The Culture Works

When we asked Chester Elton, founder of The Culture Works and New York Times best-selling author of The Carrot Principle, All In and What Motivates Me, about which leaders he most looked up to, he didn’t mention any world leaders or heads of major corporations. Instead, the person who has inspired him the most is much closer to home: his dad. Chester says his father had a tremendous impact on his life and how to be a good leader, demonstrating to his son how to be a caring and personal leader who treated everyone with dignity and respect.

“One of my favorite quotes form my dad is, ‘Ches, you be good to everyone, everybody is having a tough day,’ Chester says. “He talked to the parking attendant the same way as he talked to captains of industry. Everyone had value, everyone mattered.” This philosophy has guided the work Chester and his team does at The Culture Works, an international training and consulting firm that specializes in employee engagement. Chester says that to really engage your people, you need to know them personally and professionally; you need to know what motivates them so that when they perform, you know how to reward and recognize them. He recently answered a few more questions for us about great leadership, the challenges facing today’s leaders, and how organizations can overcome them. Here’s what he had to say:

Can you tell us about your professional background?

I grew up in sales, selling media time in Detroit and NYC for 10 years. I was a senior executive at a recognition firm for 19 years and have been with The Culture Works for the last five years; a wonderful journey that has taken me all over the world to meet some of the most amazing people and organizations.

What are the biggest challenges facing leaders in today’s business climate?

Leadership and culture are the only two real differentiators left in business. Everything becomes commoditized so quickly that the challenge is how to create a culture that differentiates you from the competition and develop the next round of leaders in your organization.

What separates great leaders from lackluster leaders?

Passion and knowing how to engage and motivate your people. Old school is you treat everyone the same. New school is to know your team. With so much diversity in the workplace, generational differences, international and cultural differences, languages, and more women in the workplace; you need to realize very quickly that the best leaders know that people are motivated by different things. The great leaders know what to do with that information.

What are smart habits every great leader should develop?

I love the “Rule of Three” that was taught to me by a spectacular leader Scott O’Neil. It is very simple and very powerful, and it goes like this:

1. Be World-class. In everything you do, do it to the best of your ability.

2. No Surprises. Or, I like to say sometimes “No Excuses!” Communicate with your people early and often. Surprises in business are rarely positive.

3. Cheer for Each Other! My success is your success; and when we are all in it together and cheering for each other, great things can happen.

Brilliant in its simplicity and wonderful in the results it drives.

What are the risks to an organization of ineffective leadership?

The risks are total collapse! An ineffective leader can destroy an organization and an entire company. The case studies at the best universities are full of the wreckage of poor leaders.

What should businesses be doing to grow leaders within their organization?

Finding the next leaders is an everyday job. To constantly be mentoring and challenging your best and your brightest needs to be a top priority for every business if they want to succeed. I love organizations that have “Leadership Universities” like MARS, AT&T and many others. They are constantly looking to build their next generation of leaders. And it is beyond smart!

What are some easy ways leaders can transform the culture of their workplace?

The easiest and fastest way to change a culture is to change the people. It is hard to change the culture with the same leaders in place. It isn’t very often that a current leader can make that kind of transformation. It is very hard on the whole organization when leaders change, but it is without question the fastest and easiest way to change a culture.

What are some not-so-easy things leaders should be doing to transform their work culture?

Remembering that building the right culture is a one-on-one exercise. It takes time to change a culture, and the hardest thing about culture change is that time of transformation. Getting the right people in the right jobs. Adapting to the new mission, vision, and rules. It takes time.

What brands do you think have especially great leaders today? What can we learn from them?

Texas Roadhouse has a wonderful leader that cares and drives amazing results through valuing and rewarding his people. Kent Taylor not only has delivered spectacular results, but he is beloved by his people. They will walk on hot coals for him. Every year, he brings all the restaurant managers and assistant managers to Hawaii with their spouses to celebrate the year. It is an amazing event that I have attended, and the friendships that develop and the knowledge transfer are incredible to watch. I have to say he is one of my all-time favorite leaders.

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