Eleven years ago, I reported to a highly emotionally-intelligent and very successful executive -- still my favorite boss to this day.

The greatest lessons Bruce taught me were about how to best serve employees. Not your cup of tea? Well, this was his competitive edge -- Servant-Leadership -- and it's backed by science because it works.

So that became our calling when I founded this company. I even scripted our company video around Bruce's Servant-Leadership style. In it, I tell viewers that he "connected with us on an emotional level -- he engaged us." 

But that two-and-a-half minute clip doesn't do Bruce justice.

In short, Bruce did what the best of Servant-Leaders with high emotional intelligence do: He invested in my development, looking after my needs so that I was equipped to succeed and do great work for my clients.

Simon Sinek, author of the best-seller Leaders Eat Last knows about the positive psychology behind Servant-Leadership. He is quoted in this excellent clip as saying,

"There's not a CEO on the planet who is responsible for the customer. You're responsible for the people who are responsible for the customer."

And that describes my former boss to a tee. Bruce knew that to serve our clients well, he had to serve me well first.

For the rest of this article, I will spell out ten traits that made Bruce stand head-and-shoulders above any other executive leader I've known or worked for.

1. Servant Leaders treat themselves as human beings.

They make room daily for laughter and joy. Before they treat others with dignity, respect, and admiration, they make sure they're first doing it for themselves. In three words: They are real.

They will open up and say "This project is kicking my butt. I need your input. What would you do in this situation?"

Now, being transparent may be perceived as a weakness, but eventually such leaders will see that it's actually a strength by the way people respond to them with more trust.

2. Servant Leaders listen to understand instead of replying.

They park their thoughts, clear the agenda in their heads, and listen first. They hear other people's joy, frustration, learn about their values, and connect to their deepest wishes and dreams.

3. Servant Leaders lead from both the head and the heart.

While they hold you to accountable for results, set high expectations, and demand excellence, they have a deep respect and desire for developing the people around them to succeed.

4. Servant Leaders praise employees.

Consider what the literature is saying: The companies in Gallup's extensive research with the highest engagement levels use recognition as a powerful means to get their commitment. It's such a powerful motivator. In fact, they recommend that praise should be given once per week.

5. Servant Leaders approach conflict with great awareness.

When upset, they find out what part of the story they may be missing, focusing on solving the problem and building the relationship, rather than casting blame, creating distance or stone-walling.

6. Servant Leaders know they are allowed to make mistakes.

They admit when they're wrong, learn from mistakes, then they try again a different way. This speaks to the resilience that servant leaders possess. And when they screw up, they apologize, and they do it quick.

7. Servant Leaders look at difficult situations from several angles.

They talk to several people cross-functionally, up and even down reporting levels  for perspective, to get clarity, and determine a course of action. Sometimes the decision may not be popular, but it's always the right one.

8. Servant Leaders practice empathy.

Empathy -- one of the five tenets of emotional intelligence. They imagine being in the other person's shoes and will ask themselves, "how would this person want to be treated?"

This is the Platinum Rule. It's taking the familiar Golden Rule up a notch from "Treat others as you would like to be treated" to "Treat others the way they want to be treated."

9. Servant Leaders give others the opportunity to stretch and grow.

They have a keen interest in knowing what new challenge is there for their team members. Then they make it happen.

10. Servant Leaders speak their truth.

They don't say things to sugarcoat, please others or look good in front of their peers. They don't betray themselves or others by using words or making decisions that are not aligned with who they are.

You will never hear a person of this caliber being talked about around water coolers for "throwing someone under the bus." They speak clear, honest and with integrity.

Which of these ten resonate with you?

If you'd like much more information about the impact of Servant-Leadership on your business, simply subscribe below.  

Published on: Jun 13, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.