I'm sure you've read articles about the importance of "culture" to shape the behaviors of your employees. One of my favorite descriptions of company culture was as "the invisible hand that shapes team behavior when there is no defined process or system to tell them what to do."

But understanding the concept of culture doesn't give you a nuts and bolts path to intentionally build it. Here are seven leadership habits that I've emphasized with my business coaching clients over the past decade. They have in part been responsible for why our average business coaching client grows nine times faster than the average privately held company in the United States.

Each of these habits is based on the understanding that as a leader, your behavior is one of the most important determinants of company culture. Your team watches everything you do. Even when you think no one is looking, everyone is.

Here are 7 leadership habits that when absorbed into your company's culture will help you progress your business to the next level.

1. Be on time, all the time.
We have to start with first things first. Be on time--all the time. This simple behavior shows to your team that you take your commitments seriously and live with integrity.

Sure it's easy to slip, your team always seems willing to wait, but when you make them wait you're undercutting your credibility with your team.

We are inductive beings. That means that we take small slivers of experience and generalize out from them. When you're on time, people interpret that to mean that you have more follow through.

2. Meet your own deadlines (and take responsibility for when you can't).
Not only is it important for you to be on time for meetings and appointments, but you also need to take your own deadlines seriously.

Too many companies implement respect in a hierarchical manner. You expect that your team meet deadlines, but you cut yourself slack. After all, you say, you're the boss.

But everything you do gets propagated throughout your organization. Your example makes a difference.

Of course there will be times when you can't make a deadline. That's life. How you handle those moments matters. Do you rationalize why you didn't meet a stated deadline? Likely n no one will challenge you, but what message are you sending to your team?

Instead, own it, and get clear on what you learned and what you'll do moving forward. Behave how you want your team to behave, even when you're not there to see them do it.

3. Clarify all action items and deliverables in writing at the end of every meeting.
One of the biggest reasons things get missed is because they weren't handed off cleanly to begin with. Many times the receiving party doesn't know just what they've been asked to do, or in fact they may not know that they've been asked to do something at all.

Hence the need to clarify all action items and deliverables in writing. Not only does this make sure that you've captured all your action items, but it is also a powerful way to role model how you want your team to behave.

Wherever possible, number the commitments so that they are absolutely clear.

At your next meeting this might sound like:
"Okay, summing up here's what I've committed to: I've got three action items here. Item one is to review the Johnson Proposal and make a yes or no decision by this Friday end of business. Item two is to give feedback via email to Carl about the new orientation process. And item three is to send out the date of our next quarterly planning session to the exec team by noon tomorrow. [I encourage you to visibly write each of them down in your notes as your meeting progresses]. Now Cheryl, I have down that you've committed to two items..."

Teach your team to employ this same skill with their staff. It's a best practice that companies that execute adopt.

4. Clearly state what you can't commit to so that you don't lower the accountability bar in your company by missing a "phantom deliverable."
"Phantom deliverables" are those things that the other person thinks you committed to but you didn't.

As a leader, you need to exhibit great communication by making any phantom deliverables you see come out of a meeting explicit. That way if you can commit to that deliverable, you do so, and if you can't, you clarify that you are not committing to it.

5. "Close" the accountability loop.
It's one thing to meet your commitments, but it's another to make sure that the other parties involved get that you've done so. So "close" the loop.

"Mark, as promised, here is the Data Form Proposal due to you tomorrow..."

Explicitly let them know you're closing the loop so that they don't inadvertently think that you missed your commitment. This also models clean communication for your team.

6. Ask, don't immediately solve.
A team member rushes in to your office and say, "The Acme project is way behind." Your first inclination may be to step in and go into command and control mode - don't. Instead, ask your team member a series of questions to help them think the situation through and find his or her own solution.

"What do you think is really going on here?"

"And what else?"

"What's really at stake here?"

"How do you think you need to handle this? Why?"

"If you couldn't do that, what would you do then?"

"Out of all these possible choices we talked about, what do you think is the smartest way to proceed?"


At this point 80-90 percent of the time you've coached them to find their own right answer. Not only does this help them develop as a business person and contributor, but again, you're role modeling this leadership pattern for your team.

You'll be amazed one day to listen in to Sally coaching her direct report Tim through the same process to solve his own problem.

7. Celebrate progress.
Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. We all feel fulfilled when we are making meaningful progress towards things that matter.

So why is it that so many business leaders gloss over victories and instead focus with their team on all the work that is left to do and all the improvements that are left to be done?

"Great work on the Mall project Jerry, and now you still need to..."

"Pam, I'm glad you got a yes from the Sorenson Group, how are you going to..."


Don't mix your acknowledgement with suggestions or questions about next steps. Instead, celebrate the victory and let it sit for a moment. Then and only then move on to what has to happen next.

To practice (your team will love it) start your next staff meeting by going around the room and everyone sharing one team victory they've observed over the past 30 days.

Celebrating victories just means to pause - if only for a moment - to see the progress that you've made. Savor that moment. Then, from this inspired, empowered place, you can go on to talk about the work that is still to be done.

So there you have seven concrete leadership habits that will help you inspire your team to be better and build a culture where great work gets done.

If you enjoyed the ideas I shared, then I encourage you to download a free copy of my newest book, Build a Business, Not a Job. Click here for full details and to get your complimentary copy. I think you'll especially appreciate Chapter 2 where I talk the 8 ingredients to scale, one of which is company culture.

Published on: Feb 22, 2017