The late US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.”

Everyone understands the imperative of effective leadership.

But it's also important to recognize that leadership and corporate culture are integrally aligned. And if you don't like a company's culture, then look to the top.

Senior leaders define an organization's culture. Over time, their words, actions and expectations nurture and evolve that culture — by accident or design.

From the Top Down

Exceptional leaders personify their passion, vision and mission through authentic values and principles.

They also provide their employees with a clear and simple organizational framework in the form of well-defined mission, vision, values and goals.

They use these foundational elements to craft strategic policy plans, which establish and guide the organizational culture.

In short, they set expectations and drive cultural norms, which cascade down to employees at all levels of the company.

6 Elements of 'Leader' Driven Culture

But organically creating company culture through strong and focused leadership is no easy task.

Six essential elements must come together to create a healthy, sustainable culture. By a healthy culture we mean one that is strong yet agile enough to withstand dynamic business environments and the passing of time.

1. Vision: The leader embodies the vision. It is his “calling” — his life’s purpose. It is fueled by personal passion and commitment to a cause.

It is fundamentally altruistic in nature, the antithesis of a profit focused commitment and undertaking. The vision needs to be big — even perceived as unattainable.

2. Mission: The leader has to define and develop his company's mission. The mission is characteristically transformative, innovative and creative. Think of it as a goal aligned with attainment of the vision.

The mission incrementally achieves the vision and positively advances the cause. It advocates for something or someone with a sense of urgency. The “win” comes from a competitive spirit and approach of purpose versus process. A well delineated policy program is established for meeting and exceeding defined goals.

3. Relationship: Building genuine relationships that inspire and motivate is the most important skill set for the C-Suite leader. Senior leaders need to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk: They must lead by example.

Authenticity, transparency and credibility are essential characteristics of transformative and effective leaders. Leadership that fosters trust and confidence draws approbation and inspires excellence.

Timely and consistent communication averts speculation and negative assumptions that oftentimes lead to apathy, toxicity, poor morale and performance.

4. Team/Employees: The goals and objectives of all employees have to be aligned with the company's values and mission.

The key is hiring the right people. Employees must be enrolled and personally invested in the company's vision and mission. Personality type, character, values, motivation and skills are factors to be analyzed when creating and adding to the team.

The selection of each employee, regardless of where they sit on the organization and functional chart(s), is of critical importance. Bottom-line, employees are assets and need to revered and managed as assets, not costs.

The culture created must attract applicants that share the vision, mission and strategic style. So leaders need to identify needed skills functionally and match hard skills with the established culture.

Personal commitment to goals and outcomes will result in a shared, celebratory environment. Creating an inclusive and harmonious employee and customer-focused culture, honoring each component equally, inspires consistent excellence and optimal performance.

Everyone has a stake and controls a piece of the reward — the “win” is salacious and palatable for clients and team members alike. Pride in contribution and outcomes fuel the consistent drive to increase the goals, break unattainable records and shatter all possible limitations and standards.

5. Accessibility: It is essential that leadership stay connected with employees and that knowledge sharing systems are designed into the organizations infrastructure. Technology provides multiple means of communication and modes for information accessibility.

All available and appropriate means much be assessed and strategically employed to ensure employees access to leaderships position and directives; organization and job related information and training; best practice information sharing and systems that encourage and support collaboration.

6. Business Acumen: Leadership and strong business acumen are skills that are essential in today’s business landscape. Business acumen refers to behaviors, actions and decisions that impact the bottom-line. Essentially, this reflects the financial impact of leadership on the organization.

Establishing a strong, supportive company culture will help businesses attract and retain top talent, which in turn drives productivity, innovation and a healthy bottom line. Just remember: Culture starts at the top, and can only develop in a positive way under the guidance of effective senior leaders.

Title image by Jordan McQueen