The Role Social Leaders Play in the Optimistic Workplace

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There’s so much talk about culture these days. In fact, “culture” could once again be the buzzword of the year.

Here’s the problem: When most leaders talk about “culture”…they actually mean climate. So let’s define those two very different elements of the workplace:

What is Culture?
Culture is how an organization—good or bad—goes about their work; “…how we do things around here.” Ed Schein has said that, “Culture is not a surface-level phenomenon.” He’s explained that culture is like a lily pond: “On the surface, you’ve got flowers and things that are visible.”1

But what’s going on below the water’s surface? How did the pond get there? What is the history? These questions, according to Schein, are key to understanding culture. Culture is also about the assumptions organizations make about human nature, even relationships. It’s about the values linked to performance and people, and the norms that guide people’s behaviors.

What is Climate?
Climate is how it feels to work at an organization while the work is getting done. Climate is shaped by people’s perceptions, particularly those that ignite motivation, impacting performance, according to Robert Stringer. Climate is significantly influenced, in part, by leaders’ styles, the structure of an organization, clarity of goals, autonomy, and purpose and meaning. 2, 3

And more and more, leaders are learning the difference. They know that climate can be immediately influenced by a leader’s style; it’s a “right now” thing. And they understand that changing embedded culture is a long-term initiative—and that it can take years to see a difference.

Watch this clip from the Ultimate Culture Conference where we talk about social leadership and the optimistic workplace. You can enjoy the full video when you sign up and join our Ultimate Culture Community.


Perhaps you, as the steward of your organization, are ready to become a social leader. A leader who—rather than exert command-and-control influence—chooses to be an active listener, a relentless giver, and a mentor. A motivator who understands that meaningful relationships lead to cohesive teams. You recognize that positive emotions unlock the potential of employees. You are ready to become “Chief Facilitation Officer”—and make a difference by solving any problem or meeting any challenge by getting the right people in the right room at the right time.4

Or maybe you know that optimism is missing from your workplace—and you know that in order to turn around morale, productivity, creativity, and profits, a change is necessary. A change toward purpose-driven work and a true sense of belonging to a team whose members care about one another and the quality of their work, rather than just working for a paycheck. Where the whole person is appreciated, and not just the role he or she plays or his or her work output. You are ready to start a movement that enables your members to take on what is possible, rather than debate the reasons why it can’t be done.5

In either case, you’re ready to change the way you lead. You’re ready to make an impact.

But you don’t have to choose between being a more inspiring leader or creating a more optimistic workplace. In fact, social leadership—and the autonomous, collaborative environment a social leader creates—leads directly to a more optimistic, fulfilling, and productive workplace.6

When people feel valued and feel they are part of the solution and truly making a difference, rather than always firefighting one problem after another, they become more engaged. People work together more closely. Their personal purpose becomes more aligned with the core purpose of the organization. They become a team focused on achieving a common goal.7

And it all starts with a social leader, or as we call them, a “Blue Unicorn”—a rare beast in today’s business world.  Notice that we’re not just looking for any old unicorn—we’re looking for a specific color of unicorn. Our goal is to help these majestic, unique beasts proliferate and create a seismic shift in the way value is created for customers, the organization, and its employees.

Though rare, blue unicorns (or social leaders) are making a difference. In many organizations, they are providing their teams with actionable inspiration. And in the process, they are setting aside the willingness to settle for superficial “rah-rah” moments, and instead creating mindset-shifting “ah-ha” moments.

And all it takes is one leader, one person to say, “Hi! How are you today? How can I help?”—and mean it.

A simple act of human kindness. A moment of empathy. The deliberate act of listening first, leading second. That’s the role a social leader plays in changing the climate of an organization first—right now—and, eventually, the culture.

That is how a social leader creates the optimistic workplace—from the bottom up, middle out, or perhaps top down.

So are you ready to be a social leader? Are you ready to change the way you lead? Are you ready to make an impact? We need more Blue Unicorns and wish you well as you take this path.

We invite your comments via the social media buttons below.


1Murphy, S. (2015, October 28). Avoid These 10 Mistakes When Building Your Company’s Culture. Inc. Retrieved from
2Cooke, R.A. (2015, December 11). How Culture Really Works: Levers for Change. Retrieved from
3Atkinson, T., & Frechette, H. (2009). Creating a Positive Organizational Climate in a Negative Economic One. Forum. Retrieved from
4Coine, T., & Babbitt, M. (2014, December 3). The 7 Attributes of CEOs Who Get Social Media. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from
5Murphy, S. (2015, November 10). 7 Habits of Highly Motivating Leaders. Inc. Retrieved from
6Babbitt, M. (2014, December 12). The Social CEO Infographic. SwitchAndShift. Retrieved from
7Murphy, S. (2015, October 14). 3 Great Ways to Make Your Workplace More Positive. Inc. Retrieved from

About Mark Babbitt

Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor; a blogger for, Harvard Business Review, and Forbes; the co-author of A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive; and was named a Top 100 Leadership Speaker by He serves as President of WorqIQ, formerly Switch and Shift, is CEO and Founder of YouTern, and is a founder of

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About Shawn Murphy

Shawn Murphy serves as CEO of WorqIQ, formerly Switch and Shift, an organization that helps leaders transform the work experience to be positive, energizing . . . optimistic.

An accomplished writer, you can read Shawn’s weekly column, “Positive Business,” on His debut book, The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment that Energizes Everyone, is out now.

Shawn has over 25 years’ experience as an organizational and culture change practitioner and workshop facilitator. Because of his extensive experience and keen insight, Shawn was handpicked to be part of IBM's elite New Way to Work futurist group.

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