Can you imagine working for someone in a high-level management role and suddenly it dawns on you: This person isn't leadership caliber. Your next thought may be, How in the world did he (or she) make it this far up the ladder?

It's a fair question. Managers are promoted to esteemed leadership roles every day who have no business being there.

Sometimes it's political or favoritism; other times it's the easier choice -- promote from within and avoid the high cost of recruitment -- but a bad choice, nonetheless.

Sure, good managers may know how to effectively manage the nuts and bolts of the work (a project, scope, budget, timeline) and drive people to results, but can they actually lead human beings to grow as people, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous (in the words of servant leadership pioneer Robert K. Greenleaf)?

The biggest challenge managers face is performing to the set standards of the best traits of a leader. This means raising the bar really high.

In the end, what distinguishes successful leaders from managers is predicated on two things: results and relationships. You can't have results at the expense of people. And serving your tribe well without getting results is merely putting lipstick on a pig.

3 clear ways to raise your leadership bar high

When you walk the talk of good leadership, your people will release discretionary effort. They can't help it--they want to work for you. This means creating a positive, autonomous (not fear-centered) environment that will elevate the employee experience to new heights. These are typically opportunities for growth and development for managers.

1. Leaders facilitate a shared purpose 

Good leaders communicate an image of the future that draws in the employee -- that speaks to what they're seeing and feeling. They give their team a destination that helps the team know where they're headed at all times.

They provide their team members with a purpose that answers the question, "Why do we do the work we do?" In turn, employees know what greater good they serve, and that keeps them focused on the end goal.

They make sure the team operates by shared values they all agreed on -- the very principles that guide the team's decisions and actions on their daily journey.

With these components clearly defined for the whole team, a tremendous amount of energy, passion, and productivity is unleashed.

2. Leaders share their power

Because good leaders have real relationships built on two-way trust, they are able to share their power and release their positional control by serving the needs of their tribe first. They know it isn't about them, and, in turn, employee loyalty is high.

Instead of leveraging positional power for personal gain, self-promotion, or special privileges, good leaders place their people in positions of leadership to stretch their growth and develop new strengths and roles for them.

They model risk-taking, creativity, and open communication for the whole team. By sharing power and releasing control, good leaders actually gain real power through their influence. 

3. Leaders foster a learning spirit

People development is not a separate retention activity enforced by HR. It's ingrained in the mindset of good leaders. Obviously, this is a 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.