The Leader’s Guide to Shaping a Strong Corporate Culture

We all talk about loyalty and trust, and how essential they are to a great team and a strong corporate culture, but we often forget that loyalty and mutual trust, like any aspects of an enduring relationship, need to be built and updated and cared for and maintained. 

Great team builders are those who are continually aware of both sides of this equation of mutual respect; that is, they are constantly proving through their actions that they’ve got your back and they always believe (until proven otherwise) that you’ve got theirs.

The best teams do everything in their power to take care of the most precious commodity a high-performance team has: a one hundred percent solid bedrock of trust, loyalty, and respect for and from their team members. 

So, how can we as leaders shape a strong corporate culture by inspiring that mutual respect every day? 


World Class Leadership is About Putting Your Team First 

Of course, we all want to get credit for our accomplishments!  And on a great team, in which every employee brings something unique and valuable to the table that they share with the team, you are absolutely recognized and applauded for your contributions. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be there for very long! 

It’s a common misconception that team building is a completely selfless endeavor. But while it is true that great team members must wrap their ego around the team’s success instead of their own individual glory (egos must be left at the start line – but not confidence!), an important key to building a strong corporate culture is to seek out people who have strengths that you don’t possess – and to share your core talents with them.  All for mutual gain. Great Leaders Inspire (versus Impress) their Team Members.

One of the most important things I learned watching leaders achieve great business success was the importance of inspiring versus impressing their team. The best leaders leave their ego at the front door. They realize they don’t have to be amazing all the time, bark orders, or know all the answers. 

Instead, the best leaders challenge their teams with good questions, listen to their team’s ideas, and inspire every employee to pursue their best case solutions.

In my job as a firefighter, the Captains that inspired me the most were those who saw their rank not as power, but as an increased obligation for the safety, success, and happiness of the crew and the public. 


Mentor Unselfishly

Another way to build a strong corporate culture is to take your teammates under your wing and show them the way to be better at the things at which you excel, and for you to be genuinely curious about their background and experience as well. 

But in business, the barriers to this kind of mentorship are often the compensation structure, in which individuals who do the same job function are ranked against one another, or the desire to maintain the power that comes with knowing things that others don’t. 

So, let’s take a look at how to solve this co-opetition conundrum and allow for healthy competition AND mutual gain simultaneously 

On the surface, asking people to operate as a team or to share best practices when they are ranked against one another, which often happened when I was selling for a major pharmaceutical company, appears to fly in the face of logic, right? Yes and no. 

During my sales career, there was one particular sales rep who was as always ranked number one, year after year. And it drove me crazy because he shared with the entire sales force what he learned from physicians, their staff, or our competitors every week, via email. How was he number one when he shared all of his (what I assumed were) secrets? When I asked him at the national sales meeting why he continued to share when others didn’t, he said “what do you think happens when I send out that email? I get 10 or 12 emails back from other reps, sharing what they learned too. And if you’ll notice, it’s the same 10 or 12 of us that win the incentive trip every year. Plus, we all own stock, right? Why wouldn’t I want to move stock prices higher by sharing my knowledge?  Mind. Blown. This entire time I was competing, and he was creating a win win for all of us, and our shareholders, WHILE still being ranked #1….By understanding the art and science of competitive collaboration.

I also encourage business leaders to make the rewards system within their organization, or at least a component of it, match what people are asked to do. For example, if you want people to operate as a team, tie at least one component of their compensation or bonus plan to crossing a finish line together. That ought to encourage greater teamwork.


Inspire WE Thinking

In the real world, it’s easy to be an island, to pay lip service to teamwork, and to get to the finish line of a project alone if you need to. We mostly rely on our own talents, wits, and skills because they have gotten us this far, haven’t they?

But to get to the next level, beyond what you can accomplish alone, you must be able to build a “We Thinking” team, in which you inspire your team to literally and figuratively carry one another when they need to.  

If we’re honest, we’re all pretty competitive and we tend to operate as soloists. But We Thinkers make the conscious and important effort to leave their house every day and see a world full of potential teammates versus a world full of potential competitors.  They capitalize on their hard won strengths and barter their weaknesses to their “team”.  And in doing so, they get a lot further, faster.  

An important thing to remember is that in any long-term, worthwhile journey with a team, in business and in life, we will at some point be the strongest link and the weakest link. A We Thinking team accepts that, and minimizes the impact of it for the greater good. There is a beautiful flow of giving and accepting on world-class teams, and it’s an uplifting experience to be a part of it. Mountaineers rope up to one another to reach a more challenging summit than any individual could ever reach alone. What if we created that kind of culture as leaders in our lives?