Here's something to chew on: Do your employees feel valued? How would you know? If you haven't smelled the fresh brew, we are in a relationship economy and the workplace has changed. Democracy and freedom is the new normal.

Consequently, servant leadership quickly is becoming the preferred practice for some of the biggest and best companies in the world.

Whether you're in startup mode crafting your culture, or a Fortune giant reinventing your leadership culture, there are profound ways exceptional leaders go about valuing their people.

1. They trust and believe in those they lead.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey says that a team with high trust will produce results faster and at lower cost.

Not surprisingly, several companies that made Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list this year are characterized by high levels of trust and transparency.

The research behind what makes those companies get on that list is conducted by the folks at Great Place to Work, who report that 92 percent of employees surveyed at these companies believe that management is transparent in its business practices.

And as new confirmation for servant leadership, the study found that the "Best Companies to Work For" have leaders who, to ensure success, do several things year in, year out that correlate well with leadership trust behaviors:

  • Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Share their vision for the future with employees.
  • Take the pulse of the organization by constantly listening and responding to what they hear so they can serve the needs of their people. Whether it's sharing quarterly financials or making strategic decisions, they make sure to listen.
  • Offer their tribe ample opportunities for training and development.

2. They show respect for those they lead.

Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, wrote a book called Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others, in which she tells the story of her leadership journey.

When she was named CEO in 2007, profit was in the negative, and the company stock price had taken a nosedive from $34 in 2002 to $13. The brand suffered, and franchise owners were running around with their hair on fire.

By 2014, Popeyes did a 180-degree turn. Sales were up 25 percent, and profits were up 40 percent. Market share had grown from 14 percent to 21 percent, and the stock price was over $40. The franchisees were giddy with the turnaround and began reinvesting in the brand, many remodeling their restaurants and building new ones around the world.

The difference?

Bachelder says that it was a conscious decision to create a new workplace (with rigorous measures in place) where people were treated with respect and dignity yet were challenged to perform at the highest level.

Silos were broken, managers began to listen, and self-serving leaders went bye-bye as collaboration increased. Workers were valued.

3. They are responsive to the needs of those they lead.

Great leaders show an interest in their people's jobs and career aspirations. They look into the future to create learning and development opportunities.

They find out what motivates their best people by getting to know what desires will drive each tribe member. This is about emotional engagement.

Let's suppose you manage the Web development function of your company. Take three developers on your project team:

  • One comes to work every day just to fill a financial need for the family;
  • Another fulfills a deep need to design software to serve the needs of her customers;
  • The third eats, drinks and sleeps user design interface to understand how it will work holistically for both end users and stakeholders.

Knowing what makes each one of them get up in the morning can help you develop tasks and provide incentives they will actually care about. Make sure that it plays to their individual strengths to keep them engaged and learning on the job.

Let's end with a question to think about:

In what meaningful and sustainable ways do you value your people at work?