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Keep a Fresh, Startup-Like Culture Alive With These 4 Strategies

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Talent is everything. It is the defining element of your brand, since having the right people both emboldens and personifies the vision and values that your company stands for. But without the right environment, even the best talent can falter.

Related: Sincere Appreciation Is the Magic Ingredient for Good Morale

How can you, as a leader, shape the environment and breed the startup culture that exudes creativity, innovation and autonomy without actually retracing your company’s evolutionary progress? Here are four strategies to keep your Mondays -- or any day -- fresh:

1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. I’m of the mindset that there is a time and place to crack jokes, which is everywhere, all the time. However, not everyone else shares this point of view, so knowing who to joke with and when is important if you don’t want to be the social hand grenade in the room.

Here’s a quick fix: A self-defeating punch line always wins others over (okay, 99 percent of the time) because laughing at -- or “with” -- others is more comfortable for people than laughing at themselves. Those who don’t laugh at your humble expense immediately show just how much humor they have: zero.

2. Align climate with culture. Organizational climate refers to what it’s like to work for Joe Somebody at ABC Company, whereas culture entails the unspoken rules and social norms that define how work gets done. As a leader, both your climate and culture should be aligned towards the company’s strategic objectives.

If, for instance, you work at a tech startup but are inundated by processes, rules and boundaries, then creativity and innovation will likely suffer. Climate is something leaders can directly impact as it characterizes personality, emotional tolerance, decision-making and accountability. In essence, climate is based off how you show up as a leader, and we all lead, every day.

Related: Today's Most Satisfied Employees Demand These 4 Things

3. Eschew rank. While position and status reflect one’s experience level and value to the organization, they can also sometimes serve as a mask for people to hide behind. Without a title, there’s only one source of credibility you can fall back on: you.

Your character, credibility, competence and confidence will be the defining characteristics for how people listen -- with a pair of open ears or rolling eyes. Solution: Since it’s easy for people to get starstruck by position or authority, delete your rank for a month and see how people warm up. Titles come and go. People don’t.

4. Allow passengers to drive. Leaders have the opportunity to let their direct reports shape the direction of the company through open forums, employee-led board meetings or the decision space to move freely.

At my last command in the SEAL Teams, I once had a troop chief (senior enlisted) who allowed just that. When a teammate was struck by the “good idea fairy” and said something like, “Hey, we should do ‘X’!” my troop chief would say, “That’s a great idea, go with it!”

This tactic served two purposes. First, it made teammates think before they proposed new ideas. Second, it created an atmosphere of creativity and open exchange, because as long as you -- the operator -- could justify and execute your proposal, you could do it.

When all is said and done, leaders shouldn’t be the ones making all the decisions. They should be the ones who enable their people to make decisions by setting the right environment for decision-making to occur, and they do this through people.

Related: How Crabby Bosses Ruin Company Culture

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