10 Culture Skills All Managers Must Have

Colin Ellis
4 min readJun 7, 2023
📷Magda Ehlers

Culture is the foundation for how employees work together, how they interact with customers and partners, and how they represent the company. A strong, positive culture creates a sense of pride among employees, which in turn leads to increased productivity, better customer service, increased target achievement and greater innovation. It can also help to attract and retain top talent, as potential employees will be more likely to join a company with a culture they believe in. Ultimately, a strong culture is the key driver of success.

But… and it’s a very big BUT… you can only activate all of that value if leaders role model what they expect of other people and they invest time, money and energy into developing their managers. It’s simple enough to say and understand (that’s why you’re nodding now) but the reality is that it just doesn’t happen very often.

One of the things that I consistently see in the work that I do is leaders who are committed to culture and who are good at communicating messages to their direct reports. I also see employees who want to bring their best selves to work and who provide positive and constructive feedback to continually evolve the way that work gets done.

And then I see this layer of tar in between the two, where everything seems to get stuck. It’s like that Stealers Wheel song:

‘Trying to make some sense of it all

But I can see it makes no sense at all

Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?

Well, I don’t think I can take it anymore

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you’.

OK, that’s a bit harsh, but you know what I mean, right?

And yet, I have lots of sympathy for managers because most of the time the organisation promoted them based on technical expertise, length of tenure, because they reached the top of their pay band or, well, it was their turn.

And that’s all fine, but if they don’t have the basic skills to motivate and inspire then they are going to be bad for culture and senior leaders absolutely can’t afford for that to happen as it will adversely affect results.

What organisations need to build is a dedicated, highly practical approach that ensures that managers not only have the basic skills they need to be successful, but also so that subcultures evolve positively and the opportunity for silos (where different managers do different things) are removed.

This approach needs to incorporate these 10 essential skills:

  1. What is culture and how to understand what kind of culture you have
  2. How to be emotionally intelligent and have empathy for others
  3. How to build relationships between team members
  4. How to listen and communicate effectively
  5. How to set expectations clearly
  6. How to provide feedback
  7. How to resolve team conflicts
  8. How to build consistent and effective collaboration
  9. How to use technology to your advantage
  10. How to innovate/continually improve.

If you’re a manager, ask yourself honestly, how many of these are you proficient at? Then ask your team the same question. Then work hard (through development and habit change — an accountability partner may help here) to fill in the gaps. This work will always be worthwhile because not only will the team be happy, productive and drive each other to success but you’ll also set an example for others to follow.

As American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ That’s the opportunity that all managers have.

The tone for vibrant cultures will always be set by senior executives, but it will be activated and improved day-to-day by managers. What is your organisation doing to fill the culture-building skills gaps?

🚀 I’ve written two whitepapers to help you on your culture building journey. You can download them here

Join me for a free webinar on June 15 — details and registration here (get the reply if you can’t make it)

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Colin Ellis

Best-selling Author of Culture Fix | Keynote Speaker | Facilitator | Devoted Dad | Evertonian | Whisky Lover | Likes to laugh, a lot www.colindellis.com