I've done my fair share of researching what true leadership looks like over the years. What I've found is that all great leaders have one thing in common: They lift up their employees and help them to joyfully achieve their goals so they can thrive and succeed.

Does that sound like an overused, utopian corporate cliché? Perhaps to you, but the research doesn't lie. Putting people ahead of profit is what ignites a great company culture that leads to even more profit. Imagine that.

And that's no coincidence; some of the best and brightest companies in the world -- including The Container Store, Nordstrom, Zappos, Sodexo, and countless others -- conduct work this way, every day.

Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail at Apple, frames it best with this quote:

Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first.


Unconventional and Countercultural

While there are obvious hallmarks like great communication skills, exercising integrity, and setting a strong vision that set these leaders apart, quite a few more unconventional and countercultural traits go unheralded, but weigh just as heavily. I'd like to highlight four of them here.

1. They don't turn their backs on their people during the worst of times.

Harold MacDowell, CEO at TDIndustries, is a rare breed of executive. He says a strong value of TD's culture is to keep people employed, even during the worst of times. He told Contracting Business magazine, "We've learned through every down cycle in the economy of the need to react quickly, and look far enough ahead to be sure we have the revenue we need to keep people employed."

The strategy? Think long-term business. He said, "We moved faster, embraced very large projects, and moved to stay close to our long-term customers. We gave our long-term customers a lot more attention. Then we targeted what key jobs were out there to be sure we got more than our share."

As a result, MacDowell says, TDIndustries' greatest achievement over the past decade has been to create more than 700 full-time jobs, and increase the value of the company by more than 230 percent.

2. They promote and model radical transparency.

The lovable Container Store defines what it stands for as a corporation in its "Foundation Principles." The one I find most impressive is the principle of "Communication IS Leadership," which CEO Melissa Reiff personally crafted in definition as the "daily execution of practicing consistent, reliable, predictable, effective, thoughtful, compassionate, and yes, even courteous communication."

While that may sound hopelessly idealistic, it's a way of being for The Container Store. Digging deeper, you begin to see these statements embedded in its culture and corporate values, as posted on its website, which states: "Simply put, we want every single employee in our company to know absolutely everything."

While this kind of radical transparency can be a daunting undertaking for any company, The Container Store firmly acknowledges the power behind this principle. It states:

Nothing makes someone feel more a part of a team than knowing everything has been communicated to them. We know that some information we share could fall into competitors' hands, but the advantages far outweigh the risks.

3. They give back to their communities.

While fluffy perks like catered meals, free coffee, and arcade rooms are a plus to shape your company culture, they appeal only on a superficial level. According to research, what is sustainable is leadership with a vision of creating a culture where people feel a sense of ownership in affecting neighborhoods, cities, and the world.

That's why the 2014 Millennial Impact Report by Achieve is such a profound eye-opener.

According to the report, 47 percent of the 1,514 employed Millennials surveyed said they had volunteered for a cause or a nonprofit, and 57 percent wanted to see more company-wide volunteer opportunities through their employer.

Additionally, the survey found that one-third of Millennials will seriously look at a company's volunteer policies before considering applying for a job. Case in point: 39 percent said that it influenced their decision to interview with a company, and 55 percent went as far as saying that such policies played a key role in their decision to take a job offer.

It's clear: Millennials prefer working for organizations that are socially responsible, ethical, and want to make the world a better place.

Fishbowl, the No. 1 manufacturing and warehouse management solution for QuickBooks®, dedicates a day of service to its surrounding community every year.

Projects in the past have included restoring a mountain amphitheater, cleaning up streams and ponds, visiting with veterans at a veterans' home, painting a local high school, and helping upgrade the libraries of two elementary schools.

CEO David Williams said in a Forbes article: "Our project costs of having our employees out of the office is $150,000 to $200,000, not to mention the planning and preparation months before this special day. But the passion this creates and the bond it instills in a company makes it one of the best ROI decisions you could possibly make."

4. They lead from a place of humility, not ego.

Last year, I conducted an independent survey on LinkedIn, where I asked several groups and received hundreds of responses to the question "What is the ONE mistake leaders make more frequently than others?"

The second most frequent mistake leaders make? You guessed it -- leading from a position of ego. In one sense, hubris was the cause of much conflict and grief. As one respondent succinctly put it:

Intellectual arrogance is like a termite to some leaders and networks.

In another sense articulated in the responses, "know-it-alls" who think they have the best ideas (or take credit for the ideas of others) and use them to wield power or control over others suck the life out of teams.

As it turns out, research agrees. An unprecedented study revealed that people demonstrating "hubristic pride" (as opposed to its healthier counterpart -- "authentic pride") were narcissistic, given to feelings of arrogance, grandiosity, and superiority. They also experienced more interpersonal conflicts and, ironically enough, were also prone to shame. In fact, these people, especially in leadership roles, hurt businesses and damaged team morale.

Which unconventional and countercultural leadership traits would you add to this list? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter.