Principle-Centered Leadership
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Principle-Centered Leadership

Stephen R. Covey

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eBook - ePub

Principle-Centered Leadership

Stephen R. Covey

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Über dieses Buch

An inspirational and practical guide to leadership from the New York Times– bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey, named one of Time magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans, is a renowned authority on leadership, whose insightful advice has helped millions. In his follow-up to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he poses these fundamental questions:

  • How do we as individuals and organizations survive and thrive amid tremendous change?
  • Why are efforts to improve falling so short in real results?
  • How do we unleash the creativity, talent, and energy within ourselves and others?
  • Is it realistic to believe that balance among personal and professional life is possible?

The key to dealing with the challenges that we face is to identify a principle-centered core within ourselves and our institutions. In Principle-Centered Leadership, Covey outlines a long-term, inside-out approach to developing people and organizations. Offering insights and guidelines on how to apply these principles both at work and at home, Covey posits that these steps will lead not only to an increase in productivity and quality of work, but also to a new appreciation of personal and professional relationships as we strive to enjoy a more balanced, rewarding, and ultimately more effective life. "There seems to be no limit to the number of writers offering answers to the great perplexities of life. Covey, however, is the North Star in this field... without hesitation, strongly recommended." — Library Journal

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Section 1



© 1991 Covey Leadership Center


I have long advocated a natural, gradual, day-by-day, step-by-step, sequential approach to personal development. My feeling is that any product or program—whether it deals with losing weight or mastering skills—that promises “quick, free, instant, and easy” results is probably not based on correct principles. Yet virtually all advertising uses one or more of these words to entice us to buy. Small wonder many of us are addicted to “quick fix” approaches to personal development.
In this section I suggest that real character and skill development is irrevocably related to natural laws and governing principles; when we observe these, we gain the strength to break with the past, to overcome old habits, to change our paradigms, and to achieve primary greatness and interpersonal effectiveness.
Of course, we do not live alone on islands, isolated from other people. We are born into families; we grow up in societies; we become students of schools, members of other organizations. Once into our professions, we find that our jobs require us to interact frequently and effectively with others. If we fail to learn and apply the principles of interpersonal effectiveness, we can expect our progress to slow or stop.
So in this section I also deal with the attitudes, skills, and strategies for creating and maintaining trustful relationships with other people. In effect, once we become relatively independent, our challenge is to become effectively interdependent with others. To do this we must practice empathy and synergy in our efforts to be proactive and productive.


Throughout history, the most significant breakthroughs have been breaks with the old ways of thinking, the old models and paradigms. Principle-centered leadership is a breakthrough paradigm—a new way of thinking that helps resolve the classic dilemmas of modern living:
  • How do we achieve and maintain a wise and renewing balance between work and family, personal and professional ambitions, in the middle of constant crises and pressures?
  • How do we adhere to simplicity in the thick of terrible complexity?
  • How do we maintain a sense of direction in today’s wilderness, where well-developed road maps (strategies and plans) are rendered useless by rapid change that often hits us from the blind side?
  • How do we look at human weakness with genuine compassion and understanding rather than accusation and self-justification?
  • How do we replace prejudice (the tendency to prejudge and categorize people in order to manipulate them) with a sense of reverence and discovery in order to promote learning, achievement, and excellence in people?
  • How can we be empowered (and empower other people) with confidence and competence to solve problems and seize opportunities—without being or fearing loose cannons?
  • How do we encourage the desire to change and improve without creating more pain than gain?
  • How can we be contributing members of a complementary team based on mutual respect and the valuing of diversity and pluralism?
  • Where do we start, and how do we keep recharging our batteries to maintain momentum for learning, growing, and improving?
As you read this section, you will gain an understanding of the basic principles of effective personal leadership, and this new understanding will empower you to resolve these and other tough questions by yourself.


