11 Insightful Leadership Quotes on Culture

11 Insightful Leadership Quotes on Culture

Mediocre companies will often tell you they have a great culture, but when you question them on what makes it wonderful, they provide you with bland platitudes and flimsy proof.  

On the other hand, high performance companies really work hard to identify, define and deliver the right culture that meets market needs.  They spend a lot of time to create the right organisational environment that attracts the right people, but also sets them up to successfully deliver on the strategy. 

Essentially, positive cultures focus on designing environments where people can be the best they can be. Instead of treating staff like they should be happy to just have a job, they are nurtured, made to feel important and understand how their job has meaning.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the top companies in the world and how their leaders perceive culture.

11 Leadership Quotes on Culture

“A company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin.  What goes around the office comes around to the customer.   We wanted employees that really believed in our long term vision and really felt like this was the right culture for them. The conditions of the training encourage people to take a real look at what Zappos is like and to think about a thing like happiness in the larger picture of their overall employment. It encourages people to go home, talk to their friends and family and ask themselves “Is this a company I really believe in?  Is this a culture I really want to be a part of and contribute to?”

Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

“The only thing we have is one another. The only competitive advantage we have is the culture and values of the company. Anyone can open up a coffee store. We have no technology, we have no patent. All we have is the relationship around the values of the company and what we bring to the customer every day. And we all have to own it.”

Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks

“This is the lesson I give to MBA students. In any M&A or spin-off, don’t wipe everything out. Find one thing in the organisation that was good and use it as a cornerstone for a new culture. People don’t want to work for an organisation for years and then be told its rubbish.”

Bob Every, Chairman Boral and Wesfarmers

“There is a high cost associated with building a culture: team retreats, gym memberships, personal and professional development classes. All this is to facilitate the personal evolution of each person who contributes to the company.  And, what are our results? In three years, not one employee has voluntarily left, which is a phenomenon that we believe can be replicated at any organisation. We have the receipts to show how much it cost, and we also have uncovered the more obscure internal metrics that impact employee satisfaction and prevent voluntary turnover.”

David Hassell, Founder and CEO of 15Five

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”

Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

(In relation to hiring John Browett as Head or Retail and then firing him after a few months because he didn’t gel with culture (eg: angered staff, made poor decisions):

 “That was a reminder to me of the critical importance of cultural fit, and that it takes some time to learn that.  As a CEO, you’re engaged in so many things that each particular thing gets a little less attention.  You need to be able to operate on shorter cycles, less data points, less knowledge, less facts.  But if you believe the most important data points are people, then you have to make conclusions in a relatively short order.  Because you want to push the people who are doing great.  And you want to either develop the people who are not, or in a worst case, they need to be somewhere else.”

Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

“The only purpose for me, in building a company, is so that the company can make products.  One is a means to the other.  Over a period of time, you realise that building a very strong company and a very strong foundation of talent and culture in a company is essential to making great products.””

Steve Jobs, CEO, Co-founder & ex-CEO

“In our early years, we didn’t talk about culture much. We hadn’t documented it all. We just built a business that we wanted to work in. And, that was great. But the real return on culture happened when we started getting more deliberate about it. By writing it down. By debating it. By taking it apart, polishing the pieces and putting it back together. Iterating. Again. And again.”

Dharmesh Shah, Co-founder, Hubspot

“When you’re building an institution, you’re consciously growing something that will be beyond you.  It will exist without you, it’ll grow beyond you, it’ll sustain itself beyond you….it’s about creating culture and values that persist.  It’s that psychic glue that holds it all together.  By establishing a candid culture, companies, nonprofits, governments, alike can empower future frontrunners to never stop challenging the status quo – and each other, in order to create sustainable, positive impact.  While you may not always like what you see and hear, it’s better to have the option to change your path now than to versus learning little too little, too late tomorrow.  I consciously go out of my way to not only create an open culture but also have open lines of communication to a very wide set of people, because the bad news may not come direct.”

Nandan Nielkani, Co-Founder & Ex-CEO, Infosys

On why culture matters so much to Marriott hotels:

“Think about the advantage of a place where talent wants to stay 25 years.  Your turnover is lower, you don’t have as many people you have to train every year, or break in every year and you don’t have as many mistakes.  A seasoned workforce does a better job – and they cost you less money.”  

David Rodriguez, CHRO, Marriott

“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candour, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.”

 Ed Catmull, President, Pixar

What are your favourite leadership quotes on culture?






Marie-Claire Ross is the Founder and Chief Corporate Catalyst at Trustologie. She is a workplace sociologist, author, speaker and consultant focused on helping leaders put the right processes in place to accelerate trust during change and growth. She does this through strategic diagnostics, roundtables, workshops, coaching and consulting. Marie-Claire is also the author of the number three ranked book on Amazon, Transform your Safety Communication. She has been interviewed on “Technology Behind Business” for Sky Business News and regularly contributes articles to FM Magazine and LogiSYM on company culture. She is also a Graduate of the Company Director’s Course and is on the SME Committee for the Australian Institute of Company Directors.


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