Company Culture Building Block #7: North Star Leadership

September 6, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Over the past six months, we’ve been writing about the foundational elements required to build and maintain a healthy, productive, transformative company culture. In addition to safety, vulnerability, and purpose, we added belonging, creativity, and connection. That brings us to North Star Leadership, the seventh and last principle for building any great company culture. In many ways, it’s the most personal and the most powerful.

North Star Leadership is informed. It’s educated. It’s visionary. And of the seven essential elements for building a great company culture, this last one is all you. That’s not to say you’re the only leader, even if you are the leader at the top of your organization. What it means is that only you can do what it takes to become a person worthy of leading your team, your group, your clients, and your organization. They don’t need a manager. They need a beacon of clarity. An inspired thinker. A champion who can build them up and lead them into battle with clear direction, conviction, and support.

North Star Leadership is what happens when self-aware leaders have crystal clarity about who they are, where they want to take their companies, and how they intend to get there.

Writing the book on company culture.

As the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and big believers in the power of cultivating a positive company culture, we’ve always been fascinated by the advantages that can be gained when the two are combined. So much so that a few years ago, we wrote a book on the subject. “The Voice of the Underdog: How Challenger Brands Create Distinction By Thinking Culture First” is the account of our journey at LOOMIS. Part leaning into the challenger brand mindset. Part building and maintaining a revered company culture. And all about the vast advantages that can be gained when challenger brands of every kind leverage company culture to gain advantage over their competitors. It’s a blueprint for building the kind of company culture that draws extraordinary talent and clients to match.

Being the catalyst for that kind of company culture is a huge part of what it means to be a North Star Leader. We’ve all worked in companies with figurehead leaders. The man or woman whose main criteria for being the leader was that their name was on the door. We knew they were in charge, not because of their day-to-day leadership, or mentorship, but because they sat in the corner office on the highest floor.

By our definition, North Star leaders set the purpose and direction of the company, but that’s not where it stops.

The best leaders are involved leaders. They are constantly learning, reading, studying, thinking about ways to improve the conditions, guidance, support, and lives of their teams. But here’s the rub – most leaders were never taught HOW to do those things. Or why they are so crucially important.

The blueprint for North Star leadership.

In “The Voice of the Underdog,” we offer a blueprint for building each of the seven foundational cultural elements. For anyone who hasn’t fully embraced what it means to be a transformative leader, or who may be stuck and unsure how to continue elevating their leadership abilities, here are seven guidelines couched in company culture to help you become the leader you want and need to be.

1. First, Know Thyself

Take honest stock of where you are as a leader at this moment in time. List your strengths and weaknesses. What do you do really well? Where do you struggle? Make a list of your core values, your vision for where you want to be as a leader, and the purpose that will take you there. If you aren’t clear on what it means to be a great leader, what’s most important to you, and where you want to take your company, no one else will be either.

2. Next, Look At Your Company 

Take an honest look at your company culture, keeping the seven essential building blocks in mind – safety, vulnerability, purpose, belonging, creativity, connection, and North Star Leadership. Note which among the seven could be improved. Discuss your thoughts with your management team and create a plan of action for improving each element to start transforming your company culture.

3. Where Is Your Compass Pointing?

Think about where you want to take your company or your brand. What will inspire your team to get there? What steps are required to get you from where you are now to where you want to be? Discuss it with your management team and together, create a plan of action for transformation.

4. Write It Down

Start journaling daily. Spend five minutes at the beginning of the day and five minutes at the end of every day noting what went on that day. Detail anything particularly good or challenging that happened, enlightening conversations you had or positive steps that were taken in building the company culture. Documenting your thoughts daily will give you a valuable record to review later. Begin and end each day by listing three things you are grateful for.

5. The World Is A Big Place

Be a learner, not a knower. There’s no shortage of great books to read or listen to, in addition to magazines, newspapers, blogs, and podcasts. The idea is to be constantly learning. Listen to new ideas. Take bits and pieces of what works for others and incorporate them into what you’re doing in your own leadership. Whether you know it or not, as a leader, your team and your clients expect you to stay current and know what’s going on in the world. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. If you’ve hired well, you won’t be. But you do need to be informed. There’s a list of our favorite titles and authors at the end of our book. If you can’t find time to read, get an audio book and listen.

6. See And Be Seen

Be more visible. As leaders, it’s easy to hole up in our offices with the door shut to get things done. And while there’s time for that, don’t underestimate how meaningful it is for the people in your company to see you. To have a conversation with you. To spend real time with you. In positive cultures, you are who they look up to and in many cases, aspire to be. Connect with them. Share your time with them, even if it means another thirty minutes on the back end of the day for you. Look for opportunities to interact with your team and praise them both collectively and individually. Be their unexpected support. The greatest leaders don’t telegraph being a mentor. They just are. Give people a good reason to follow your leadership and they will.

7. Patience Grasshopper

Understand that becoming a great leader and building a lasting company culture don’t happen overnight. They take time, planning, effort, and money. The key is to start and keep moving forward every day. You can do this. But that’s the thing–you have to be the one to step up and make yourself into the leader you want to be. You don’t have to do it alone. But everything begins with you.

Signs of success.

Exceptional leadership hinges as much on how we are, as who we are. That’s why the most effective leaders view heading their companies and brands as a journey and not a destination.

North Star leadership is about understanding the privilege and responsibility you’ve been given.

It’s about working to develop the clarity of thought and the vision to inspire your team to do what no other company has done before. It’s about building a company culture that will not only attract the best talent but keep them for years to come.

Being an exceptional leader isn’t easy. If I asked you to name elite corporate leaders, most of us would only have a few names that came to mind. And in many cases, most of the same names. Great leadership takes extraordinary, sustained attention, focus, and effort. But it also takes building and curating an accepting, loving, and supportive environment for your team to live in. When you can build that kind of company culture with safety, vulnerability, purpose, belonging, creativity, connection, and leadership at its core, you will be in rarefied air where few ever fly.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

ad agencyadvertisingadvertising agencychallenger brandchallenger brand marketingchallenger brandingchallenger brandscompany cultureleadershipMike SullivanNorth Star leadershipThe Voice of The Underdogtop 10 Dallas Ad Agency

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.