These days, it seems like everywhere you look, there's a story about an organization's toxic culture:

  • In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie's former aides are sentenced to prison for their Bridgegate misdeeds.
  • The New York Times uncovers the fact that five women received payouts not to pursue sexual harassment claims against Fox News star Bill O'Reilly.
  • And then there's Uber. From the CEO behaving badly to sexual harassment allegations to trying to control driver behavior, Uber's got a lot of explaining to do.

What do these organizations have in common? Cultural problems that start at the top.

In fact, when it comes to culture, every problem begins and ends in the executive suite. Go ahead and draft corporate values. Design pretty posters and put them up on every wall. Train managers about how to work with their teams to support the values. Even incorporate values into performance management and tie values to pay.

None of it matters unless senior leaders:

  • Spend as much time talking about how people in the organization need to work together as they do talking about objectives and business results.
  • Walk the talk. You can't give an impassioned speech about respecting people at a town hall meeting and then go yell at people for poor financial performance behind closed doors.
  • Listen to problems, objections and conflicts. If your direct reports--and everyone in the organization--are "yes men," and you never get the unvarnished truth, you're tacitly endorsing bad behavior.
  • Reject a "take-no-prisoners" approach to succeeding, never valuing winning above anything else. If leaders say, "I don't want to hear about how you do it. Just get it done," the game is over.

Hey, I know that leaders are under pressure to get results. In fact, you often feel like the filling in a grilled cheese sandwich: pressed from the top (the board and investors) to achieve impossible goals and squeezed from the bottom (everyone who works for you) with impossible challenges.

But that's no excuse, since you're also the Chief Cultural Officer. Everyone in the organization is watching you for clues about how to behave. What are the rules, really? What matters most? Would you sacrifice achieving a result for the greater good?

You have the choice: Work hard to make your company a good place to work. Or accept the fact that you're the reason your organization has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad culture.