iStock_000005390942XSmallMy mission on this earth is to help leaders to 1) understand the incredible power of corporate culture to drive performance and employee work passion, and 2) proactively manage their desired culture, every day.

Two very relevant articles caught my eye this week. Both articles highlighted senior leaders who, in their vastly different organizations, created corporate cultures that resulted in poor performance, poor morale, day-to-day frustration . . . and worse.

The first article described how the head of the USA’s Missile Defense Agency mismanaged his office, harassed and bullied senior staff, and failed in his leadership of the Pentagon’s largest program. A scathing investigation and report found the commander regularly yelled and screamed obscenities at subordinates (too often in public), demeaned employees, and created such a difficult work environment that at least six senior staff have left the MDA under his regime. Particularly telling: in 2011, the MDA was ranked 228 out of 241 “best places to work in the federal government” according to the Partnership for Public Service.

The second article described how the ex-CEO of France Telecom was indicted by a court in Paris this week over allegations that he “led a culture of bullying and harassment that resulted in the suicide of at least 35 employees.” Many employees felt desperate and depressed during the CEO’s aggressive restructuring. Most of those who died left notes blaming pressure at work for their actions. We will see how this court case plays out – but the fact that an investigation found evidence supporting these charges is truly astounding.

How Safe and Inspiring is Your Organization’s Culture?

Most bosses are not tyrants – yet some can have very negative impact on employee performance and work passion. Margie Blanchard, co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies, strongly believes that “people are doing the best they can” at work every day. I believe that is true – and, unless bosses are tuned in to employee perceptions, workplaces may not be as safe and inspiring as their leaders think they are.

Influencing efforts by senior leaders don’t always have the expected consequences. Leaders must check in on how employees are doing AND feeling to ensure the leader’s efforts are helping, not hurting or hindering, employee performance and passion for their work.

What separates mediocre or even OK bosses from great bosses? Great bosses demonstrate servant leadership. Servant leaders know that their effectiveness is solely measured by their employees’:

  • Understanding of the business’ vision (future state) and purpose (present state)
  • Continued refinement of skills to meet/exceed customer requirements of company products and services
  • Satisfaction with work relationships (with peers and boss), and
  • Feeling of safety and inspiration at work, every day.

How well does your team or organization’s culture inspire employee connection, performance, and work passion? Tell us in the comments section below.

Get your FREE EXCERPT from my new book, #POSITIVITY AT WORK tweet, written with the delightful Lisa Zigarmi. View our video on why we wrote the book, understand the research on positivity in the workplace, and more!

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S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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Reader Interactions


  1. Scott Mabry says

    Great post Chris. I still find it amazing that there are leaders in this world who are so unaware of or unwilling to care about the damage they inflict upon the people in the organization. While there are several key leadership practices that lead to a strong culture, one might go along with way with a simple commitment to compassion and courage. You can produce amazing results and still provide an amazing culture. Tyrants are the at the top of the pyramid…of weakness. Love your four points, especially the importance of relationships.

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      You are SO right, Scott – love your emphasis on compassion and courage by leaders. If leaders would demonstrate those characteristics, they’d connect more deeply and influence more effectively – from the HEART!



  2. Lydia Chicles says

    Thanks Chris, a great article and good timing for us as a startup. Curious on your perspective on key priorities to establishing such a culture and tools with which to do so!
    Glad to chat with you on twitter, looking forward to future such discussions!
    Lydia Chicles

  3. Mark Deterding says

    Outstanding article Chris! I couldn’t agree more on your point about servant leadership is what separates OK or good bosses from great bosses. But where it most often breaks down for a leader is at this point of putting themselves into the vulnerable spot of truly finding out what is reality within the workforce, and making the necessary personal corrections to improve. It takes courage as a leader to look in the mirror and know that it fully rests on the leader’s shoulders to model the culture that is desired. And in my experience, the leader’s perception is usually not exactly reality. But by asking the questions, and more importantly acting on the feedback, a leader can drive great momentum towards the desired culture. Thanks for all the fabulous work you do in this most important area of corporate culture. You are making a significant impact!


    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Mark, you’ve nailed it perfectly – leaders need courage to seek out how employees’ “reality” is playing out. Once leaders learn that perception, they are faced with the choice of refining their behaviors, language, approach, etc. – or not.

      Servant leaders make those changes quickly and nimbly, and continue to examine ways further changes would serve their employees better.



  4. David Karp says

    Another outstanding article Chris! I’m always inspired and feel very connected with what you share. At LRN we’ve done a lot of work in evaluating and measuring culture and leadership, and we’ve thought deeply about how leaders can rethink the way they lead and ultimately how they contribute to overall employee engagement. What we’ve realized is you can’t pursue engagement directly, but instead should see engagement as an outcome. Taking a colleague to lunch won’t bring engagement; it’s what happens at the lunch that counts. When we ensure our teams are doing meaningful work, and they can connect that work to the broader vision, mission, and business goals of the organization, we’ll see the kind of passionate work and culture we desire.

    Again, terrific insights as always about what makes a great leader. It’s inspiring we have people like yourself to help elevate what we each do every day.

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      David, I so appreciate our similar passions for making culture relevant & measurable for senior leaders! Your point about engagement being a desirable outcome of an aligned culture is very important. More than once we’ve had clients come to us because they had low employee engagement scores on a new survey and senior leaders delegated authority to “fix it” to HR or OD.

      That’s not how it works. You described it beautifully: teams doing meaningful work that members can link to the organization’s vision, mission, and goals mean your organization’s culture is healthy and beneficial!



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