You've heard the catchy definition of insanity, right? It's been attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Mark Twain, among others: "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

While that definition may not be psychologically accurate, it does hold truth when we apply it to the leadership conversation.

Here's what I mean.

Leadership is about people and relationships. But we still find countless examples of leaders in recognizable brands that do not value either. Yes, they profit--at the expense of unhappy, unmotivated, and disengaged employees.

Contrast that with character-based leadership cultures, and what you'll find there is a dedication to serve employees first by making them better workers and people; by creating an environment that appeals to their hearts and minds.

It's the business understanding that if employees are happy, they'll be engaged. And if they're engaged, they'll deliver higher performance and unparalleled customer service through passionate work. In turn, they will serve their customers in new and unimaginable ways. Everybody wins (especially the customer).

This is the service-profit chain discovered by Harvard Business School professors over two decades ago. It establishes relationships between profitability, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity.

A Year-End Checklist to Stop the Insanity

Time to do different things to get better results. Heading into 2017, leaders who intentionally invest in their own leadership development and the growth of their teams will see a measurable return.

As you look over the possibilities to increase your capacity, consider adding these items to your year-end checklist.

Checklist Item No. 1: Shine the spotlight on your employees.

Leaders whose brains have been trained to make decisions in top-down, command-and-control fashion may have an allergic reaction here. The essence of great leadership is this: It's not about you, it's about your employees.

Too many leaders hunger for the spotlight and forget to shine it on others closer to the frontlines.

At Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen, CEO Cheryl Bachelder turned the spotlight on her franchisees (the restaurant owners). These are the people that Popeye's leadership team decided to consciously serve first by practicing six organizational values they live by: passion, listening, planning, coaching, accountability and humility.

This led Popeye's on a path of unprecedented growth between 2007 and 2015, as documented in Bachelder's book Dare to Serve.

Checklist Item No. 2: Give direct and actionable feedback.

Strong leaders always let people know where they stand. They often respond to problems quickly and directly, and deal with problems head-on, even in uncomfortable situations.

When faced with giving negative feedback, it is actionable and delivered with openness and respect in a manner that inspires accountability. And communication is always direct but never intimidating.

Giving positive and consistent feedback weighs even heavier and is one of the most powerful ways to inspire and motivate people. When leaders clarify goals and expectations, and keep people abreast of those goals over time, it leads to great performance and happier employees.

Here's a 5-step approach to having remarkable one-on-one meetings that will serve this purpose.

Checklist Item No. 3: Get to personally know your employees.

One of my favorite Cheryl Bachelder quotes is "I must know you to grow you." This means creating margin to spend time with your direct reports to coach, mentor, develop, and train them so you can accelerate their growth.

Ask these questions to discover new things about your employees.

  • Do I know what moti­vates each of my direct reports? Do I know what discourages them?
  • Do I know the strengths and skill levels of my team members, and as their leader, am I adapting to their abilities, strengths, and skills?
  • Am I creating a safe environ­ment that encourages their unique and different views?
  • Am I utilizing each employee to his or her potential?
  • Am I unwilling or unable to adapt to the needs of my team members in order to make them better?

Checklist Item No. 4: Get in the habit of recognizing and praising your people.

The companies in Gallup's research with the highest engagement levels use recognition and praise as a powerful motivator to get their commitment.

They found that employees who receive it on a regular basis increase their individual productivity, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers, and are more likely to stay with their organization.

How regular are we talking? Praise should be given once per week. Sounds absurd, I know, but how can you argue with research involving 4 million workers across more than 30 industries? It's a super low cost, high impact way to connect with your employees, and you'd be foolish not to try it.

Checklist Item No. 5: Create and communicate a shared vision of the future.

Researchers estimate that only 3 percent of leader's time is spent envisioning the future. Leadership experts and authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner posit through extensive research that leaders at the highest levels should be looking several years into the future, up to 10 years ahead if you're in the C-Suite.

How do new leaders develop this forward-looking capacity? Here's what Kouzes and Posner recommend, via Harvard Business Review:

1. Set aside time away from endless operational matters to focus on envisioning.

2. Leaders need to stop acting like "emissaries from the future" presenting answers that are only their own. Constituents want visions of the future that reflect their own aspirations. They want to hear how their dreams will come true and their hopes will be fulfilled.

3. This means, according to Kouzes and Posner, that leaders must communicate an image of the future that draws others in--that speaks to what others see and feel. This is what leaders struggle with the most.

4. Connect with others deeply in the present. The only visions that take hold are shared visions--and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs. The best leaders are able to bring their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: They observe the human condition.

As look over this checklist, which items are you willing to put into action during 2017?