leadership thinking

10 Mistakes All Great Leaders Avoid in Building Work Culture

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. It doesn’t matter how great your plans to introduce a new product to the market are if your culture weakens execution. Culture is how things get done around a company. Great leaders focus on the work culture their leadership helps create as much as they focus on business strategy.

What mistakes should you avoid if you want a culture that achieves the results you want and need? Below is a list of the ten most common ones.

1. Focusing on resistors. 

The biggest trap I see leaders make when building culture is focusing on those who are resisting it. The logic goes something like this: “If I can get the resistors to support the culture, then everyone will support it.” Unfortunately, this only alienates those who want to help you build a high-performing culture.

2. Undervaluing purpose.

It’s in our human nature to want to be part of something bigger than our selves. Purpose helps us aim aspirationally and call upon our best selves to do our best work. Cultures that undervalue purpose dismiss human nature and build weaker cultures.

3. Spending time in meetings. 

Your presence as an owner has the greatest influence on how people experience the work environment. If you’re unavailable most of the time because you’re in meetings, you’re missing a major opportunity to shape the culture and climate intentionally. Culture will evolve regardless of what you do. Just make sure it’s one that you envision.

4. Under-communicating. 

We need to hear a message seven times before grasping its meaning. When you communicate expectations one-and-done won’t cut it. Make sure your team knows what’s expected of them. Clarity is key to a positive culture.

5. Thinking in silos. 

When you make changes in one area of your business, anticipate the impacts on other areas of the company. Thinking in silos reduces people’s effectiveness, limits ideas, and weakens organizational performance. Your company is a system. When you build culture, anticipate its impacts throughout the company.

6. Spreading negativity. 

You’re not going to like every decision made or approach your company takes. As a leader you set the tone. Be mindful of your mood and what you’re spreading. Spreading negativity, even if unintentional, creates an unhealthy oppositional culture that severely hampers results.

7. Thinking short-term. 

It’s a business trap to focus solely on profit. While it’s an important business metric, it’s short-term in nature. Short-term thinking routinizes our goal setting behaviors to focus on the near horizon and not on the long-term benefits or traps of a strategy or decision. Great leaders balance short-term thinking with long- term planning and thinking.

8. Promoting rugged individualism. 

No one person is more important than the team. When you single out your favorites and let them act on their own, you weaken your chances of benefiting from the wisdom of the crowd. We are stronger together than we are alone. Build a culture that promotes teamwork, not rugged individualism.

9. Downplaying relationships. 

Our brains are wired to think about relationships. It’s a mistake to not tap into building relationships within a team and across the business. It satisfies a basic human desire to connect with others. Great leaders avoid promoting the rugged individual. Instead they connect people together to help facilitate results and create a culture of connection.

10. Overlooking social needs. 

Mistakes number 8 & 9 tap into our biology: our need to work alongside people on important, meaningful, and purposeful activities. It’s also a mistake to build a culture that downplays our need for socializing at work. Great leaders encourage friendships at work. It helps build an affiliative style culture. This is a culture that advocates relationships and personal growth. Employees don’t want to just show up and leave. They want a meaningful work experience. Our biology positions us to be social. Great leaders leverage our biology to build great cultures.

Culture will emerge regardless of your actions. The question is: do you want a culture by default or one built purposefully? Most leaders want a great place to work. Avoiding these ten mistakes helps build a culture with intent and helps position you to achieve great results.

This post was originally published on INC.


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Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of ExchangeGain. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Fred Akele

    A lot of value in this post. Thanks for sharing this information. How can you convince people in your company that building a culture should come first?

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    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

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