“Principle Centered Leadership.” by Stephen R. Covey
Published 15 Feb 2017
In this paper I’m going to provide a book review of Stephen R. Covey’s “Principle Centered Leadership.” The modern notion of leadership doesn’t imply any strict principles. Leadership, according to the majority’s perception, is more about charisma and ambition. But the author of the book disproves this idea and shows that the main characteristics of a leader are responsibility and empathy. The golden principle of leadership is doing unto others as you would have others do unto you. Manipulative strategies can be effective for some time but will eventually result in a loss of trust.
The book opens with an analogy that describes leadership similar to farming, and needs the same daily vigilance. Farmer’s job starts with planting, than watering, weeding and fertilizing follow, and harvesting is the final part. Being a leader is exactly the same and shoud be done correctly and orderly. This is called The Law of the Harvest. Other topics covered in the book, apart from the introductory part on critical leadership challenges, include the Critical Role of Trust in a Principle-Centered Culture; the Foundation of Any Successful Organization; Producing a Powerful Organization Culture; Identifying and Improving Our Leadership Styles; Leadership v. Management: Managing things, Leading People; Cultivating The Elements of Trust in Business Relationships; Tasks for the Principle-Centered Leader; Combatting Organizational Fatigue and Cynicism; The Leadership Focus; and Taking Immediate Action.
The book shows how some interrelated elements — security, guidance, wisdom, and power — can guarantee personal and organizational success. These four elements are also the sources of strength, which is the way of developing the internal power leaders need to realize many of our dreams because they will become more organized, balanced, unified, and rooted. The feeling of security is important for all the leaders, since it helps them to feel secure and not afraid of change and criticism. These feeling of security should be derived from living a principle-centered life – both at work and at home.
Covey provides two very useful pie-diagrams, comparing alternate life and organizational centers. The core of each diagram is called “Principles”, and four arrows show the direction towards security, guidance, wisdom, and power. These arrows divide the circle into four parts, and the parts are also divided into sectors. For the diagram illustrating alternative life centers, these sectors are called family, money, possessions, work, pleasure, friend, enemy, religion, self, and spouse. For the diagram illustrating alternative organizational centers, these sectors are called profit, supplier, employee, owner, customer, program, policy, competition, image, and technology. These diagrams clearly illustrate how to center one’s life around principles in order to achieve security, guidance, wisdom, and power.
Covey introduces the concept of continuum: leaders on the low end of the security continuum show insecurity as opposed to those at the high end, who have a high sense of personal strength, worth, and self-esteem. Leaders at the low end of the wisdom continuum think in a distorted and discordant way as opposed to those at the high end, who demonstrate good comprehension and judgement. Leaders at the low end of the power continuum are non-authoritative, weak, meek as opposed to those at the high end, who are active, creative, energetic, and responsibility. A leader should always be on the way towards personal progress and seek continuous improvement. He or she should change habits, develop virtues, keep promises and practice justice, integrity, trust, honesty, equity, and fairness. The author also advices everyone to make a Mission Statement, which can guarantee that a leader has clear understanding of his or her goals and objectives and can measure success by certain indicators.
But everything is not that easy, because personal and organizational transformation is a real challenge and hard, long-lasting work, and only those who are committed to their work and have a sense of long-term perspective, can become the leaders of tomorrow (and today, of course). Covey urges to accept a long-term, inside-out approach to developing people and organizations. Leaders face many challenges; they work under continuous stress and fatigue. There are no quick-fix solutions for the majority of managerial problem. Covey enumerates ten common dilemmas of organizations by presenting them as questions to the reader. These dilemmas include achieving a proper balance between work and family; unleashimg the creativity, talent, and energy of the employees, even if their work doesn’t require or allow such use; creating team spirit, peace and harmony among departments and people; realizing the choice between tough management and soft management by having a management style that is simultaneously tough and soft; creating a flexible and continuous culture, which is characterized by improvement, stability and security; getting employees aligned with the team strategy; combating the atmosphere of cynicism, fatigue, and disillusionment; creating a complementary team based on mutual respect, diversity and pluralism; turning a mission statement into a constitution; maintaining control and simultaneously giving employees freedom and autonomy.
Moreover, a leader is more a doer than a talker. Populism and demagogy are something a leader should avoid. To be a leader by example means to start doing the job in order to inspire one’s employees and colleagues. Being self-leaders is of great importance to the company. The author quotes some industrialist from Japan who said that “[l]eadership is the art of mobilizing and energizing the intellectual creative resources of all the people in the organization.” Creating more meaningful relationships is a key to successes in the workplace.
The author covers the evolution of principle-centered leadership through certain paradigms, namely: Authoritarian leadership, which is the oldest management style; Human relationship management, which became popular in the 1930s and advocates for employees being treated with kindness, respect, and dignity; Human resource management, which came into being in the early 1960s and pays attention to the development, treatment and use of human resources within an organization; Principle-centered leadership, which perceives people in their integrity and attempts to give people a sense and meaning of their work and life.
One of the most important theses by Covey is that in our social environment natural laws operate. The principles a leaders should center their practices are inviolate can be compared with the law of gravity, which is an inviolate law of nature. These laws, both in nature and society, can’t be violated with impunity. The author states that violations of these principles cause societal decline. These natural laws have four levels: a) personal, b) interpersonal, c) managerial, and d) organizational as the heart of the principle-centered leadership paradigm. Every level has some key principles. For the personal level it’s trustworthiness, for interpersonal it’s trust, for managerial it’s empowerment, and for organizational level it’s alignment. These laws are interrelated and should be implemented together, not individually.
I found this book a useful one. There are some commonplace statements (e.g. “Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”), but the same old wise thoughts are presented in a new and creative way, easily applicable for modern-life situations.
This book is usually regarded as a managerial guidebook, but being a leader encompasses much more. Covey advises how to become a leader of the family, community, or business enterprise. What is more important, the book teaches how to live in harmony with yourself and people around. I think that double standards problem is one of the greatest problems of our times; it is detrimental to personal integrity. The book shows that this problem can be avoided. It may sound pathetic, but the author teaches how to become a better person. Covey writes that the four basic needs of all people is to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy. In order to live a happy life one should live a principle-centered life, and this approach can bring true power, focus, compassion, energy, and personal integrity. Let me end this paper by a quotation of Gandhi used by Covey in his book: “A person cannot do right in one department of life while attempting to do wrong in another department. Life is one indivisible whole.”
Covey, S.R. (1991). Principle Centered Leadership. New York: Simon & Schuster.