As you think ahead to improving your leadership skills in 2018 and beyond, the best traits I have found which will profoundly impact individuals and teams may not be futuristic at all. But -- and you can take this to the bank -- these 5 leadership practices will stand the test of time, next year or fifty years from now.

1. Set your team up for success, and you'll experience success.

A leader's success can only go as far as the team takes him or her. Sure, it's conventional wisdom, yet so many people in management roles only focus on their own performance while ignoring the individual needs of team members. 

Karyn Schoenbart, CEO of The NPD Group, and author of Mom.B.A. says, "[S]uccess as a leader or a manager is not based on your own performance but based on the success of your team...so my leadership style is very much about helping people bring out the best they can be and helping us all succeed together."

2. Turn the traditional organizational hierarchy upside down.

This "servant leadership" concept of flipping the hierarchy may have idealistic roots in Robert Greenleaf's writings, but is practiced by the biggest and most profitable companies worldwide.

John Donahoe, former president and CEO of eBay and now CEO of enterprise cloud company ServiceNow, lives by this aspiring philosophy to get the most out of his employees.

He tells The Australian, "The classic organizational hierarchy is a triangle with the CEO on top and then a hierarchy under that, but the leadership model I learnt was exactly the opposite. On the top of the upside down triangle are customers, serving them is our purpose for existing and it's our customer facing employees that are higher up the ladder in the organization," states Donahoe.

"They are the ones who deal with our customers day in day out and in my book they are one's who need to be at the top of the list.....as the CEO my place is at the very bottom of the upside down triangle," he added.

3. Recognize people for business and personal accomplishments.

As a leader, you may have bought in to the idea that praising people for going above and beyond is a good thing for business. It is, and in fact, research confirms this. The companies in Gallup's study with the highest engagement levels use recognition and praise as a powerful motivator to get their commitment.

But try going a step further. Doug Davidson, chairman and CEO of New South Construction Co., one of Atlanta's 50 fastest-growing private companies, tells Atlanta Business Chronicle, "For years, I have recognized our people not only for their business accomplishments but also for their milestones outside of work, such as birthdays, awards and family celebrations."

This is still foreign territory for most managers, yet acknowledging personal milestones in a meaningful and authentic way brings leaders closer to their people, further increasing loyalty and engagement in their work.

4. Build community with regular learning rituals.

A leader with hope and a vision for developing a strong work culture will, in most cases, create an environment that feels more like community than the corporate grind. People care about each other's work and show appreciation for one another. This is key to employee morale, teamwork and customer satisfaction.

One of the ways to make work feel more like "community" is through cultural rituals that bring teams together. At Utah-based Cotopaxi, an innovative outdoor apparel company, one that stands out is their bi-monthly event, "Academia."

Matt Pittman, Corporate & Group Sales Manager for Cotopaxi, shares the concept in an O.C. Tanner blog:

Every other Friday the entire company comes together for 2 hours for general overview of the business as well as calling out special announcements or appreciation moments. Then we always end the meeting with what we call a learning event to discover something new or something you might not otherwise get exposed to. We've had a lot of different ones for example, harmonica or paint lessons, a session on traveling on a shoestring budget, speakers that have summited Everest. Really just getting in something out of the ordinary. We had a woman who was developing a new way of getting protein. So one event, you know, we ate grasshoppers and crickets served up in different ways! 

5. Give them the flexibility they need to live a life of balance.

In this day and age, a new formula for success is emerging in defining who the customers are. That's because, for so many companies, employees are considered the most important customers. 

That means we must value them more than we value customers. And one of the best strategies for serving employees well is giving them flex-time. Multiple surveys have already shown that millennials desire flexibility in where, when and how they work. Nearly 40 percent of them, in fact, would even consider moving to a different country in order to have greater balance in their lives.

It it makes business sense and the work is getting done, it may mean abandoning set workplace hours and agreeing to allow workers the freedom to control their own schedules, like the option of starting at five in the morning and leaving at one in the afternoon.

Writing for The New York Times, Tony Schwartz says you define a great place to work by "creating a work environment that enables and encourages all employees to regularly refuel and renew themselves, both on and off the job. That will make them capable of bringing the best of themselves to work."

Want to get an early jump on this strategy heading into 2018? Job search site Indeed recently analyzed over 10 million company reviews to identify the 20 companies with the best work-life balance. Among the highest-rated companies on the list were Trader Joe's, NIKE, Intuit, and Southwest Airlines.

Published on: Dec 23, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.