From the moment I stepped onto the faded yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Paris Island in South Carolina, two primary leadership objectives were pounded into my head and espoused as the very reason for my existence: (1) mission accomplishment and (2) welfare of the troops. Accomplish the mission and take care of your people. This seems simple enough. However, in business troop welfare is much more complicated than just taking care of Maslow’s lowest physiological, safety, and security needs. In business, troop welfare is more about employee engagement and there is no greater influence on employee engagement than corporate culture. Loosely defined, we can describe corporate culture as “the way things are done around here.” It is the personality of the organization and it influences everything. Culture is the “secret sauce” that aids success or acts as shifting sand beneath the foundation. No matter how strong the structure, an organization built on poor culture will continually struggle.

Corporate culture is like a huge aircraft carrier at sea. Slow and lumbering, it takes a huge amount of time, effort, and energy to change direction. Because it takes so long to make sustainable improvements, all culture initiatives require multi-year commitments from senior management. More specifically, the commitment to creating a strong, collaborative culture must come from the very top – the CEO. Without executive sponsorship, culture initiatives are doomed. Some teams will surge ahead with improvement and some will lag well behind unless there is unified leadership moving everyone forward together. Even though the change may be slow, we know how critical culture is to ensuring organizational well-being and leadership should continue to make investments of time, resources, and money to move the needle in a positive direction.

It is that important.

As Kanter discusses in her article Powerlessness Corrupts, many organizations have passive-aggressive, “blame” environments (Kanter, 2010). Organizations with this kind of culture are often dysfunctional from top to bottom and inefficiencies abound simply because people just cannot seem to work together. “It doesn’t have to be that way,” Kanter states. Instead, leaders – and in particular, the CEO – must create an engagement culture where staff members work toward their hopes and dreams and pursue a life of purpose, autonomy, and mastery (Pink, 2009). Maslow would be proud, as the pinnacle of his hierarchy of needs is also composed of self-actualization, vitality, creativity, and self-sufficiency. This is the ideal organizational environment and culture makes or breaks it.

Mission accomplishment and welfare of the troops. Execute the business strategy and create an organizational culture that supports employees (self-actualization). Simple axioms even 18 year old Marine Corps Privates understand. These are charges entrusted to the CEO and other organizational leaders. The CEO is not just the Chief Executive Officer. The CEO is the Chief Culture Officer, the Chief Morale Officer, and the Chief Motivation Officer. It is within his or her power to change culture for the better, ensure accountability, and consistently execute on these primary leadership objectives.


Kanter, R. M. (2010, July). Powerlessness Corrupts. Retrieved August 15, 2010, from Harvard Business Review:

Pink, D. (2009). Drive. London: Penguin Books, Ltd.