Set the Tone

Quick Summary: Lead by example, showing the attributes that you believe in, and need to be embraced by all.


As the CEO, you need to establish only a few stakes in the ground that set the path boundaries that, if followed by everyone, will create the type of organization that you desire. Your consistent adherence to those attributes will quickly be embraced by others and become the common operating characteristics of the organization, generally referred to as its culture.

The articles in the previous section discuss subjects including you being on stage, being visible, and approachable, as well as a number of other similar topics.  You must also be THE leader and instill the management approach that you want others to follow.  Whether you realize it or not, or like it or not, you will set the tone of the entire organization by your actions. 

A definition of tone from the Merriam Webster dictionary is, “A quality, feeling, or attitude expressed by the words that someone uses in speaking or writing.”  In your role as the CEO, the definition needs to be expanded to include your actions as well.  In fact, your actions, or in some cases, your lack of actions, will set the tone of the organization faster and more profoundly than what you say or write.

As the company leader, you have to define the reality in which your company operates, and plot the course to move toward your clearly articulated vision.  You have to communicate that vision and the high level plan to all others and then literally get out of the way and let the individuals within the organization take the necessary steps to get you there.  Give them the latitude of making the turn-by-turn decisions on the path to your vision.

Using an old sailing ship analogy, you should not have your hands on the wheel, but stand back and let others make minor course corrections as they tack against the wind to constantly move forward.  Sea captains and you set strategies so that the wind is always helping you to move forward.

A less abstract description of the above is to never become a victim.  If others sense you are assuming a victim role, they will easily justify that same feeling.  It is easy to propagate the notion that if you look for the worst, you will never be disappointed; you can always find something wrong.  Instead, with every setback, feel bad for a moment, and then focus on recovering from it, learning from it, and moving forward.  Following those three steps openly will result in others mimicking your approach.

Overall you must be fair, consistent, open, and tough, and demand that others operate the same way, every time.  By displaying these attributes, undoubtedly most others will willingly follow suit.  However, some individuals, for a variety of reasons, may want to hear a different tone.  They may look for your blind eye when you ignore their out of sync behaviors or actions that do not align with your goals.  Obviously, one must avoid these situations if possible, but when they do occur, acknowledge them and take whatever action is appropriate to reinforce your role and desires, and then move forward.

Your success is easy to determine.  Does everyone in the organization consistently operate with the same tone when you are not around to hear it?


Article Number : 4.050301   

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