Culture is a hot business topic in 2016. More execs and HR leaders are connecting the dots on how an ecosystem of commonly held values, beliefs, and work behaviors drives engagement, innovation, and performance.

Or how the opposite -- a toxic work culture -- is actually bad for your bottom line, according to a recent study by Harvard University.

Yet culture doesn't just happen. It takes visionary leadership to first figure out "who do we want to be when we grow up?" and later ask, "who are the right people we need to hire that align with our cultural values?" And hopefully never forget, "how do we keep them from leaving us?"

These are tough leadership questions that can make or break your business.

Since the topic of leadership is so vast, we need to narrow things down to a simple framework that works practically and can be replicated.

In 15 years of coaching and consulting, I've found one that works. It can literally transform culture, whether you're a startup in fast-growth mode or an established company cleaning house. It's based on the seminal research of Dr. Jim Laub, founder of OLAGroup. Out of a mountain of data, Laub dug up six key leadership behaviors that, when actively demonstrated up, down, and across levels, can lead to a great culture. 

The foundation to not fail as a leader.

The profound behaviors discussed below originated from what is arguably the most successful leadership philosophy in the universe: Servant Leadership.

If you're new to the idea, Servant-Leaders are people-centric, not egocentric. Their winning formula is to serve by shining the spotlight on others.

Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, calls such leaders "other-centric," meaning they give more than they take, hence, they "serve others" first.

The Washington Post says, "employees in these companies have high emotional engagement, loyalty and productivity, and outperform the competition daily."

This is not soft-skills, pushover nonsense; Servant-Leaders command a much higher level of trust from their tribe, and over time, according to Grant, are much more successful.

Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, wrote an inspiring op-ed in the The New York Times even calling for a Servant-Leader to be our next president (while quickly dismissing any rumors he would be running).

Today, scores of successful companies embrace the practice of Servant-Leadership, including some that have made Fortune magazine's 100 List of Best Companies to Work For over the years.

Startup founders are also catching on to the competitive advantage of putting people ahead of profits. Christopher Myers, co-founder and CEO at BodeTree, writes in Forbes:

"Too many founders look at their business purely in economic terms, with the investor mentality to capitalize on efficiencies and cash out. This leads to harsh and dictatorial leadership styles where the primary goal is personal enrichment."

He continues:

"True CEOs, however, realize how damaging and ineffective that approach can be. Instead, they strive to deliver economic and social benefits through servant leadership."

The six best behaviors to not fail as a leader.

Dr. Laub's work has been tested with over 1200 organizations, and continues to be at the forefront of research to answer the question "why do leadership structures fail so often?"

The answer lies in the six key areas of effective organizational leadership:

1. Leaders will not fail if they display authenticity:

2. Leaders will not fail if they value others:

  • By believing and trusting in people.
  • By maintaining a high view of people, and showing respect and dignity.
  • By putting others first before self.
  • By listening -- receptive, nonjudgmental listening.

3. Leaders will not fail if they develop people:

  • By providing for learning and growth.
  • By developing potential.
  • By modeling.
  • By encouraging.

4. Leaders will not fail if they provide leadership:

  • By envisioning the future.

  • By using intuition and foresight to direct the organization.

  • By taking initiative and moving out ahead.

  • By clarifying goals and expectations -- understanding what it takes to get to the vision.

5. Leaders will not fail if they share leadership:

  • By sharing power and empowering others.

  • By sharing status in relation to position, honor, and self-promotion.

  • By using persuasion to influence others instead of coercion.

  • By pushing authority down.

6. Leaders will not fail if they build community:

  • By enhancing relationships and relating well to others.

  • By promoting a sense of belonging and connection for all team members.

  • By working collaboratively, emphasizing teamwork.

  • By valuing the differences of others -- differing gifts, cultures, personalities, and viewpoints.

While the formula for success has been laid out, the competitive edge goes to those committed to continuous learning and development.

But beware of "leadership training," as it is rarely, if ever, effective. These behaviors can only be permanently ingrained if new neural pathways in the brain are created through long-term coaching, mentoring, and developing leaders.

Leave a comment, subscribe below, or hit me up on Twitter if you have any questions about Servant-Leadership, or the research cited. I'd love to hear from you.

Published on: Apr 20, 2016