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7 Leadership Principles to Create a Great Workplace

7 Leadership Principles to Create a Great Workplace

Edward R. Murrow, the famous American broadcaster depicted in the movie Good Night, and Good Luck once said, “The obscure we eventually see, the completely obvious takes longer.” 

In your quest to building a successful company, do not assume the creation of a great work environment is complicated.  In fact, the steps are quite simple, if not completely obvious from a people practice perspective.

Company Culture Flows Down from the Top

In the people practice profession, there is the tendency to over-complicate work culture and how it impacts the bottom line.  The basic principles of a great work environment are quite straightforward, and rest entirely on leadership’s shoulders.

One of the most important business strategy questions leaders can ask themselves is, “How do I create a great work environment that attracts, motivates and retains the best and brightest talent?”  You might be surprised the answer is not any of these; above market compensation, best in class benefits, top trends in office space design or technological superiority.  The answer is summed up in one, very important, highly-relational, powerful word: trust.

great leaders john maxwell

Definition of a Great Workplace

The Great Place to Work Institute, with over twenty years of thorough research on the top high-performance companies in America, formulated their definition of a great workplace as a place where employees “trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with.”

A leadership team who can be trusted by employees is well on its way from average to great. This is when the magic happens.  The good news is employees are not necessarily looking for expensive perks, like coffee bars, gyms, restaurants, game rooms, hair salons and spas, daycare, on-site doctors and nurses, media centers, theaters, dry cleaning, or concierge services.  Although these benefits are very nice options, they do not guarantee a great work environment.

When leaders sincerely care for their people and build an environment of trust, employees will believe in the company mission and develop respect for their co-workers.  Trust is like the secret ingredient found in Coke.  Without it, the recipe will not work.  Many have tried to copy great workplaces without trust and failed.  Without trust, the environment will not click, no matter how grandiose the company’s compensation, benefit and work/life programs.  It is amazing how creating an environment of trust, the missing ingredient in many average performing companies, will hasten the transformation of your company into a great workplace with the potential to outperform your competition many times over.

7 Leadership Principles to Create a Great Workplace

How does a leader create a great workplace through the simple ingredient of trust?  Robert Levering, founder of the Great Place to Work Institute, who has many years of experience researching successful companies, states there are seven principles leaders must follow to build and maintain trust in their organization:

#1 – Leaders share information.

The leaders of great work environments are willing to share information with their entire workforce.  They are not afraid to provide employees of all levels important updates about the company’s status, whether financial, non-financial, positive or negative.  Withholding important company information drives a wedge between employees and leaders, creates misunderstandings, fear and distrust among employees who spend most of their waking hours at your place of business.  Since employees are investing their lives with you, isn’t it likely they deserve to know where the company has been, where it needs to go, how it’s performing and how their efforts make a difference?  Open up the internal information highway and you are well on your way to greatness.

#2 -Leaders are accessible.

Leaders in great workplaces do not hide in their execu-caves.  Effective leaders get out of their offices and walk around and mingle with employees.  These same leaders allow employees to voice concerns without fear of reprisals or losing their jobs.  Many of the 100 Best Companies hold regular lunches with employees where leadership shares information, shows sincere concern for employees and listens to their concerns.  More importantly, leaders follow-up on employee concerns and improve the work environment with each interaction.

#3 – Leaders are willing to answer the hard questions.

Trust is built when employees see leaders who are not afraid to stand up and field the hard questions.  Employees do not expect leaders to have all the answers, but develop strong trusting relationships with leaders who honestly state they do not have an answer but will respond at a later date.

#4 – Leaders emphasize two-way communication.

Leaders who actively listen to employees concerns and engage in two-way communications earn the trust of employees.  Most management teams are good at sending communications or orders down the pipelines, but not necessarily comfortable with receiving feedback from their workforce.  Great workplaces have open, two-way channels of communication.

#5 – Leaders always deliver on their promises.

Miss this one and you’re done.  Making a promise and not following through is like going thermal nuclear on your workplace; people get burned.  Employees want to know if leaders will deliver on their promises.  This includes the small things as well as the big things.  Treat your employees like your best customers and you should perform very well in this area.

#6 – Leaders show recognition and appreciation.

Deep down employees crave recognition for a job well done.  Receiving recognition and appreciation is one of the biggest unmet needs employees have in today’s society.  Go ahead and make a big deal about employee and team accomplishments.  Brag on your employees in front of other employees  Then sit back and watch a special, positive, energizing, company culture develop in front of your eyes.

#7 – Leaders demonstrate sincere, personal concern.

According to the most recent Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study, the number one driver leading to employee engagement is determined by whether senior management is sincerely interested in an employee’s well-being.  You can’t fake sincerity.  It shows in your attitude and other non-verbal clues.  If the leaders are not sincerely concerned for their employees as people, your best talent will likely move to a place where they are better appreciated.

Live by these leadership principles and your organization will soon be inundated with resumes from the best and brightest talent in your industry wanting to work for your organization.

Kevin Kennemer is founder of The People Group based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kevin is driven by his passion for company owners and their need to earn a profit, employees' desire for a positive and fulfilling work experience, and the community that benefits when both groups do well.


  1. Brandon Carlos 16 years ago

    Kevin, alot of this research coincides with Brady Wilson’s work on the Five Drivers of Engagement. I encourage you to download the whitepaper at

  2. Kevin 16 years ago

    Brandon, thank you for making me aware of this research by Juice Inc. in Canada. Hopefully our visitors will access the information too.

    Kevin Kennemer
    The People Group

  3. Guy Farmer 14 years ago

    Thank you for the great ideas Kevin. It’s amazing how much leadership is about what kind of behaviors we choose to practice. I’ve also found that highly effective leaders practice kindness and empathy, aren’t afraid of change, share information and welcome personal and professional development. They help their employees shine and set a positive example.

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