The impact of work cultures on the bottom line is a hot business topic. More execs and HR leaders are connecting the dots on how an ecosystem of commonly held values, beliefs, and positive work behaviors drives engagement, innovation, and high performance.

Yet culture doesn't just happen. It takes visionary, servant leadership at the top creating the environment for intrinsically motivated employees to release discretionary effort.

These are selfless leaders who shine the spotlight on others instead of themselves. They have one thing in mind: How do I empower my tribe to reach their potential? You'll find that they are givers--in a personal, leadership, and organizational sense.

Here's what they give often to benefit their employees:

1. They give employees their ear.

I recently wrote about the powerful business practice of "stay interviews." Unlike the exit interview, this concept is predicated on listening to employees' feedback to get fresh insight into improving the work environment that will help retain those valued employees today--not after they have emotionally disconnected and turned in their resignations. Leaders who check hubris at the door and listen authentically in this manner build trust. The message coming across to employees is that they're seen as important and part of the family.

2. They give their employees empathy.

People are drawn to empathy. It's an attractive quality to have in building successful relationships at work. In fact, DDI research has proved that empathy is the No. 1 driver of overall organizational performance. Who knew? A leader displaying empathy will foster strong personal relationships and promote productive collaboration. They'll think about their team's circumstances, understand their challenges and frustrations, and know that those emotions are every bit as real as their own. This helps develop perspective and opens team members to helping one another.

3. They give their employees rewards and recognition.

This is a daily ritual that can be carried out with verbal acknowledgements and praise or small tokens of appreciation that you know each team member will love. This will require developing personal relationships with your team, of course. How well do you know each member? Recognize them by ringing a bell, playing a special song over the sound system, and handing out kazoos as you gather the whole team to celebrate someone's accomplishments or special moments (both personal and professional). As a leader, give recognition freely and learn to gracefully accept it in return as cultural norms.

4. They give their employees space to recharge.

Leaders who care about their employees' productivity will not tolerate a culture of overwork that can potentially burn them out. They safeguard the employee experience with work-life balance priorities reinforced daily. I recently wrote about the importance of downtime, and how neuroscience recommends that, for every 80 to 120 minutes, employees should be encouraged to take a 10-minute break to calm down brain activity so they don't get overstimulated and lose focus. To recharge, leaders can reinforce activities that can take as little as five to 15 minutes, including:

  • Practicing mindful meditation.
  • Listening to music.
  • Infusing fun, laughter, and humor into the work community.
  • Going on a short nature walk.

5. They give their employees plenty of information, communicating both the good and the bad.

Good leaders inform their employees when there are changes taking place. They tell them as much as they can, as soon as they can, to avoid disengagement and low morale. They give employees the pros and cons of a new strategy, and don't hold back and deliver unpleasant surprises later. When the chips are down, they reassure their employees by giving them the facts and how they fit into the big picture. They never stop asking for input and how employees are feeling about things. Finally, they deliver bad news diplomatically and tactfully, choosing the timing and approach well.

6. They give their employees fairness.

Studies indicate that when fair leaders focus more on their employees than themselves, caring and providing for their needs, workers show up more inspired and with greater dedication to their work, which increases productivity. In a recent Great Place to Work report showcasing 20 years of research on Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, a fairer workplace for all employees (not playing favorites or politicking, for example) was a key trend of past and current Best Companies. You'll find that exceptional bosses at these companies share their power and even their status. They'll get down in the trenches and work alongside their tribe daily, connecting to them on a personal level.