Can you imagine working for someone in a high-level leadership role, perhaps a CEO, 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. People are promoted into leadership roles every day who have no business belonging there.

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

The biggest challenge leaders face is performing to the set standards of the best in the business. This means raising the bar really high--as the ten hugely successful CEOs I wrote about recently have done.

In the end, you'll find the leadership journey is predicated on two things that drive success: 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.

Here are seven 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, freedom-centered (not fear-centered) environment that will elevate the employee experience to new heights. Here's how to do it:

1. Never stop giving feedback.

This is a core principle of effective communication in great leadership, whether it's to address performance issues, clarify direction, or set expectations on critical tasks or strategy. Practice these techniques regularly:

  • Keep it simple and avoid information overload.
  • Approach the other person directly.
  • Be specific and use examples.
  • Describe the behavior you would prefer; focus on the issue, not the person.
  • Check for receptivity and understanding so both parties are on the same page. Does what the employee heard match the feedback given? If not, clarify.
  • Remain open for discussions.

2. Have regularly scheduled planning sessions.

Leaders need to set the expectation on having one day, usually Monday, to get together and discuss each other's priorities for the week. Yes, leaders also share their biggest priorities for the week and help their direct reports to refocus their priorities to be in alignment with the most important initiatives for the week. This strengthens bonds, helps boost engagement, and gets you more focused results.

3. Conduct stay interviews.

The last thing leaders want to foster is a negative work culture of "how long do I wait
before jumping ship?" Truth is, the average turnover cost is around 20 percent of an employee's salary. One cost-effective leadership habit is to conduct "stay interviews," especially with those "at risk to leave" employees who may be updating their resumes. Unlike the exit interview, you're getting fresh knowledge and insight about what you can do to improve and retain those valued employees--today--not after they have emotionally disconnected and stopped caring. Here are some strategies for pulling it off with ease.

4. Recognize employees.

To drastically improve the employee experience, leaders need to tap into the innate and necessary human need for recognition and appreciation. It's in the human design to be acknowledged for excellence at work. Research by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Globoforce's WorkHuman® Research Institute confirms this. They found that employees "working for organizations that offer recognition programs, and particularly those that provide rewards based on demonstrating core values," had a considerably higher and more satisfying employee experience than those in organizations that do
not offer formal recognition programs (81 percent vs. 62 percent).

5. Give employees freedom to make decisions.

One of the best things a leader in a relationship economy can do is give employees the freedom and opportunity to decide, participate in, and determine how work is best accomplished. In the same IBM/Globoforce report, employees who feel their ideas and suggestions matter are more than twice as likely to report a positive employee experience than those who don't (83 percent vs. 34 percent). A similar pattern emerged among employees who have the freedom to decide how to do their work (79 percent vs. 42 percent), stated the report. Employees thrive in entrepreneurial settings, which make them feel like they're invested in the company. This means giving them freedom in and ownership of their work. When you do, they're likely to perform at a higher level.

6. Expose employees to new responsibilities.

Leaders need to stretch their employees with work assignments that will expand their knowledge and sharpen their skills. So allow your star employees to explore opportunities inside your company to learn something new, such as joining a cross-functional project, picking up another skill, or leading or participating in a "lunch and learn."

7. Have an open-door policy.

This is a communication strategy for engaging your employees at a high level. One great example is Credit Karma founder and CEO Kenneth Lin. He operates with an open-door policy, which he calls a "keystone for good company communication." This is important as a company grows and starts to distance itself with its many layers. Lin says, "I want new employees to feel like this is a mission we're all in together. An open-door policy sets the tone for this. Whenever I'm in my office and available, I encourage anyone to come by and share their thoughts about how they feel Credit Karma is doing." The strategy helps loop him in to what Credit Karma employees are talking about, which improves morale and lets employees know he's a part of the team.

Leaders who serve employees well: What would you add to this list that has increased your employee engagement? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter and let me know.