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How Can You Really Tell Someone Is an Exceptional Leader? Ask This 1 Simple Question

The answer is an eye-opener.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 06 Jun 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Have you ever thought about the essence of true leadership? How exactly do you define it?

Better yet, how do you simply become a good leader in your office or business -- enough so that your employees, peers, and customers will respect you?

The answer comes down to a question every leader should ask at some point:

What gift am I giving each and every day to those I lead?

No, I'm not talking passing out presents at a company Christmas party or handing out Starbucks gift cards for meeting a project goal.

I can confidently declare that great leadership has always boiled down to serving the needs of others. And the best will serve by giving.

So what does that look like in every day practice in the trenches of the workplace? What does it really mean to give as a leader?

1. You give the gift of freedom and ownership.

Great leaders let their employees decide how to do their jobs, according to their strengths and talents and how they're naturally wired. Then they allow them the room to make decisions and own their work with entrepreneurial rights. Your only prerequisite? Hire smart people. Steve Jobs famously quipped, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

2. You give the gift of your time and attention.

You want to see a frustrated employee? Ignore that person by not making yourself available as a boss. Good bosses give the precious gift of time -- listening attentively to their employees' ideas, opinions, concerns, interests, and personal needs. They invest time with their most valued team members to learn who they really are and what makes them tick.

3. You give the gift of respect.

Good leaders ask for input and explore different perspectives before enacting new rules or policy. They respect others by listening more than speaking. Practically speaking, good leaders allow their followers the freedom to think and be part of the conversation; they ask curious questions, lots of questions: how something is done, what you (the employee) like about it, what you learned from it... and what you need in order to be better, more productive, more efficient, etc.

4. You give the gift of compassion.

Is it a natural tendency of yours to want to help others -- to alleviate people's suffering? While empathetic people have this ability to feel what others feel, compassion is a more objective form of empathy. It's feeling what others feel, but taking it to another level by doing everything in your power to remove the obstacles that stand in their way. The recently released Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science extensively documents and verifies that "compassionate management" leads to high organizational performance, innovation, customer retention, and profitability, and less employee turnover. It is truly a gift of great leaders.

5. You give the gift of flexible work hours.

In the current environment, there is one work practice that continues to encourage employer loyalty and make a significant contribution to business performance: freelance flexibility with full-time stability. Any time leaders and managers have the opportunity to be flexible with an employee, they should not hesitate. Nothing builds trust more than a leader's ability to flex when people's lives get crazy and unpredictable. In the end, this gift is worth more than cash.

6. You give the gift of appreciation.

Great leaders find multiple avenues to express appreciation and gratitude for their employees' hard work. They'll hand-write a "thank you" note, saying something specific about a work performance that can have a lasting impact; they'll throw celebrations and parties to recognize specific individuals; they'll give a well-deserved employee parking privileges right in front of the building for a month; and they'll award that person a paid personal day off or allow them to work-from-home for a week. All these things will clearly communicate, "I appreciate you and the work that you do."