Skip to main content

5 Telltale Signs Someone Has True Leadership Ability

By Poyen Ramos on June 27, 2017

Sometimes, the only way you'll truly know whether the skills a leader possesses is genuine is to measure a not so great manager against the one that had you thinking often, "This is too good to be true."

If you think your boss is some freak-of-nature and you're the luckiest person alive, I'll break it to you gently: He or she is most likely the kind of leader talked about by research and thought-leaders who demonstrate best-in-class behaviors in the most profitable companies on the planet.


They are often referred to as servant leaders, conscious leaders, authentic leaders or transformational leaders. Whatever you decide to call them, one thing is for sure: Working for a company culture under their helm releases discretionary effort across an organization. That's good for business.

What I have witnessed in the last ten years in my own practice developing servant leaders is that such leaders shine the spotlight on other people. They don't want the attention, and they share their power and status to benefit the people under their care.

To get practical, lets dive in to the most prevalent leadership behaviors you will find in such leaders.

1. They spread joy and drive fear away

Let me ask you an honest question: Do you look forward to going to work when you get up on a Monday morning? Do you look forward to interacting with your colleagues? Do you feel appreciated by your boss because he/she takes care of you?

If you're nodding your head yes to any of these, you probably experience joy. Congratulations! Joy is an emotion evoked by well-being and success that's experienced by every employee in healthy cultures under such leaders.

It's the feeling you get in a highly-collaborative environment where people respect one another, there's real teamwork between colleagues that are encouraging to each other, coworkers share the same values and there's constant synergy in the air. Next thing you know, you look up and it's 5:30pm, and the place is still buzzing with energy and excitement, and people find it hard to pull away and go home. This is joy!

And leaders set the stage and create the environment for this to happen.

2. They provide employees with meaning, purpose and belonging

In Give and Take, Adam Grant says that when people find purpose in their work it will not only improve that person's happiness, it will boost productivity.

Give the people what they want — purpose. One way to give them that purpose, according to Grant, is to give employees the chance to connect with and meet the people they are serving.

In one research cited by Grant, three groups of employees in a university fund-raising call center were tasked to call donors to ask for contributions. One of those groups read personal stories from scholarship recipients, and how those scholarships had changed their lives. Turns out that group increased their fund-raising by 143 percent versus the other groups who just made fundraising calls as part of their duties.

Grant takes it a step further: When these same fund-raisers were given the opportunity to meet a scholarship recipient, and ask them questions for as little as five minutes, their fund-raising went up by more than 400 percent!

Grant's conclusion? Having employees meet the very people they are helping is the greatest motivator, even if limited to a few minutes.

Employers have a competitive edge when they can give their people access to customers so they can see firsthand the human impact their work makes.

This is about having work that brings with it meaning, every day. When employees feel and know that they are making a difference in the world through the work they do--whether they're designing apps or laying down asphalt, it increases their motivation to perform.

3. They foster a "learning spirit" within the organization to develop their people

People development is not seen as a separate retention activity enforced by HR. It's ingrained into the mindset of servant leaders strongly committed to their people's development. Obviously, this is good business strategy as it will increase team performance

But beyond that, developing people is a goal of leadership in and of itself. It's a way of being. And this is how they do it:

• They identify their employees' gifts, talents, strengths and personality types for the best job fit so that they can reach their potential.

• They champion a "learning spirit" within the organization, sending a clear message that "growing our people is one of our highest priorities."

• They provide ongoing training, coaching and mentoring opportunities that are aligned with job purpose, performance measures, and fulfilling the organizational mission.

4. They build trust that leads to business outcomes

Let's face it, if you are considering developing leaders, trust is a pillar your company's leadership should stand on.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey highlights leadership trusting behaviors that are culturally ingrained in the structures of some great companies known for high employee engagement, including Whole Foods, Campbell Soup, and Semco.

Among those trusted behaviors are:

• Practicing accountability

• Creating transparency

• Confronting reality

• Clarifying expectations

• Listening first

This is how their leadership teams and employees interact day-to-day. Imagine the possibilities of leveraging such behaviors to increase trust across the board. Employee performance ratings go up, and as a result, your customers will notice a difference.

5. They are open and transparent in how they communicate

A clear example of this practice is modeled by Melissa Reiff, the CEO of The Container Store, which is ranked No. 49 on Fortune's annual list of "100 Best Companies to Work For."

Reiff personally crafted the organizational principle of "Communication IS Leadership," which is defined as the "daily execution of practicing consistent, reliable, predictable, effective, thoughtful, compassionate, and yes, even courteous communication."

In its purest form, the culture of The Container Store strives for every single employee to know absolutely everything. While this can be a daunting undertaking for any company, The Container Store firmly acknowledges the power behind this principle on its website, which states "nothing makes someone feel more a part of a team than knowing everything has been communicated to them. We know that some information we share could fall into competitors' hands, but the advantages far outweigh the risks.

This article was originally written by Marcel Schwantes, a principal and founder of Leadership From the Core, a leading provider of servant-leadership training and coaching designed to create healthy, engaged, and profitable work cultures.

Sign up on Kalibrr and start hiring better today! You can also follow us on Facebook for more business and recruiter advice.