Skip to Content | Skip to Navigation

Leadership Article 4: Culture

30 August 2010

Culture in an organisation is determined by the boss. A successful, happy company has a boss with self-respect and respect for those who work with him. - by John Bittleston of Terrific Mentors

Spiteful, backbiting hotbeds of politics also demonstrate the nature of the leader.

In the 1960s I was asked to help rescue an advertising agency that was going downhill. The problem soon became obvious. Most of the staff members were drunk from noon onwards. The Chairman had set up a Directors’ bar to which members of the board retired at lunchtime, seldom emerging before it was time to go home. They were losing clients fast.

It took me three months to get the bar closed. Within a week things began to look up, business started to return and the profits resumed. There was still heavy drinking – the Chairman was an alcoholic – but people were working again.

A good culture is one where the rights of the individual and the rights of the community in which the individual lives are roughly equally balanced. An analogy between the ship and the fleet makes the point. Each depends on the other, both have rights but both have responsibilities before those rights. Rear Admiral Ronald Hopwood expressed this well in his poem ‘The Laws of the Navy’ when he said “the strength of the ship is the service and the strength of the service, the ship”.

A good organisation sees that its members are cared for, helped, disciplined and rewarded. Each member must feel a sense of ownership towards the organisation. People who own their houses look after them better than those who merely rent. A good organisation has wide ownership among its members and that does not necessarily mean shares.

When a culture goes wrong how long does it take to put right?

Bad bosses do not have to be removed, they have to be retrained. They know that better leadership produces more profits and greater social benefits.

To improve a culture I recommend:

  1. Find out what the boss wants. Straighten him or her out.
  2. Check the internal communications. If there are meetings of more than five people lasting more than ninety minutes, stop them. They are only playing a nasty sort of bingo.
  3. If you get your internal communications right your external ones will look after themselves. Trying to correct external communications without first attending to internal ones is a waste of time.
  4. Not everyone responds to ‘now tell us what you think’. Train those who need to seek colleagues’ views how to do it without a firing squad.
  5. If you see a lot of attention deficit recognise it as your problem, not theirs. To get attention, pay attention.
  6. Demonstrate caring. Not necessary to spend money although a little well spent on team building and small “thank-you” gestures is helpful.
    Effort is worth a hundred times a few dollars. The wife of a colleague of mine died young of cancer. We all attended the funeral and expressed our love in different ways. I wrote a poem for him. Twenty-three years later the flowers I sent to the service have long since been forgotten but he still has that poem on his dressing table.

Perhaps the single most important rule for a leader creating a culture to know is that your colleagues won’t remember what you say.
They will always remember the way they felt when you said it.

Terrific Mentors John Bittleston, Eliza Quek, Denise Pang help people with their careers, businesses and personal lives at

Copyright © Terrific Mentors Pte Ltd 2010. All rights reserved

Return to Top