3 Keys to Build a Winning Culture Through Effective Leadership

3 Keys to Build a Winning Culture Through Effective Leadership

Winning cultures are built around teams. And well-integrated, high-performing teams–those that “click”–never lose sight of the vision, the goals and objectives, and are largely self-sustaining. Why? Effective leadership.

In my experience with TOPGUN and the Blue Angels, teams that “click” always have a leader, the “boss,” who creates an environment and establishes the operating principles and values that are conducive to performance. The evidence for this is clearly seen in organizations where a manager who creates and carries their high-performance ideology moves to another part of the organization, or a different organization, and in a short period of time they once again establish a high-performing team.

“In cultures of excellence, it’s vital that people on all levels of the chain of command be able to articulate and discuss their differences. Then, with the decision made by the team and leadership, even if it is against what you think is best, support it and move on…or get out.”

– Rob Ffield; Building a Culture to Win

The best teams have a healthy dose of talent, where the leaders have developed institutional knowledge that only comes from rising within the organization. These leaders operate in an organized, systematic way to build their high-performing teams, and the formula not only involves what leaders say and do, but also what they should not say and do. It also involves working backwards—envisioning the future while dealing with the present.

Here are three keys to building a winning culture through effective leadership:

Define Your Vision and Plan for the Future

Winning organizations develop a legacy of achievements that come together to tell a story. This legacy focuses team members on accomplishments and standards, attracting others who are motivated to add their own insights. This is crucial, because teams search desperately for specific targets and measurable goals. Visualizing what success looks like is key to getting you and your team to the same place at the same time.

Over time, organizations develop mystiques, culture with which all members of the team, new and old, can identify – they have the same vision of success. Individually, they become part of the story; the legacy. This motivates them to take part and to do what it takes to maintain the high levels of innovation and execution necessary to consistently perform at the world-class level.

Keeping teams informed on where they’re headed and how best to get there means leaders must be prepared to acknowledge and adapt to changes in operational conditions and even objectives. Leaders cannot sit back and watch, but instead must create and recreate the vision and team spirit that deters people from losing faith and becoming lost.

Create Inspiration Through Strategic Planning 

Most CEO-types will tell you that part of their job is to plan for and influence the next 2-3 generations of business decision makers in their field. This requires strategic planning for the future. With that in mind, any long- or short-term strategy that doesn’t include a conscious effort to invest in the next generation of leaders within the organization is missing a key ingredient. Inspiration!

The basic concept of inspirational strategic planning is that you must find a new goal that inspires your team to work together to reach it. The plan needs to mean something to everyone in the organization, especially the up and comers.

“All team members, not just the key decision makers, need to understand the plan so they can execute even if they are unable to communicate with the leadership.”

To be successful in creating this inspiration among the team, you must clearly communicate the plan, and challenge them to consider everything that must change – down to the smallest detail. It is up to your leadership to manage the execution of the plan—to motivate people and set a battle rhythm—and set the course of action that embraces motivation and achieves the vision.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

It may seem elementary, but making teamwork one of your core values and putting a clear emphasis on self-management is critical to building a high-performing team of leaders. As a leader, your team should understand the seriousness of your commitment by granting them authority to get the job done on their own terms, while ensuring they accept responsibility for the results.

High-performing team members see themselves as equal in terms of communication. Leaders should therefore encourage this by putting the other person’s need to express his or her agenda ahead of their own.

A leader who effectively motivates their team(s) is not afraid to talk about the tough issues. They find ways to have the difficult conversations in the knowledge that avoiding problems doesn’t make them go away. They also know that if they, as a leader, do not communicate clearly and effectively, eventually a culture will develop in which too many things are left unsaid and turmoil will inevitably follow suit.

The secret sauce of high-performing teams is the art of Debriefing. Teams comprised of people who have mastered the art of listening without fear, of allowing others to speak without reacting strongly or negatively to what is being said, or what they anticipate will be said, tend to perform at a higher level and achieve more than those who do not. The leader knows that achieving higher levels of innovation requires team members be unafraid to express unusual ideas and advocate experimental processes. They emphasize this by publicly thanking those who take risks–and by making sure the sharpshooters put away their guns.


To learn more about building winning cultures and effective leadership, purchase a copy of my book: Building a Culture to Win: Expanding the Frontier of Human Achievement

Also published on Medium.