Principle-centered leadership is practiced from the inside out on four levels: 1) personal (my relationship with myself); 2) interpersonal (my relationships and interactions with others); 3) managerial (my responsibility to get a job done with others); and 4) organizational (my need to organize people—to recruit them, train them, compensate them, build teams, solve problems, and create aligned structure, strategy, and systems).
Each level is “necessary but insufficient,” meaning we have to work at all levels on the basis of certain master principles. In this section, I will focus on the first two principles:
‱ Trustworthiness at the personal level. Trustworthiness is based on character, what you are as a person, and competence, what you can do. If you have faith in my character but not in my competence, you still wouldn’t trust me. Many good, honest people gradually lose their professional trustworthiness because they allow themselves to become “obsolete” inside their organizations. Without character and competence, we won’t be considered trustworthy, nor will we show much wisdom in our choices and decisions. Without meaningful ongoing professional development, there is little trustworthiness or trust.
‱ Trust at the interpersonal level. Trustworthiness is the foundation of trust. Trust is the emotional bank account between two people that enables them to have a win-win performance agreement. If two people trust each other, based on the trustworthiness of each other, they can then enjoy clear communication, empathy, synergy, and productive interdependency. If one is incompetent, training and development can help. But if one has a character flaw, he or she must make and keep promises to increase internal security, improve skills, and rebuild relationships of trust.
Trust—or the lack of it—is at the root of success or failure in relationships and in the bottom-line results of business, industry, education, and government.

Chapter 1


From study and observation and from my own strivings, I have isolated eight discernible characteristics of people who are principle-centered leaders. These traits not only characterize effective leaders, they also serve as signs of progress for all of us. I will briefly discuss each in turn.


Principle-centered people are constantly educated by their experiences. They read, they seek training, they take classes, they listen to others, they learn through both their ears and their eyes. They are curious, always asking questions. They continually expand their competence, their ability to do things. They develop new skills, new interests. They discover that the more they know, the more they realize they don’t know; that as their circle of knowledge grows, so does its outside edge of ignorance. Most of this learning and growth energy is self-initiated and feeds upon itself.
You will develop your abilities faster by learning to make and keep promises or commitments. Start by making a small promise to yourself; continue fulfilling that promise until you have a sense that you have a little more control over yourself. Now take the next level of challenge. Make yourself a promise and keep it until you have established control at that level. Now move to the next level; make the promise, keep it. As you do this, your sense of personal worth will increase; your sense of self-mastery will grow, as will your confidence that you can master the next level.
Be serious and intent in the whole process, however, because if you make this commitment to yourself and then break it, your self-esteem will be weakened and your capacity to make and keep another promise will be decreased.


Those striving to be principle-centered see life as a mission, not as a career. Their nurturing sources have armed and prepared them for service. In effect, every morning they “yoke up” and put on the harness of service, thinking of others.
See yourself each morning yoking up, putting on the harness of service in your various stewardships. See yourself taking the straps and connecting them around your shoulders as you prepare to do the work assigned to you that day. See yourself allowing someone else to adjust the yoke or harness. See yourself yoked up to another person at your side—a co-worker or spouse—and learning to pull together with that person.
I emphasize this principle of service or yoking up because I have come to believe that effort to become principle-centered without a load to carry simply will not succeed. We may attempt to do it as a kind of intellectual or moral exercise, but if we don’t have a sense of responsibility, of service, of contribution, something we need to pull or push, it becomes a futile endeavor.


The countenances of principle-centered people are cheerful, pleasant, happy, Their attitude is optimistic, positive, upbeat. Their spirit is enthusiastic, hopeful, believing.
This positive energy is like an energy field or an aura that surrounds them and that similarly charges or changes weaker, negative energy fields around them. They also attract and magnify smaller positive energy fields. When they come into contact with strong, negative energy sources, they tend either to neutralize or to sidestep this negative energy. Sometimes they will simply leave it, walking away from its poisonous orbit. Wisdom gives them a sense of how strong it is and a sense of humor and of timing in dealing with it.
Be aware of the effect of your own energy and understand how you radiate and direct it. And in the middle of confusion or contention or negative energy, strive to be a peacemaker, a harmonizer, to undo or reverse destructive energy. You will discover what a self-fulfilling prophecy positive energy is when combined with the next characteristic.


