This ancient Chinese principle defines the best boss

Chatri Sityodtong, founder and chairman of ONE Championship
Brent Lewin/Bloomberg/Getty Images

During the fifth century BC, Taoist master Lao Tzu wrote that the highest type of leader is one of whose existence people are barely aware.

This concept became known as "servant leadership" and was later popularized by American author Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s. It states that the primary role of a boss is to serve employees, and is now diligently followed by many of the world's top C-suite chiefs.

Chatri Sityodtong, a former hedge fund manager who has been dubbed Asia's most powerful mixed martial arts (MMA) executive, is one of them.

He's the founder of Asia's largest sports media company and MMA brand Evolve, whose gyms have become the training destination of choice for world champions.

"A great leader is one who serves the needs of his or her people," he told CNBC. "Sure, great bosses need vision, strategy and an execution plan, but without an amazing culture and people, none of those mean anything."

Helping employees excel in their personal and career ambitions is good for business, he explained. When you build a world-class culture, in which everyone feels fulfilled and part of a greater cause, that results in better work, he continued.

"I may be a tough boss, but my people still know I care about them."

But getting to work for Sityodtong is no easy task.

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"Both Evolve and ONE average about one job offer for every 200 applicants....I don't want to hire somebody unless I believe in them as human beings first, and then as professionals."

Six core values — integrity, happiness, excellence, continuous self improvement, teamwork and loyalty — underline Sityodtong's business strategy, including hiring. "Even if you're kicking ass at you're job but you don't have these values, you'll never get far in any of my companies."

The philosophy behind servant leadership can also be a valuable source of motivation when things get rough.

"If you fight only for yourself, it's easy to quit. If you fight for others it's impossible to quit," Sityodtong explained. "When you're down and out, write the names of people counting on you, whether it's family or your employees, on a piece of paper and it will change your perspective very quickly."