January 2023 – I heard a quote last year and it has been bouncing around in my head for months because I can’t get over the brilliance and depth behind the words.

“The Culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”

The phrase was casually and quickly mentioned in a business podcast that I was listening to, but it stuck with me so strongly that I had to Google the origin. As it turns out, I’m late to the party; it comes from   the 2015 book “School Culture Rewired,” by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, which discusses creating a positive environment in the educational space.

The quote packs so much insight that it has become a bit of a catchphrase within the business world and other organized groups, probably because it is just so dang true and well, applicable.

I’d argue if you swap out the words “organization” and “leader,” you can even apply this phrase to many areas of your personal life:

  • dating
  • household
  • marriage
  • parenting
  • friendships
  • and heck, even the culture of “you.”

What’s the worst behavior you will tolerate in yourself? Your values, integrity, and choices (big, small, good and bad) dictate your very own “personal culture.”


But I digress. Over the holidays, as a bit of an experiment looking into our own company culture, the employees at Absolute Resource Associates were asked to name one thing that they liked about working at ARA. The responses were completely voluntary, discreetly collected, and then read to the owners at the company Holiday Party as a gift from the staff.

The funny, thoughtful, heartfelt, and honest answers given by the staff really paint a picture of what it’s like to work at a company with a great culture. (If you have never worked at one, we can attest they do exist).

At ARA we work hard, have fun along the way, and would all agree that we do not tolerate much in the way of bad behavior. We expect a lot of ourselves and one another. This makes us proud of our work, each other, and our company.

In fact, if we had to name the worst behavior that the leaders, or anyone at ARA, would be willing to tolerate, you might laugh. Forgetting to bring treats in on Friday Snack Day and leaving the toilet seat up are barely tolerable acts at ARA! We hold one another accountable but do so with respect, friendship, and sometimes humor.

Here are some of the responses that employees shared about why they love working at ARA:

  • I love the way everyone is so passionate about what they do.
  • I think we seem so happy to work here because we truly love what we do and enjoy making a difference.
  • I love the camaraderie.
  • I love that ARA allows us to be authentic, creating an awesomely diverse crowd.
  • Even when there’s a ton of work to do, everyone is helpful and easy to get along with.
  • I love the friendly, supportive, and positive work environment.
  • I like the culture of ARA, from Friday snack day, to the summer outings, the birthday and work anniversary announcements, all culminating at the Christmas party!
  • My favorite thing is seeing everyone in the mornings.
  • The thing I like best about working at ARA is the people – their kindness and care about their work and each other.
  • I like that I work with a bunch of people who are just as weird as I am and get my sense of humor or are at least polite enough to laugh anyway!

  • I love the fact that I have the ability to expand my career path here. It is also extremely rewarding to train somebody to do something new and watch them thrive once the training process is complete.
  • One of the things I like about ARA is that we’re given the freedom to make the quality of our work the #1 priority.
  • This place is like family. I guess it goes to show they know how to pick people who meld together well.
  • ARA has a mission I can relate to.
  • It’s great working at a place that allows an employee to be in control of their responsibilities.
  • ARA has your back.
  • One thing I like about ARA is the opportunity to have a flexible schedule.
  • I always like to hear the creative solutions everyone has when it comes to dealing with tricky samples, tricky situations, or finicky instruments. We have a great group of “outside the box” thinkers.
  • I love the fact that all my co-workers are not only dedicated to ARA, but also really care about each other.
  • ARA is THE BEST place I’ve ever worked, by far: best management, best culture, best co-workers, best job.
  • I love many things but especially Friday Snack Day.

“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”

As I think about that phrase again and read over the employee list of “favorite things,” I am reminded that the culture at ARA was created intentionally back in 2000, and has been nurtured, reworked, and cultivated over the years as the staff has grown and the world has changed.

It’s pretty apparent that a great culture (whether an organization or individual) does not happen by accident.

As you start your new year, consider reflecting on the worst behaviors you are willing to tolerate in the many areas of your life. It is an eye-opening exercise for sure.

Happy New Year from all of us at ARA.

Submitted by Jean Gennaro, Director of Marketing for ARA