Ward Alles

When Leaders “Care” the Culture Follows

By Ward Alles on March 1, 2017

Building a healthy corporate culture starts with CEOs showing empathy

I’ve talked about the 7 C’s of Culture in my blogs before. Here’s the list again, but I’d like to really focus on that last one.

  • Communication – Creates the all-important element of trust and transparency. Communication shouldn’t just be top-down speeches by CEOs; you need to create opportunities for two-way dialogues between employees and supervisors. Listen. Ask. More than you talk.
  • Community – Creates a tribal mentality in your organization. Another word for this is “team.” People love relationships. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They get that sense of belonging at work if you give it to them.
  • Chronicling – Creates the storyline and points to the legacy you are building together. The company’s history (someone has to be the keeper of the flame) lights where you’ve been and where you’re headed.
  • Celebration – Creates an atmosphere of fun and relaxation. Sure, work hard, but play hard too. Companies create memories at parties and events. Celebrations mark time. They recognize accomplishment.
  • Ceremony – Creates a sense of ritual and tradition. Human beings take comfort in the familiar and like to follow a predictable calendar of activities. Establish them.
  • Cause – Creates an additional sense of purpose (beyond your own company’s mission). People of all ages (but especially Millennials) love giving back to people, charities or movements they think are important. Can you do this together as an organization?
  • Caring – Creates a feeling of being valued, respected – even, dare I say it?, loved.

The importance of Caring has become more and more evident to me as a leader these days.

I’ve been doing one-on-one talks with my employees this past month. Completely voluntary on their part. Just a brief chat over lunch or over a cup of coffee.

The talks are incredibly informal. I simply ask, “So what’s going on these days? What’s on your plate?”

The conversations have ranged from:

  • health issues to
  • upcoming marriages to
  • adopting children to
  • sending kids off to college to
  • dreams of starting a side business
  • And so on.

Whatever folks wanted to talk about.

And did you notice something? None of the conversations had anything to do with work.

The chats aren’t long. Half hour, maybe. But they don’t need to be. They are a priceless use of time. For me. And, I hope, for my employees.

I’ve been asking myself lately why Caring feels so much more important than the rest? And I think I know the answer. It’s in the question itself. Caring FEELS.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” right? Well, I think we can lose sight of this truism as CEOs and business leaders. We are so focused on the goal, on production, on metrics, on our reasoning power to solve problems … that I think, if we’re not careful, we can create a few new ones on our own.

Our employees need their bosses and supervisors to lay off on the biz talk every now and then and just “be real.” We need to learn what’s on their minds, what’s heavy on their hearts, and to not always be so obsessed with our own agendas.

Everyday, our employees walk into work with their “baggage” i.e. home life, health issues, dreams about the future, past mistakes, money troubles. The list is as diverse as our people. And everyday, they are expected to set all of that aside and concentrate on the company’s brand and vision. Really? What’s the likelihood of that really happening? As the geniuses on the NFL channel say: “Come on, man!”

Here’s where the leadership lesson comes in … and where the feeling part needs to be acknowledged. It’s that elusive leadership trait called EMPATHY. The leaders, supervisors and managers at your company simply must have it and then take time to use it. They must “walk a mile” in their employee’s footsteps if they ever expect employees to follow their own.

Personally, I need to feel what my employees are feeling to stay grounded in reality. I need to feel what they are feeling to help set good “HR” policy for my firm. I need to care for them so they’ll care for my clients. And I need to feel what they are feeling before I can ever expect them to return the favor.

That’s worth saying again: I need to feel what they are feeling before I can ever expect them to return the favor.

You know where I learned that lesson? From my employees. In the last chat I had with one of them, do you know how she started the conversation? “So what’s on your plate these days, Ward? How can I help?”

What a great question to hear. What a great feeling.

Creating a corporate culture needs to be an intentional act of leadership. If you need help with leadership communication strategies to help build your employer brand, our team is here to help.


Ward Alles is a Brand Consultant and President of Core Creative.