If you pick the brain of any leader, you'll most likely find a myriad of answers as to what makes them successful. Some may say it is luck. Some might say it is charisma. Others, but far less, might actually say it is power--absolute control and command.

But, if you pick the brains of today's most prolific and successful corporate leaders, you'll most likely find very different answers--many of which you've probably read about, talked about, or recently studied. And, even more interesting, all of the answers you'll hear about from today's leaders fall under one simple umbrella that can be summarized by a single word: empathy.

Empathy, in its most basic form means understanding another's feelings, perspective, goals, and needs. ​And, while empathy may not at first sound like the first word you'd consider if asked "What makes a great leader?", this concept is now being proven by science, and talked about, under different labels in business. Here are four.

1. Culture

This is a word that has been the absolute buzz of the business world as leaders try to attract the top talent to their organizations. In fact, the company I work for, O.C. Tanner recently released global culture research that asked employees what aspects of culture matter the most.

The study found six aspects that employees choose to engage with the most. They are: purpose, wellbeing, appreciation, success, opportunity, and leadership. All six are magnets to employees. All six are worth studying for any leader. 

2. Employee Experience

While the concept of employee engagement focuses on employees choosing to engage with a company's ideas, culture, work, and results, employee experience focuses on designing processes, places, and workflow around the pre-existing tendencies of the employees.

It's a shift from a top-down mindset to a bottom-up perspective. And, many top companies are reevaluating the way they handle these two concepts--realizing that it might be easier and more effective to simply focus on the needs and flow of their people. They're focusing on things like: how their people want to work, how their people work more effectively, how work fits into their people's everyday lives, and designing policies, cultural aspects, and systems based on what their people tell and show them they need to create great results, rather than what the company thinks they should need.    

3. Appreciation

While the concept of appreciation is at the foundation of every society since the beginning of time, it's amazing that corporate leaders are finally abuzz about the power of recognition. Again, research from the O.C. Tanner Institute clearly shows that when employees are asked what their boss or company could do that would inspire them to produce great work, the number one answer, by far, is 'recognize me.'

And, we're not the only people touting it's power. I recently spoke with David Novak, founder and former CEO of YUM! Brands. He said, "Recognition is one of the most powerful things a leader can do."

4. Service

Often framed as "customer service" I prefer author and global service guru Ron Kaufman's definition of service better. As Kaufman simply defines it in his book Uplifting Service , "Service is taking action to create a value for someone else." That's really simple. It means you are focusing on creating a positive difference--something they value--rather than thinking about your own needs and wants.

All of the above concepts are worth studying--in depth. All of the above are worth mastering as a leader. And, although research is finally catching up to prove many of these former assumptions as true, all of this can be be simplified into one characteristic, empathy. 

Empathy is something most of us might have learned as children--from a grandparent, a teacher, a parent or a friend. And, although many of us in the business world might just be understanding the value of empathy in the workplace, we all still need to practice a lot more of it through these characteristics. 

Published on: Dec 19, 2018
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