The Critical Role Of Leadership In A Healthy Culture

The Critical Role Of Leadership In A Healthy Culture
Image: SweetRush
Summary: By: Ashley Munday, SweetRush with contributions from Tor Eneroth, Barrett Values Centre

What Is Leadership’s Role In Shaping A Healthy Culture?

You can palpably feel when a culture is truly lived within a company. I don’t care what the posted values are in an organization; I have a “spidey sense” for the actual values as soon as I walk into a building. Are noses buried in computers, brows furrowed, and meetings terse? Chances are there’s tension related to financial stability, interpersonal dynamics, or a pursuit to be the best at all costs.

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While an unhealthy culture can be the result of market dynamics, it is certainly reinforced by top leadership. When times get tough, people align around the perceived values of the leaders. They want to be seen as doing a good job. Their actions will reflect what the leaders do, not what they say. If leaders commend employees who work around the clock, at the expense of rest, time with family, and exercise, other employees will follow suit. While this works for short-term gain, it is not sustainable. People will begin to burn out and morale will fall.

So what is leadership’s role in shaping a healthy culture?

The Role Of CEO

It is critical for the CEO to lead the culture. CEOs who are committed to culture talk passionately about it every day. They have personal and clear stories about why they are working with culture. They are consistent and persistent in living the values and building the culture. They have low tolerance for people who are not working to create a healthy culture. They walk their talk!

Board Commitment

You will need buy-in and support from the most senior reporting team or structure for organization-wide success. This is often a corporate board. Organizational priorities are typically established from the top, and culture must be included, especially since it is so critical and needs attention over a long period of time.

A Compelling Shared Reason

The top team should develop a compelling shared reason for working with culture. This group must have a clear picture of where they are and where they want to go. They need to understand the current culture and have a shared vision of a healthy culture.


All members of the top team should develop self-awareness and know their values, purpose, personality, behaviors, and impact on the people around them. Each leader should also understand how she or he aligns with the desired organizational values and culture.

Walking Your Walk

All members of the top team should develop ongoing awareness of and feedback on their behaviors, communications, and the perceptions of others.

Involvement And Commitment

Develop a strategy and process to share your culture and involve all your managers. The strategy should include programs for managers to increase their own personal awareness and expectations about their behaviors.


  • Does your top leadership team have a compelling and shared reason for working with culture?
  • Do you regularly share your personal values and explain how they relate to the desired culture of your organization?
  • Are you considering your organizational values as you make decisions? When you share how your decisions relate to the organizational values, it nurtures a healthy culture.
  • When you give presentations, do you share stories about values and culture?
  • Do you invite feedback on your behavior? Do you use it to help you improve yourself and better “walk your talk”? Do you have ways to measure this improvement? Are you truly open to the feedback? Do you act on it?

If you answered yes to four or more, congratulations! You are authentically communicating and living your values. If you answered yes to less than two questions, keep in mind that effectively leading a healthy culture takes time. Don’t try to change everything at once. Meet with peers within the organization to discuss these practices and commit to one or two areas of focus for the next few months.

Your leadership team can be your greatest asset or your worst liability. Getting authentic buy-in and creating accountability is a critical success factor for culture. A mining company in South Africa added culture scores to each executive’s scorecard. It was based on quantitative measurement of their culture and factored into their evaluations and remuneration. This made culture a have-to-have for these executives and not just a nice-to-have.

To read more about how to create a high-performing team and organization, download the eBook Transforming Culture in Larger Organizations. The lessons apply not only to organizations, but for any teams.

This article was developed with contributions from Tor Eneroth at the Barrett Values Centre.