Leadership Clarity: Can They See You Now?


Though it seems a clichéd notion improving your company culture starts at the top, you have to lead by example.

Is what you say what they see?

To make sure, just lead by example to improve your organizational culture.

Be Somebody Real

If you’re a leader who promotes a company culture of “do what I say, not what I do” your company probably won’t be a happy place for your employees.

Comedian Lily Tomlin once said this:

“I’ve always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific.”

Being a  leader of  a successful organization with engaged employees and happy customers is definitely being somebody specific. So, how do you become the type leader your employees will want to work for and your customers will want to do business with?

It takes some leadership skills, a dash of self-awareness, and a little luck bit of luck.

Leading Like a Leader

Research suggests that your people will not go above and beyond the call of duty at work unless they first see you “busting butt.”

A recently published study in the Journal of Applied Psychology points out that the best way to encourage the behaviors you want from your employees or those you manage is to lead by example, let them see you practicing the behaviors  you want them to exhibit.

As a leader, creating a positive company culture is a part of your job description.

Ethical, innovative, and transparent leadership helps create a culture that encourages employees to be at their best. It also encourages employees to be creative in ways that can boost your bottom-line and to be loyal when it comes to sticking around.

But remember, if you want them to share views of the bottom-line, you have to create a company culture that offers them “a piece of the organizational pie.”  Building a productive company “pie” can often be achieved through a culture of sharing, collaboration, connection and creativity.

Additional “fillings and toppings” can be added to taste.

Basic Training

Let’s review some basic ingredients:

As you might expect, a positive culture is founded on more than just paid lunches, personalized parking spaces, or free gym memberships.

According to Dr. Ralph G. Nichols, a pioneer in the study and teaching of listening, “the most basic of all human needs is to understand and to be understood.”  Clear, concise and transparent communications are aspects of successful leadership.

Great leaders make great efforts to understand what is important to others.

Listening to, and talking with, employees to find out what you both expect will help clarify expectations for your staff, and in turn, will help you learn what motivates them. It also sends a message that collaboration and communication are important factors in the success of the organization.

This effort to understand others opens the door to strong communication between leadership and the company’s biggest asset – its employees. This two-way flow of communication and information sharing will help build a culture of trust, an imperative to a positive organizational culture.

Listening to find out what motivates employees is the first step a leader can take to develop a positive company culture.

Be the “Action Hero”

Once you’ve taken the time to listen to, and hopefully seek to understand what your employees are saying, it’s time to conduct some follow-up actions. To begin, create an action plan to improve the workplace based on employee feedback. Taking action is important – it shows employees that you respect their ideas and that you take them seriously.

Remember that employees generally are committed to their jobs and want to succeed, though often they may feel leadership doesn’t support them in doing so, thus it is important for their voices to be heard and to follow-up with actions based on their feedback.

In taking action, set yourself up for success. Quick wins are always a great place to start. Rather than considering every idea that you’ve heard and feeling overwhelmed, try moving forward on one or two of the ideas that you know you can implement well, and implement quickly.

Save the remaining ideas on a prioritized wish list to revisit with employees.

Make sure you act on the concepts within a reasonable timeframe for you and the company. Listening to employees and taking action will inevitably lead to a positive culture, better employee engagement – and most importantly – improved bottom-line.

Accentuate and Articulate

Too often, leaders assume employees have awareness and understanding of the reasons behind business tactics and strategic and organizational changes – when in fact they do not. A clear and concise mission, vision and strategy must exist.

These things must be accompanied with frequent communications about processes, policies and procedures, and articulation of how employees’ day-to-day work plays a part in accomplishing organizational goals.

Employees need to understand the big picture and the role they play in achieving organizational success and improving the culture.

The more collaborative the culture and more frequent the communications, the more effective the outcomes.

Employees often think – “what’s in it for me?” Collaboration, feedback, transparent communication, and follow through on engagement actions are all activities that help to answer this question. This also helps employees feel they have a personal stake in the company which helps meet organizational goals and create a positive culture.

Collaborate and Cooperate

We all know the adage, no man (or women) is an island… Well this holds true for leaders as well.

An individual or a select few, regardless of level in the organization – cannot create a successful company alone.  Culture change that leads to an organization’s success is a process of give and take by various members of the team – with the leader serving as the guide.

Everyone in the group responsible for achieving the goals should be involved in some capacity in formalizing strategic direction, developing solid processes and procedures, and implementing metrics to measure success. When employees are engaged in working on meaningful ways to achieve success it’s a good time to grow, deepen, and further develop collaboration and innovation.

Give employees room to follow through with their ideas while remaining in a positive supporting role, acting as a guide who helps put their creativity to best use. It’s also important that employees understand what perks and benefits they’ll enjoy as a result of their efforts.

Collaboration and discussion of tangible ways of putting ideas into action, and then holding yourself and the team accountable for achieving set goals, is imperative to creating a successful organization with a positive culture.

Direction + Communication + Collaboration + Follow Through = Success!

Successful companies are places where frequent and transparent communication occurs, where employees’ ideas are heard, where creativity and innovation are encouraged and where leadership is approachable and accountable.

You will know your company culture is creating a positive effect when your employees are not only following your lead, but are remaining engaged and trying out new ideas and meeting or exceeding your expectations.

Take the lead, be the inspiration and reap the rewards of being the person you want your employees to be!

Scott Span, MSOD is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth

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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Wayne Kehl on July 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Good post, Scott. During my career with a couple of major corporations I saw the effort of some managers begin to evaporate after they got the top job. They went from aggressiveness to entitlement. I agree with your thought that leaders must always work harder than everyone else if they want to have followers!
    All The Best

  2. Scott Span, MSOD on July 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks Wayne. It’s somewhat sad when that shift occurs. Especially in today’s business environment it is more important than ever for leaders to not only work hard at making the company money – but to also work hard at engaging employees – because without them being happy the making money part becomes difficult to achieve!