If I asked you to describe the best boss you have ever worked for, what would you say? Would you mention things like he or she "was a great planner" or "she really knew how to positively affect the bottom line"?

Not likely.

In my work as a business consultant, I have asked hundreds of people -- employees, managers, and leaders from every imaginable position and occupation -- to recall and describe the best boss they have ever worked for. Time and time again, their responses are the same: The best bosses inspired and influenced them through their caring and authentic actions, and were able to make a lasting impact because of their exceptional interpersonal skills.

Outstanding bosses are able to combine emotional intelligence and heightened communication skills--often referred to as "soft skills" -- in their leadership and decision making. This amalgamation of practical business skills and a well-developed sensitivity to the feelings of others enables these exceptional leaders to not only lead well but to act in service of others.

The adage that "Employees rarely quit a company; they quit their boss" holds true, and research upholds this statement. For decades, studies have uncovered the factors related to employees' commitment to their organizations and their reasons for quitting a job. The predominant reason cited is lack of effective leadership and support from their boss.

Exceptional leadership is, at its core, about people connecting with people. If you overlook the human connection point in business, you won't be able to build loyalty. It is that simple.

Here are 21 ideas to help you develop your "softer side" and become an outstanding leader.

  1. You listen without distractions. Employees will be motivated when you listen attentively and ask thoughtful questions.
  2. You genuinely care about and believe in your people -- which, in turn, will create a loyal team who are willing to do their very best for you.
  3. You make time to personally connect with your employees. One-on-one meetings can dramatically change relationships for the better.
  4. You empower others by involving them in decisions whenever possible.
  5. You trust people to make the right decision, boosting confidence and mutual respect.
  6. You show appreciation. Even a simple thank-you. Praise equals validation.
  7. You create opportunities for employees to advance and develop new skills.
  8. You have an open-door policy and regularly ask for feedback.
  9. You replace blame with responsibility.
  10. You are empathetic and strive to maintain the self-esteem of others.
  11. You understand that by our human nature, people want to be part of something great and aspire to make work rewarding and meaningful.
  12. You communicate often and schedule opportunities for your team to connect.
  13. You are emotionally resilient and know how to handle high-stakes conversations.
  14. You are open-minded and not quick to judge. You come to understand a situation or someone's behavior by asking questions.
  15. You show genuine concern for each employee -- the whole person, including his or her life outside of work.
  16. You are authentic and honest. When you are not at liberty to reveal something, you explain why.
  17. You endorse health and wellness programs and self-care practices.
  18. You welcome new ideas and value collaborative efforts, and are willing to shake things up once in awhile.
  19. You are not afraid to ask for help and admit mistakes.
  20. You are aware of your impact and strive to see things from the perspective of your employees.
  21. You are able to detach from negativity and let go of control when necessary.