Riding the higher road of exceptional leadership can be a very lonely place. So many of those supposed "leaders" fall off the wagon during the journey, letting themselves and others down.

They may be too controlling, not listen enough (or at all), operate from hubris, or end up taking the spotlight that rightfully belongs to employees -- all traits counter to what good leaders do. 

When you closely inspect the best servant leaders and the traits they put on display for everyone to see, you'll find careers advancing, employees thriving, and companies ultimately flourishing.

More specifically, four of those noble traits come to mind immediately.

1. It all starts with integrity.

When leaders work in integrity, you're seeing their character in full view. You don't question who they are or whether they have your best interest in mind (because they always do). Because their actions are open for everyone to see, you don't worry about whether they're hiding anything from you. Hall of Fame football coach, Tony Dungy, writes in his book, Uncommon: "Integrity, the choice between what's convenient, and what's right." 

2. Integrity will lead to greater trust.

More than ever, we are faced with business challenges that call for higher levels of innovation, knowledge, and soft skills. So when leaders operate from integrity, they gain the trust of their team members. They are still tough and hold you accountable for performance and excellence, but they are seen as dependable and people feel safe in their presence. Leaders of the present don't rely on trusting in their positional power to get things done; instead they rely on the power of trust to get the best from people.

3. Trust will lead to greater influence.

Integrity begets trust. Trust begets influence. And with influence, you let people know where you stand, you back the mission, and you follow through on your word.  While leaders with great influence may lose a few people unwilling to follow them, those who do will have their back and show uncommon loyalty. Leadership influence, after all, is all about strong relationships and credibility. And as a credible leader, you will say what you mean and mean what you say.

4. None of it can happen without love.

Leadership author and legend, Ken Blanchard, has made his case in convincing fashion for decades that leading with love is the most powerful way to lead.  But what does "love" really mean in the organizational or business context? It's all about action. It's crossing over from a traditional management mindset of power and control over others to a mindset of meeting the needs of others before your own; it requires the lucid understanding on a visceral level that your role as a leader is to grow people and set them up for success so results are achieved. That's love in action. And that's why it works.

Bringing it home

If you hold the prestigious title of leader, don't proceed any further in your role until these virtues are evident with those you lead.

I say this because lacking in any of them may be holding you back to realizing your full potential as a leader. 

The good news is that anyone can overcome the roadblocks to develop integrity, build trust, exercise influence, and choose to love employees and customers for competitive advantage. And, as with any leadership development effort, there are tough prerequisites: a positive belief system and open mind, a commitment to your development, a support system to encourage you on the path, and practice, practice, practice.