Sarah McGimpsey

Leadership and Culture- A Marriage of Necessity

At some point in time most of us will have worked in companies where the culture is bad. Some of us have worked in outright toxic environments where the revolving door of eager new recruits skipping in, meets the disenchanted employees on the way out.

The Leadership in a company sets the tone for the organisational culture. Culture is king in attracting and retaining the best employees. The best employees drive business growth. Therefore, the leadership of a company must take responsibility when culture impedes growth.

What is Company Culture?

Company culture is a shared set of workplace beliefs, values, attitudes, standards, purposes and behaviours. It reflects both the written and unwritten rules that people in an organisation follow. Your organisation’s culture is the sum of all that you and your colleagues think, say, and do as you work together. (

So, what is a toxic or bad culture workplace?

They come in all different shapes and sizes from large corporates to small boutiques and tend to have similar components or traits.

In its worst guise employees often feel, punished, rejected, guilty, defensive and humiliated. There is often a culture of fear, where people are too scared to speak up and micro managing is also often prolific.

Blurring of work/ life balance for instance, getting emails from your boss at the weekend when you are trying to relax? Bad culture tick. Not being included in key decisions that affect you and having things handed over as a fait accompli? Tick. Aggressive hyper competitive environments where people are pitted against each other instead of working collaboratively? Tick. Mixed messages and ever-changing goal posts coming from senior management? Tick.

Employees working in a toxic/ bad culture environment are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety and depression and they are more likely to become disengaged.

As an Executive recruiter I speak with people daily about their careers. Some want to move role and others do not.  Company culture comes up a lot in both senarios.

*According to a report from MIT Sloan Management Review, employees are quitting their jobs in droves because of toxic workplace culture, not low pay.

“toxic workplace culture is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to an employee quitting.” *Forbes

See also – “20 Symptoms of A Toxic Workplace Environment That Leaders Should Watch For” Forbes

So, what does good look like and how do we recruit the best Leaders when it comes to culture?

A good culture has the power to increase staff retention and productivity, attract the top talent, foster loyalty and produce increased engagement.

“In a positive company culture, employees feel safe, heard and appreciated. It’s where they’re engaged and motivated to do their best work, because the culture empowers them to grow and find meaning and purpose in their roles.” Forbes Advisor

How do we recruit the right leaders that will cultivate and nurture the right culture for your organisation?

If you have a strong company culture already and don’t want to jeopardise this, then you need to be very clear in getting the right cultural fit for your business at a senior level. To do that you need to identify what makes your culture good, what traits do your senior leaders all share? How do you all communicate? What feedback have your employees given in terms of culture? At Artemis, as part of our Executive search process, we carry out personality profiling and have been trained in Thomas International DISK profiling specifically. This involves first surveying your SMT to understand the behavioural traits required for the role. This ensures everyone is on the same page and there is alignment on the type of behaviours required. Throughout the process candidates are considered against the criteria and eventually matched against it.

If your culture needs improvement, then again you should look to identify the main areas of concern and where focus is needed. For instance, is there bad communication? A lack of collaboration? Micromanaging? Does the company have a clear vision and have you set out your mission, vision and values clearly to everyone? Can you communicate what a good culture looks like to all employees clearly? Can you make culture an integral part of the recruitment process? Do your senior leaders lead by example? Is bad behaviour tolerated or overlooked?

Getting real feedback from current employees will help you highlight key areas for improvement and show you are taking culture seriously. Turning around a bad culture business can be done but the leaders must take responsibility and actively be the change.

‘Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.’ — Doris Kearns Goodwin, American biographer, historian, and political commentator.