Leadership at All Levels: How Leadership Values Affects Culture

We’ve all been there. Your boss is having a bad day and you just know something is up. Maybe it’s something to do with their personal life or maybe it’s business related. Did the department’s budget get cut? Are there going to be layoffs? Is my job safe? Maybe I should refresh my resume and send it out to a few places just in case…

The above example is just one way that really shows how leaders have a real effect on the culture of a business.  But what is culture?  Broken down, culture can be defined as:

  • Flexibility: The range of trust given within a process. It contributes to originality and innovation.
  • Responsibility: What a person feels they must do and executes these tasks. This contributes to timeliness and the possibility of empowerment.
  • Standards: What the performance expectation is. This sets the order with an organization and helps quality control efforts.
  • Rewards: What the outcome will be. This is a reinforcement tool; cause and effect. Good performance = good rewards.
  • Clarity: The expectations within the team/company being communicated properly. This opens the communication channels further when the original message is clear.
  • Commitment: The level of dedication to the team/company. This affects turnover and passion for the work being done.


People in leadership positions often forget that their influence is felt at all times, even when they are not directly engaging with their team.   They are always under a microscope.


Let’s put this in the context of a real situation.

Example: My Way or the Highway

Someone in a management position walks over to the desk of an employee in an open office.  The manager proceeds to tell the employee how the report they turned in yesterday was not done properly.  The manager then tells the employee exactly how to fix it and do it again for future reports and adds, “you better get it right this time”.

Apart from this being a very negative situation overall, let’s break down what culture aspects were affected by this exchange.

  • Flexibility: Completely removed. This exchange communicated to the employee that there’s only one way to do things, the way the boss wants it done, and there’s no room for new thinking.
  • Responsibility: The employee may or may not feel responsible for this mistake. Due to how the situation was handled, the employee may not take accountability for the problem with the report and might brush it off as the manager being unreasonable.
  • Standards: The standard was clearly explained but why is this specific way “the standard”?  No explanation was given to empower the employee for the future. The standards are now perceived to be a moving target that resides in the mind of the manager.
  • Rewards: Negative feedback. The manager did not pull the employee aside, away from his peers, and openly criticized the poor quality of work.  The employee could feel embarrassed which could lead to anger towards the manager.
  • Clarity: The situation was never clarified in any way and the closed communication channels were used.
  • Commitment: The employee feels berated among their peers. They now have a negative attitude towards management which could lead to a decreased desire to care about their job. This attitude now has the potential to affect those interacting with the employee.

All of this happened in an exchange that lasted less than one minute.  How leaders act on a daily basis matters to an organization. The key to building leadership is through everyday situations like in the example.

On average a leader needs to have three to five positive exchanges for every negative one to be seen as neutral in the minds of his team.

It’s not the message that needs to change, but rather how it is delivered.  Having self-awareness as well as empathy for your audience, whether it is one person or 20, is the key to delivering your message positively.  As a leader, you have been put in the greatest problem solving position of all:  you must learn how to create and maintain a positive, productive and high-achieving culture that will positively affect the organization.