11 Mistakes That Destroy Company Culture

The two most powerful things in existence: a kind word and thoughtful gesture.

- Ken Langone

Good business culture? I have had my share. In fact, in over 40 years of business management and leadership experience, I’ve seen more great company cultures than bad ones. And lots of experience studying leadership traits scattered all over the map.

It’s important to realize that just because someone holds a position of leadership, doesn’t necessarily mean they should. Put another way; not all leaders are created equal. The problem many organizations are suffering from is a recognition problem — they can’t seem to recognize the impact leadership has on the culture of the business.

Related: Secrets to Chipotle’s Culture and Employee Engagement

In today’s article, I’ll address how key mistakes can destroy company culture by pointing out leadership traits that represent culture killers.

Here are my top eleven of those culture killers drawn from my years of experience:

Pompous and arrogant

Perhaps the worst trait I’ve personally observed that quickly devours culture is ego. We all have an ego, but the ego I’m talking about is the ‘super-ego’ that dominates. I’ve found if a leader is really good at what they do, they won’t have to tell others about it.

Hiding or misrepresenting business strategy and results

If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self” they will not engender the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. Any leader is only as good as his or her team’s desire to be led by them. Real leaders take the blame and give the credit — not the other way around.

Lacks empathy

Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, the global innovation, and design firm, describes empathy as making an effort to “see the world through the eyes of others, understand the world through their experiences, and feel the world through their emotions.”

Bad leaders don’t have this ability because they don’t care. Extraordinarily bad leaders address problems in the open public. They don’t coach; they make things personal and like to pass on the blame to specific employees and teams. The worst culture killer in my book.

Leaders who can’t see it

Da Vinci once said: There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when shown, and those that do not see.

For those leaders in the second and especially third groups, easily lose the confidence of those they are trying to lead. Their lack of vision cannot inspire teams, motivate performance, or create sustainable value.

A leader’s job is to align the organization and its culture around a clear and achievable vision. This cannot occur when the blind lead the blind.


Occasionally you will find a leader who believes in the stick much more than the carrot. This leadership style intimidates and bullies employees, often threatening them if work is not completed satisfactorily.

Employees of a poor leader might be publicly berated for mistakes and subject to criticism of their personality traits. Working in such an environment decreases staff morale, increases turnover, and causes stress. And it destroys a culture very rapidly.

Poor people skills

Bad leaders are often negative people who have no idea how to motivate others. They share their negative opinions about the company or a department-wide project, rather than emphasizing the positive aspects of a situation.

Unable to consider anyone’s viewpoint but their own, poor leaders don’t respond well to complaints or suggestions. And they love to put their own ‘spin’ on issues.

Little use of praise

People need specific positive feedback on their job performance frequently (every week or so). Without it, their fire goes out quickly and their positive impact on culture. A culture thrives under managers who know employees perform better when they receive praise.

Not communicating business strategy

Is your business strategy clearly articulated, written out, and shared with everyone in the company? If you can’t trust employees with it, then you clearly have the wrong employees.


A bad leader often seems to listen but never hears. They rarely are willing to work to understand the needs and desires of others. Culture doesn’t long survive with these practices.

No humility

Bad leaders are energized by being right. They rarely acknowledge the effort or success of the team. When they do, it is usually cover in a big ‘spin’. They very rarely admit to their weaknesses or mistakes they have made and are never humble. They are people that most employees avoid at all costs. Not conducive to a good culture is it?

Limited delegation

The worse leaders never accept that employees are individuals who thrive best when allowed to choose their approach to risk and happiness. They don’t ever allow them imperfection and failure without chastisement.

Key takeaways

From my experience, great leaders rarely if ever exhibit any of these ‘deep dark’ negative traits. Good leaders occasionally will exhibit one of these negative traits, but not in a significant way.

The very worst of the bad leaders exhibit many of these traits. I have only seen one very senior leader exhibit a majority of these bad traits (in fact all of them at times).

The moral of this story is company culture has a great influence on leadership development. If these traits are possessed by your current leadership team or your emerging leaders, you will be in for a rocky road ahead.

Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he writes about topics that relate to improving the performance of business. Please Bookmark his blog for awesome stories and articles.