Whether or not you subscribe to the notion that "everything rises and falls on leadership," no company can truly grow without growing leaders first. 

To grow leaders who will then grow companies, the focus should be on raising up people-centered leaders who aspire to lead by serving others first. From there, everything else follows to exceptional results.

Having spoken to scores of successful leaders who put humans first, I can attest that the journey toward great leadership is one of mindset and continuous personal development. 

To illustrate, four executives recently shared some key principles and practices that lead to good human leadership that produces results.

1. Be human, not higher up

For Monte Williams, the founder of ALEU-The Leadership Development Company, whose mission is to help people lead themselves more effectively so they can add the most value to their environment, it's paramount that leaders demonstrate the courage to be human, not higher up. 

"When leaders invest the time to understand their employees as people first, and then apply that understanding to the context of their business, they create a team more deeply connected to the purpose of the organization," says Williams. He maintains that as a leader, it is imperative that you create the time to relate to your team on a human level.  

Williams adds, "The sense of human connectedness is what drives the most innovative solutions to the business's most complex challenges. As leaders, we become master facilitators of this process when we connect to our teams as humans and not higher-ups."

2. Lead with a learning mindset

Paul Jarman, CEO of unified cloud customer experience provider NICE inContact, approaches everything with a learning-first mentality. "When you keep your mind open and give everyone in your organization a voice, every interaction is an opportunity for growth -- personally and professionally," shares Jarman.

Once an organization has reached a certain level of maturity, it can be tempting for leaders to avoid reinventing the wheel. By challenging yourself to keep learning, Jarman says, you're less likely to accept "the way things have always been done." 

3. Leverage empathy to improve communication

Most leaders can agree that business ultimately comes down to one thing -- relationships. And one key trait that helps nurture those relationships is empathy. Will Bartholomew, CEO and founder of D1 Training, an athletic-based fitness franchise, relies heavily on the encouragement of empathy to drive the performance of his employees.

"Your teams spend at least 40 hours every single week together, so there are bound to be occasional disagreements. However, when you encourage an empathetic environment, you're promoting an understanding of other viewpoints, which will mitigate disagreements and help your team come to resolutions quicker," shares Bartholomew.

Empathy also leads to overcommunicating in the best way during a pandemic, where employees feel comfortable enough to voice feedback and ask for criticism to improve. Now, Bartholomew always makes a point of overcommunicating and encourages others to do as well -- it has helped everyone understand one another more clearly.

4. Be intentional about developing relationships

Building relationships doesn't have to be difficult. Rashada Whitehead, head of culture, diversity, and inclusion at Grant Thornton, notes, "The simple practice of saying good morning to team members, the ability to call someone by name, or connecting back to a moment or story that matters demonstrates that people and relationships are a priority beyond a profit."

What this comes down to is fairly simple. It means taking an interest in those you lead at the human level and not treating them like just employees whose sole purpose is to complete tasks for you. 

Good leaders open up the room for discussion, healthy debate, and the exchange of ideas to get to know team members on a deeper level. They ask for people's opinions to help them get to know those who might not otherwise approach them. This helps to build trust among employees and bolsters employee retention.