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Leader Behaviors to Build Positive Culture

Leaders are critical to the formation of organizational cultures. Words, actions and interactions are the building blocks of culture formation. The language and behavior of leadership has fascinated me for many years - my doctoral research explored its impact (see Sturgis,1997) and I have taught leaders at many organizations how to identify and implement positive changes to impact their cultures.

Edgar Schein, recognized expert on the topic of organziational culture, talks about the role of leaders. Schein confirms that "culture is utlimately created, embedded, evolved and ultimately manipulated by leaders....If elements of a given culture become dysfunctional, leaders have to surmount their own culture and speed up the normal evolution processes with forced managed change programs" (p. 3) (See the 2010 edition of Schein's Organizational Culture and Leadership for an overview - especially helpful to new leaders about to enter an established culture.)

Forming and supporting a positive culture should be a conscious and deliberate process for any leader.

With this in mind, I constantly seek information on communication behaviors that help explain the language of leadership. Recently, I read S. Chris Edmonds practical tips on adopting "great boss behaviors" (see Corporate Culture Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Help You Create a High Performing, Values-Aligned Workplace that Employees LOVE).

Here are 13 highlights from the "great boss behaviors" section of this resource. As you read about these behaviors, give yourself a "pat on the back" where deserved and look for a new "boss behavior" that you can begin initiating today - at home, at work, and in your community.

  1. Be a voice of optimism in your workplace. Look for what is going well, celebrate successes, challenge folks to ever higher accomplishments.

  2. Lead with your words - 24/7. Leaders, everything you say and do is scrutinized in the workplace. Know that you are never “off duty.”

  3. Manage by wandering around. Great bosses don’t need an “open door policy.” They manage by wandering around, engaging staff every day. (Note - leaders can do this virtually or in person.)

  4. Be present. Great bosses are PRESENT. They look team members in the eye, listen, and learn about opportunities in their team.

  5. Connect with employees. Hold 30-minute 1:1 meetings with direct reports every 2 weeks. NO AGENDA except to see what they need & how they’re doing. Spend two hours a week connecting with select employees (face to face or virtual); ask what’s going well and what’s not. Then do what’s asked.

  6. Hold team meetings. Have an agenda for your weekly staff meeting - include a private agenda item that includes motivating your staff for the week ahead (e.g., thank them, establish joint stretch goals, etc.).

  7. Build trust. Expect the best and give others the benefit of the doubt. Set clear goals, coach, and praise. Note your staff’s “outside work” interests and names of their significant others, spouses and kids. (Can’t do that? Your work relationships need work.)

  8. Manage performance and relationships. Leaders, your job is to manage performance and employee relationships. Performance success is good; effectiveness at managing both is great.

  9. Draw others into creating solutions. Draw staff into the solution so that there is not a defensive stance about who/what created the problem.

  10. Ask for input. Don’t know what your staff thinks of your recent plans, decisions, or actions? Amazing approach that enables work connections: Ask them.

  11. Focus forward. Great bosses don’t settle for “great today.” They ask team members to help them understand what great looks like tomorrow.

  12. Test new ideas. Great bosses want every staff member thinking about how to increase quality and service levels - every day. Share and test ideas.

  13. Create new solutions together. Leaders, share business challenges and opportunities with your staff. Engage their brains in problem solving. You’ll see increased commitment.

Acknowledge your own "great boss behaviors" and look for new ways to move yourself from good to great leadership.

Forming and supporting a positive culture should be a conscious and deliberate process for any leader. What messages will you consciously communicate to your team this week? What corrections are necessary to build a positive future? How will you motivate them?

Put leadership on your "to do" list this week - set aside planning time to think about it - and then watch the results unfold over time. Share your stories with me - I'd love to hear from you.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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