Whenever I deliver keynotes on leadership topics, I make sure to touch on the most important aspect that a leader needs to become truly exceptional: valuing his or her people.

If that has triggered your own thinking about whether your employees are truly valued, there are proven ways you can raise your own leadership bar. Here are four:

1. Trust and believe in your people

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey says that a team with high trust will produce results faster and at lower cost.

Not surprisingly, several companies that regularly make Fortune magazine's annual "100 Best Companies to Work For" list are characterized by high levels of trust and transparency.

Research on what makes those companies get on that list is conducted by the folks at Great Place to Work, who report that 92 percent of employees surveyed at these companies believe that management is transparent in its business practices. And transparency begets trust.

2. Respect the people you lead

Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, wrote a book called Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others, in which she tells the story of her leadership journey.

Popeyes was in a bad financial place when Bachelder was named CEO in 2007, with profits in the negative. By 2014, sales were up 25 percent and profits were up 40 percent.

The difference? Bachelder says that it was a conscious decision to create a new workplace (with rigorous measures in place) where people were treated with respect and dignity yet were challenged to perform at the highest level.

Silos were broken, managers began to listen, and self-serving leaders were let go as collaboration increased. Bottom line: Workers were valued.

3. Respond to the needs of your people

Great leaders show an interest in their people's jobs and career aspirations. They look into the future to create learning and development opportunities for them. They find out what motivates their best people by getting to know what drives them.

Knowing what makes each of the members of your team get up in the morning can help leaders develop work employees will actually care about -- the kind of purposeful work that ties into an organization's larger goals or mission.

4. Give them freedom

What was good for the Industrial Age is completely obsolete in today's relationship economy, yet most companies still operate that way.

Back in the old days, hierarchy and "do what you're told" worked. Bodies performed simplified, repetitive tasks on the production line, needing commands and direction from the ivory tower.

Today's talent want freedom to collaborate, participate, innovate, and self-organize. WorldBlu research shows that organizations that promote freedom-centered leadership (versus hierarchical, fear-based leadership) create cultures in which everybody--regardless of title, rank, or position--has the choice and responsibility to exercise leadership skills.

Sound too soft for your environment? The companies in the research that promote an inverted pyramid of freedom, autonomy, and democracy saw an average cumulative revenue growth rate over a three-year period that was 6.7 times greater than that of the S&P 500 companies.