5 Obvious Signs Someone Has True Leadership Ability (Ask Any Employee)

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Sometimes the only way you’ll truly know whether a leader’s skills are genuine is to measure the manager that made your life miserable against the one that had you thinking often, “This is too good to be true.”

If you think your boss is some freak of nature and you’re the luckiest person alive, I’ll break it to you gently: He or she is most likely the kind of leader who demonstrates best-in-class behaviors identified in the research of those leading the most profitable companies on the planet.

They are often referred to as servant leaders, conscious leaders, authentic leaders, or transformational leaders. Whatever you call them, one thing is for sure: their helm releases discretionary effort across an organization. That’s good for business.

What I have witnessed in the past ten years in my own practice developing servant leaders is that such leaders shine the spotlight on other people. They don’t want the attention, and they share their power and status to benefit the people under their care.

The secret comes down to three words: People over profit. And when that happens, companies will actually make more profit. Imagine that.

To get practical, let’s dive into the most prevalent leadership behaviors of such leaders. While there are countless leadership practices that lead to great outcomes, for this discussion, I’ll narrow it down to five:

1. They spread joy and drive fear away.

Let me ask you an honest question: Do you look forward to going to work when you get up on a Monday morning? Do you look forward to interacting with your colleagues? Do you feel appreciated by your boss because he/she takes care of you?

If you’re nodding your head yes, you probably experience joy. Congratulations! Joy is an emotion evoked by well-being and success that’s experienced by every employee in healthy cultures under great leaders.

It’s the feeling you get in a highly collaborative environment where people respect one another, where there’s real teamwork among colleagues who encourage each other, where co-workers share the same values, and there’s constant synergy in the air. Next thing you know, you look up, it’s 5:30 p.m., and the place is still buzzing with energy and excitement, and people find it hard to pull away and go home. This is joy!

And leaders create the environment for this to happen.

2. They provide employees with meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging.

In Give and Take, Adam Grant says when a person finds purpose in their work, it will not only improve that person’s happiness, it will boost productivity.

Give the people what they want — purpose. One way to do it, according to Grant, is to give employees the chance to connect with and meet the people they are serving.

In research cited by Grant, three groups of employees in a university fundraising call center were tasked to call donors to ask for contributions. One of the groups read personal stories from scholarship recipients, about how those scholarships had changed their lives. Turns out that group increased their fundraising by 143 percent versus the other groups who just made calls as part of their duties.

Grant takes it a step further: When these same fundraisers were given the opportunity to meet a scholarship recipient and ask them questions for as little as five minutes, their fundraising went up by more than 400 percent!

Grant’s conclusion? Having employees meet the people they are helping is the greatest motivator, even if it’s limited to a few minutes.

Employers have a competitive edge when they can give their people access to customers, so they can see firsthand the human impact their work makes.

This is about having work that brings with it meaning, every day. When employees feel they are making a difference in the world through the work they do — whether they’re designing apps or laying down asphalt — it increases their motivation to perform.

3. They foster a learning spirit within the organization.

People development is not a separate retention activity enforced by HR. It’s ingrained in the mindset of servant leaders. Obviously, this is good business strategy, as it will increase team performance.

But beyond that, developing people is a goal of leadership in and of itself. It’s a way of being. And this is how great leaders do it:

  • They identify their employees’ gifts, talents, strengths, and personality types for the best job fit, so they can reach their potential.
  • They champion a learning spirit within the organization, sending a clear message that “growing our people is one of our highest priorities.”
  • They provide ongoing training, coaching, and mentoring opportunities that are aligned with job purpose, performance measures, and fulfilling the organizational mission.

4. They build trust that leads to business outcomes.

Let’s face it, if you are considering developing leaders, trust is a pillar your company’s leadership should stand on.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey highlights leadership trusting behaviors that are culturally ingrained in the structures of companies known for high employee engagement, including Whole Foods, Campbell Soup, and Semco.

Among those trusted behaviors are:

  • Practicing accountability
  • Creating transparency
  • Confronting reality
  • Clarifying expectations
  • Listening first

This is how their leadership teams and employees interact day-to-day. Imagine the possibilities of leveraging such behaviors to increase trust across the board. Employee performance ratings go up, and as a result, your customers will notice a difference.

5. They are open and transparent in how they communicate.

A clear example of this practice is modeled by Melissa Reiff, the CEO of The Container Store, which is ranked №49 on Fortune’s annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Reiff personally crafted the organizational principle of “Communication IS Leadership,” which is defined as the “daily execution of practicing consistent, reliable, predictable, effective, thoughtful, compassionate, and yes, even courteous communication.”

In its purest form, the culture of The Container Store strives for every employee to know absolutely everything. While this can be a daunting undertaking for any company, The Container Store firmly acknowledges the power behind this principle on its website, which states “nothing makes someone feel more a part of a team than knowing everything has been communicated to them. We know that some information we share could fall into competitors’ hands, but the advantages far outweigh the risks.”


Originally published at www.inc.com on May 1, 2017.