This is going to be one of those discussions that you will either get or it will irritate you. The number one secret to creating an exceptional employee is to treat them with respect. I can almost hear the eyes rolling! Of course, you are thinking to yourself, I always treat my staff with respect. Let me push back on that thought a bit by defining what I mean.
There is the now-famous picture of President Obama stopping to chat with the janitor in the Whitehouse. The meme typically goes something along the lines of, "You can always judge the character of a leader by how well they treat the janitor." Stopping to say hi and asking about how they are doing is polite but not necessarily the kind of respect that will create an exceptional employee.
Cog or Contributor
A manufacturing company in Sweden were struggling with how to improve processes on the plant floor. Initially, management wrestled with it and could not find a solution. As a result, they called everyone in the plant together for a meeting so that collectively they might find a solution. (A good start.) Again as a group, they went back and forth and could not come up with a solution.
Finally, in the back of the room, the janitor put up his hand. Everyone stopped to look, and they went quiet after all, what could he offer? He explained that each night as he mopped the floor, he knew the path that each machinist took to either get parts or move an item down the line - just from the tracks they made. He had figured out that there was an awful lot of time being wasted doing these walking activities. After carefully explaining what he thought might be a better arrangement for the production equipment and the location of the supplies, they realized he had come up with the solution.
How Do You Define Respect
It may have been desperation that led the leadership in that company to bring everyone together, but by giving everyone a voice and a chance to participate in finding a solution, they actually hit on a vital lesson. Everyone wants to contribute and help. Show them respect by giving them a safe place to contribute, and they will rise to the occasion. They will become exceptional employees.
I would go a bit further than that meme; "You can always judge the true character of a leader by how they show respect for their people by allowing them a chance to contribute." This kind of respect goes a long way in creating exceptional employees. Performance Leadership - Think About it.