Can you remember a teacher who really inspired you, or a boss who filled you with confidence and helped you move up the career ladder? Maybe you’ve worked in a place with a seriously positive company culture, where you felt really productive, driven to succeed and loyal to the company?

If so, the chances are it was because your teacher or boss was an amazing leader who you looked up to. A great leader can inspire and motivate and, in the workplace, this is a powerful thing, leading to a positive culture, greater productivity and ultimately a healthier bottom line.

For me, before I started my own company, I took a big pay cut to move out of London. I was a trader and things were going well. The main problem was that I hated it and so decided to retrain as an accountant. I still couldn’t tell you why accountancy, but it felt right and it has done ever since. The company I joined agreed to sponsor my training and my boss took me under his wing. The feedback and insight he gave me were invaluable, as were the opportunities he exposed me to, that were way above my pay grade, and enabled me to make myself valuable to the business.

This experience taught me so much about the culture and values I wanted to become the norm when I set up breathe.

If you’re a business owner or manager in a business, then there is every chance your staff will look to you for leadership and guidance. If you want to enjoy business success and create a really strong company culture, then there are three key things you need to do:

Communicate the expectation

Communication should a be a key quality if you’re in a leadership position. Your staff need direction, and if you don’t show them what you expect of them then they won’t know how to behave or realise your goals.

You should have a clear and exciting vision of where you want to go, and you need to clearly explain that vision to your team and how you want it to be achieved so you can all work towards a common purpose. If you manage that, then you’ll tap into your employees’ emotions and inspire them as well. 

You do need to be true, authentic and transparent as well as really believe in what you are saying. After all, if you don’t fully believe it and commit to it, your staff aren’t likely to either.

However, when you do communicate your expectations, you need to be mindful of how you do it. It is far better to open a dialogue with your staff rather than simply dictate and tell them how it is done. Communication works both ways and you need to be open to what your team says if you want to build on a positive company culture.

Be a role model

As a leader it is your role to establish a positive environment and culture for your business. You need to show courage, integrity and trust. Do this with all staff from management down to the most junior, then they will trust and believe in you as a role model.

If you’re telling them one thing about working hard but turning up to the office only when you feel like it or not bothering at all, it will send a very negative message that will adversely impact company culture and productivity. After all, if you can’t be bothered, why should they?

Whatever aspect of the business you are working on, make sure you lead the way in how to behave. For example, if you expect your staff to dress smartly then you should do that too.

Mahatma Ghandi once said: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” and that’s exactly the same philosophy you should employ in your office.

Hold others accountable

In order to be a great leader, you need to hold others accountable. This can feel quite uncomfortable at times, but again, it is a core part of a positive company culture if you can get your staff to take ownership and responsibility for their work. It’s something we strongly believe in here at breathe.

It shouldn’t just be about finding fault when you think your staff are not working hard enough or have done something wrong. You should take a look at yourself first, and ask whether you could have been more effective in communicating what you wanted, or if you have been lax about holding them to account. It’s ok for things not to go as well as you wanted to them to, but only if you’re accountable for those actions, so you can learn from them and use that lesson to improve the next time you try.

You should be absolutely clear about what you want from your people - your staff are not mind readers. You should also show them not just small goals but the overall strategy so they understand their role is part of a bigger picture.

You should follow up regularly to make sure they are achieving the outcomes you want. If they are not, it’s time to be honest with them about where they are not achieving but then, you need to coach them to improve. Constructive criticism and objective assessment will bring about improvements and embed a positive culture. Regular telling-offs will simply cultivate a negative one.

UK's top 25 SME Culture Leaders