I walk into a lot of businesses. I’ve found the first person I meet tells me about the culture and what to expect.

The way people greet you or don’t. The way they ask if they can help, or not. People’s faces – alive, smiling, vibrant – or closed, dulled-down, and sullen.

The best business I ever worked with organised someone to meet me on arrival. Over the course of a few years, I found that no matter which office I visited, people literally radiated energy. Their demeanour communicated ‘I may not know who you are, but whoever you are, you’re important!’

Often one of the team would pick me up from the airport and deliver me back afterwards.

If I was running a workshop someone was assigned to assist me with technology (if I needed it), a glass of water available in the room, and if anyone found me wandering around looking for the loo, they checked if I was okay or needed anything.

At lunchtime I wasn’t thrown onto unfamiliar streets to hunt down food, people extended an invitation for me to join them.

However, the thing that really stood out about this company is that everyone – from the CEO to the receptionist – knew the company values. And they could voice those values out loud.

They knew how the values on the wall translated into expected behaviour on the floor.

Everyone I met loved working there. They saw themselves as a team, all pulling in the same direction. They felt valued and connected to the bigger picture because they knew how their role fitted in. And valued people with a sense of purpose will go the extra mile – not because they have to – but because they want to.

None of this happened by accident, from running a one-day workshop, or because the company trained people to look after visitors.

No. This is something you deliberately train.

For this business, it began with a humble, self-aware, inspiring CEO who invested in rock-solid leadership training. The result was great leaders, and great leaders create great cultures!

It’s that simple.

It’s wise to start with the senior leadership team first because culture has a trickle-down effect.

Yet, how often do you hear a senior leader put their hand up and say ‘we have a problem here, I think I’m part of it and I need to change.’ Rare huh!

Usually, it’s  ‘we have a problem, but it’s not me, it’s them’ showing a lack of insight while protecting their image.

It takes courage to explore how you’re getting in your own way (in your team’s way and that of the business). And taking ownership is painful.  It’s much easier to deny responsibility and blame others.

To get individual leaders walking their talk, they must know the talk they’re aiming to walk and then be seen walking it.

This is how wall-values become floor-behaviours.

According to leadership experts, Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner (2015) as a leader, people need to know which values you stand for and whether they can trust you.

Leaders who can clearly articulate their walk are 66% more trusted, engagement rises by 40% and a team’s mental wellbeing are impacted by a third. That there’s an obvious flow onto the bottom line is not rocket science.

I remember the people in this business telling me how excited they were about taking part in a leadership programme that had a reputation for shedding a few tears.

I was confused. Why would people want to sign up for that?

Because they were sold on the idea that experiencing pain is inevitable for growth.

They knew if they didn’t stretch themselves as leaders they’d stagnate – personally, professionally and as a company.

‘Burning is learning’ as they say.

This is why I love my colleague Michael Bunting’s Mindful Leader program.

It challenges people to step up and take ownership while accepting ‘the burn’ is a prerequisite for cultivating a growth mindset.

Transformational leadership and real culture change come to life when people are challenged to stretch out of their comfort zone, one leader and one team at a time.

As the business partner for Awakened Mind and consultant for The Mindful Leader programme in New Zealand, I’d love to talk to you.

If you’d like to create a great culture in your business, get in touch.