Once you master that understanding -- that true leadership at its best is about serving the needs of others on a human level -- there are certain innate traits you'll find in the best of them. Here are four of them.
1. They engage a problem with childlike curiosity.
If you're a parent (like me), you've noticed children don't take things for granted. They ask questions and follow-up questions that may annoy the heck out of us.
The Japanese call this technique "shoshin" -- a word from Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind."
It's having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. Basically, it's being totally open to all kinds of possibilities and seeing more than one answer to a problem.
They also model shoshin for their teams to have the freedom (without fear or reprimand) to learn something new with the same curiosity, contribute their own ideas, experiment, try, fail, and try again until a solution is found.
2. They don't pretend they know all the answers.
Steve Jobs understood his place in the information age when he famously quipped,
It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.
A leader's best move is to intentionally not be the smartest person in the room or pretend to know all the answers, thereby fooling other people or themselves.
Rather, they are humble enough to openly acknowledge not knowing something and will surround themselves with people -- knowledge workers -- they can learn from. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for leaders to learn and grow themselves.
3. They have unshakable faith in their people.
In a conversation with Rolling Stone magazine in one of the lowest points of his career, Steve Jobs said this: "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them."
That answer was in response to this question: "You've often talked about how technology can empower people, how it can change their lives. Do you still have as much faith in technology today as you did when you started out 20 years ago?"
As Jobs evolved as a leader, he demonstrated increasing faith in his employees. "Faith" in this sense is the building block of trust that fosters great teamwork, collaboration, and innovation.
Leaders that adopt a "trust first" mindset before trust is earned have an edge. In trusting people first, they accept and trust in their ability to use their brains and talents to create and innovate.
They believe and trust that their employees are good and smart, giving them tools and resources, and removing obstacles in their way so they can succeed and shine.
It's this building block of trust, in Jobs' case, that crystallized his relationships with his knowledge workers that helped launch the Apple products we can't live without today.
4. They accept that failure is the secret to success.
Billionaire and founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, encourages and even celebrates failure at his many companies. There's an underlying theme that, without trying something new and failing, it's virtually impossible to innovate and grow.
Here's Branson on failing for success:
We've never been 100 percent sure that any of the businesses we've started at Virgin were going to be successful. But over 45 years, we've always stood by our motto: 'Screw it, let's do it.' Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again. Making mistakes and experiencing setbacks is part of the DNA of every successful entrepreneur, and I am no exception.