In an era filled with uncertainty, crisis, and scandals, it should be every organization's top priority to identify, hire, and promote real leaders -- the kind whereby others will believe in and willingly follow -- to influential roles where their character and moral authority are displayed in full view. 

So what does this look like in the trenches? The best of leaders I have known and spoken to value their workers as employees and human beings by believing in and trusting in their strengths, abilities, potential, and commitment to the job.

They also model altruistic behaviors to inspire and motivate people and they employ values-based organizational strategies to leverage business outcomes. To that end, here are three clear ways to elevate your leadership game as a manager, founder, or CEO.

1. Use your mission to attract and retain employees and customers

Not all entrepreneurs start companies for the right reasons. Some fail because they focus solely on making money or building something for the sake of building something. And while a solid business model is key, a sustainable, genuine, no-fluff mission is even more critical for success.

The mission of a company is important to both customers and employees alike. According to a 2018 TinyPulse employee retention report, employees who believe their company has a clear purpose beyond profits are 27% more likely to stay.

In his article "Yogababble", bestselling author and business professor Scott Galloway found that the more "B.S."-ed a company's mission was, the more its stock performance declined in a year post-IPO. Customers can sense the B.S. from a mile away, and it takes more than claiming you "sell happiness" to prove your company is making a positive impact on the world.

Daniela Perdomo, Co-Founder and CEO of goTenna, the world's leading mobile mesh networking company, pointed to the fact that a genuine, straightforward, no-fluff mission becomes particularly important when proving your value for enterprise and public sector customers. She says, "When you're able to communicate what problem you're solving clearly and can convey your dedication to that mission, you show customers that you align with their vision and become their solution."

2. Practice Servant Leadership daily

Simon Sinek, author of the best-seller Leaders Eat Last knows about the positive psychology behind Servant Leadership. He is quoted in this excellent clip as saying,

"There's not a CEO on the planet who is responsible for the customer. You're responsible for the people who are responsible for the customer."

Servant Leaders lead from both the head and the heart. While they hold you accountable for results, set high expectations, and demand excellence, they have a deep respect and desire for developing the people around them to succeed. Four traits of the best servant leaders I have witnessed in many of my clients include:

  • Praise employees: Praise and recognition should be given once per week, according to Gallup. Additionally, Gallup's research found companies with the highest engagement levels use recognition and praise to motivate and get employee commitment.
  • Make mistakes: They admit when they're wrong, learn from mistakes, then they try again a different way. This speaks to the resilience that servant leaders possess. And when they screw up, they apologize, and they do it quick.

  • Practice empathy. They imagine being in the other person's shoes and will ask themselves, "how would this person want to be treated?" This is the Platinum Rule. It's taking the familiar Golden Rule up a notch from "Treat others as you would like to be treated" to "Treat others the way they want to be treated."

  • Grow people: They give others the opportunity to stretch and grow. They have a keen interest in knowing what new challenge is there for their team members. Then they make it happen.

3. Create a mentoring culture

Organizations are increasingly recognizing mentorship as a way to attract, retain, and develop more junior employees.  They understand that mentoring boosts engagement, creates more inclusive environments, encourages healthy risk-taking, and helps with succession planning and leadership development.  Most of these measurements focus on outcomes for the mentees and the organization, but what about the benefits for mentors? 

"Organizations often overlook mentorship as a leadership development tool," says Lisa Z. Fain, CEO of Center for Mentoring Excellence.  According to Fain, "while it feels good to give back by mentoring someone, mentors gain far more than just the satisfaction of helping someone else grow." 

Through her work at Center for Mentoring Excellence, Fain has interviewed hundreds of mentors.  When asked what they have learned from their mentoring relationships, it is not uncommon to hear that they have benefited as much as their mentee, even becoming better leaders because of their mentoring experience.   

"Mentoring is a leadership competency," Fain says.  "Good mentors listen better. They understand how to develop their team members, and they feel more engaged with functions and departments beyond their own." 

In large companies in particular, when mentors and mentees work across functions, mentoring can help leaders understand more about their organizations, which can lead to new innovations and opportunities for collaboration. 

When you mentor others, you set an example of the importance and value of creating a learning environment.  By demonstrating that you are willing to invest your time in developing others, you attract talented individuals who want to be on your team and learn from you -- you become a leader people want to work for and the kind of leader others wish to emulate. 

Fain asks,  "What better way to show your value to an organization than to attract people who are motivated by continuous learning?" 

Published on: Mar 17, 2020
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.