Whenever I go in to a new company or community I like to play a little game of Spot-the-Leader. You see, whether they’re already in a leadership position, or they’re on their way up the ladder, it doesn’t take me long to figure out who has true leadership potential.

And it has nothing to do with their paycheck, the size of their office, or their high-end suit…and everything to do with their generosity of spirit. Those who give freely of their time, their energy, and yes, sometimes their money, are invariably the ones who have what it takes.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Come on, Al, another one of these soft skills?” But those of you who’ve been paying attention are starting to realize that so-called “soft skills” come with hard benefits.

In the case of generosity, you’re looking at:

  • Lower staff turnover and greater engagement
  • Less time and money wasted on conflict
  • Greater productivity and sales

Not a bad payoff, right?

So how do you start working generosity into your leadership skill set?

Well, the first thing to note is that generosity is more than just a set of actions, more than an occasional morale booster, more than a charitable donation that you set, then forget.

Generosity is a way of being.

It’s the capacity to stand in what you have comfortably so that you can give to others freely. It’s a mix of heart and commitment — it’s the heart you have for whatever you’re doing, combined with the commitments you make to the people around you.

And to cultivate it, all you need to do is to focus on the 5 pillars of generosity.

  1. Generosity with time.

How well do you know your employees? Are you taking the time to find out whether they’re being challenged, nurtured, and rewarded for their efforts? Are you taking the time to listen to their problems, help them resolve conflicts, and discover their goals?

Giving generously of your time is one of the hallmarks of great leadership. Because when you take the time and effort to listen to your team, your employees feel that you actually care about them. You can learn their strengths and assign them roles that help them make the most of their talents. You can give them the opportunity to learn and grow. You can nip conflict and other problems in the bud. Letting them know that you have their back.

All of which makes for a much happier workforce and a happier workforce means fewer resignations, greater productivity, and yes, more sales too. In fact a Gallup report showed that having happy employees can boost sales by up to 20%. So you really can afford to be generous.

  1. Generosity with information.

Are you running your team like a military operation, with information kept on a strict “need-to-know” basis? Then it’s time to be a little more generous with your information.

Even while I was in the Navy Seabees, my commander knew the importance of arming his troops with the information we needed to perform at our best; his policy was to share all but the most classified information with us.

The result was that we had the confidence to make quick decisions, we didn’t have to waste time by constantly seeking permission or confirmation, and we could do our jobs far more efficiently and effectively. Mission accomplished as they would say!

And because of the trust our commander showed in us, we felt empowered. Empowering your employees breeds job satisfaction, confidence, and plays a big part in reducing your staff turnover.

  1. Generosity with expertise.

I’ve said this before: the best leaders don’t pull the ladder up behind them as they climb.

Truly great leaders are generous with their expertise — they see the potential of the people under them and they want to nurture that talent. They are secure enough to see the value in creating new leaders-in-waiting and they realize that rather than creating competition, they’re creating loyal followers and a strong, resilient team.

They know that they could never have become a great leader without having had a mentor to learn from and they’re more than willing to pay it forward. The common phrase in my military unit was, “if you know it…teach it!”

  1. Generosity with profits.

We couldn’t talk about generosity without mentioning money — it’s probably the first thing that comes to mind. And while younger generations may be more concerned with job satisfaction, using their talents, and focusing on work that has a greater purpose, money still has a significant role to play in keeping your employees happy and engaged.

My former boss, Dick Sposito knew this well. Every year he would quietly recommend giving a large percentage of company profits to employees as a year-end bonus. And he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Dick could be a bit intimidating and he wasn’t afraid of playing “bad cop” but this was his way of showing his appreciation for our employees’ hard work. And of course Dick understood the value employees had on our bottom line. He recognized the company wouldn’t have been successful without them.

His actions and words had such an impact on the leadership team, we always decided to follow his example, and took his advice without question. This lead to a policy of sharing profits that I presume exceeded what was standard in our industry and contributed to the overall culture and success of the firm.

  1. Corporate generosity.

Dick’s approach to profit sharing wasn’t the only way generosity played out in the firm. In fact, generosity was built right into the fabric of the organization, from the way we interacted with each other to the most basic human needs, like buying dinner for employees who had to stay late to finish a project.

This overall spirit of generosity wasn’t a one-off morale booster, a directive from HR, or a personal project of any one person in the company — it was just the way we did business. It was built into our culture and we were better for it. Much better!

Flip the “generosity switch”.

Incorporating generosity into your business can be one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to upgrade your leadership. The key is finding your type of generosity: which of the 5 pillars do you gravitate towards? Which would come most naturally to you? Could you give your time more freely and implement an open door policy? Or could your organization start a mentorship scheme? The great thing about flipping that generosity switch is that when you start with one aspect, the other pillars soon fall into place as generosity becomes a foundational focus of your leadership.

Ultimately, generosity is one of those things that you learn by doing, so do your best to look for opportunities to be generous, in whatever way you can. Your business, your team, your family and leadership will all be better for it.

Al Schauer is the Founder of PointNorth Consulting. He offers coaching and mentoring to aspiring leaders committed to leading with character. His new book on values and doing the right thing in leadership will be available soon. Sign up here to receive updates on how you can purchase his book.