A closer look at companies executing leadership excellence

GoreLogoImagine operating a manufacturing company with no core product, no bosses, and a democratically-elected CEO. How long do you think it would survive? For nearly 60 years, the W.L. Gore company has been best known for its Gore-Tex fabric, but its diverse portfolio includes everything from vacuum filters, microwave cable assemblies, guitar strings, dental floss, acoustic vents for cellphones, and even medical devices to treat heart defects. If it were publicly traded, this $3 billion Delaware-based private company would appear at No. 712 on the Fortune 1,000 list. But Gore-Tex is not the only thing this company is known for—it’s also famous for an incredibly strong corporate culture.

Gore describes itself as having a “conscious culture,” one that Malcolm Gladwell used as a case study in his book The Tipping Point, that hasn’t changed much since Bill and Genevieve Gore created the company in 1958.

GoreCultureInstead of a typical corporate structure, Gore has no rigid hierarchy. Instead, it has a “latticework” organizational structure. In this structure, Gore employees collaborate and build connections without the constraints of traditional chains of command — giving them the freedom to encourage and support each other’s growth and development. It’s an environment that focuses more on how to solve problems, and less on who has the power.

Managers earn their positions based on how much “followership” they have among co-workers. That includes the CEO. Terri Kelly accepted that office in 2005 through a process that included board review and nominations of employees who were asked who they would be most willing to follow.

Kelly models the management philosophy that “the best governance is the absence of external rules”. She can do so because Gore relies on fiercely motivated people who have an internalized true north, and leaders who know they can’t rely on power or status to get results.

You can read more about Gore’s culture and how working at Gore has impacted the lives of its employees here.