring our people toward unity and health, not toward destruction.
How do you do that? You start with you.
One of your foremost jobs as a leader is to grow internally as a human so that you can create a positive work culture. Grow in your competency. Grow in your skills. And most of all, grow as a human being. Practice vulnerability and adhere to your Core Values, and watch the effects trickle down through your culture.
We believe that Culture is one of 6 key areas of business that each requires a minimum competency to be financially successful and experience meaningful work.
With a working knowledge of the 6 areas, you can build a foundation for your business that will allow you to not only survive, but thrive...
...and we give you the step-by-step framework in our Best-Selling book, Fulfilled: The Passion & Provision Strategy for Building a Business with Profit, Purpose & Legacy.