Principle-centered people don’t overreact to negative behaviors, criticism, or human weaknesses. They don’t feel built up when they discover the weaknesses of others. They are not naive; they are aware of weakness. But they realize that behavior and potential are two different things. They believe in the unseen potential of all people. They feel grateful for their blessings and feel naturally to compassionately forgive and forget the offenses of others. They don’t carry grudges. They refuse to label other people, to stereotype, categorize, and prejudge. Rather, they see the oak tree in the acorn and understand the process of helping the acorn become a great oak.
Once my wife and I felt uneasy about the labels we and others had attached to one of our sons, even though these labels were justified by his behavior. By visualizing his potential, we gradually came to see him differently. When we believed in the unseen potential, the old labels vanished naturally, and we stopped trying to change him overnight. We simply knew that his talent and potential would come in its own time. And it did, to the astonishment, frankly, of others, including other family members. We were not surprised because we knew who he was.
Truly, believing is seeing. We must, therefore, seek to believe in the unseen potential. This creates a climate for growth and opportunity. Self-centered people believe that the key lies in them, in their techniques, in doing “their thing” to others. This works only temporarily. If you believe it’s “in” them, not “in” you, you relax, accept, affirm, and let it happen. Either way it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.


They read the best literature and magazines and keep up with current affairs and events. They are active socially, having many friends and a few confidants. They are active intellectually, having many interests. They read, watch, observe, and learn. Within the limits of age and health, they are active physically. They have a lot of fun. They enjoy themselves. They have a healthy sense of humor, particularly laughing at themselves and not at others’ expense. You can sense they have a healthy regard for and honesty about themselves.
They can feel their own worth, which is manifest by their courage and integrity and by the absence of a need to brag, to drop names, to borrow strength from possessions or credentials or titles or past achievements. They are open in their communication, simple, direct, nonmanipulative. They also have a sense of what is appropriate, and they would sooner err on the side of understatement than on the side of exaggeration.
They are not extremists—they do not make everything all or nothing. They do not divide everything into two parts, seeing everything as good or bad, as either/or. They think in terms of continuums, priorities, hierarchies. They have the power to discriminate, to sense the similarities and differences in each situation. This does not mean they see everything in terms of situational ethics. They fully recognize absolutes and courageously condemn the bad and champion the good.
Their actions and attitudes are proportionate to the situation—balanced, temperate, moderate, wise. For instance, they’re not workaholics, religious zealots, political fanatics, diet crashers, food bingers, pleasure addicts, or fasting martyrs. They’re not slavishly chained to their plans and schedules. They don’t condemn themselves for every foolish mistake or social blunder. They don’t brood about yesterday or daydream about tomorrow. They live sensibly in the present, carefully plan the future, and flexibly adapt to changing circumstances. Their self-honesty is revealed by their sense of humor, their willingness to admit and then forget mistakes, and to cheerfully do the things ahead that lie within their power.
They have no need to manipulate through either intimidating anger or self-pitying martyrdom. They are genuinely happy for others’ successes and do not feel in any sense that these take anything from them. They take both praise and blame proportionately without head trips or overreactions. They see success on the far side of failure. The only real failure for them is the experience not learned from.


Principle-centered people savor life. Because their security comes from within instead of from without, they have no need to categorize and stereotype everything and everybody in life to give them a sense of certainty and predictability. They see old faces freshly, old scenes as if for the first time. They are like courageous explorers going on an expedition into uncharted territories; they are really not sure what is going to happen, but they are confident it will be exciting and growth producing and that they wi...


  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright
  4. Dedication
  5. Foreword
  6. Contents
  7. Preface: A Principle-Centered Approach
  8. Section 1: Personal and Interpersonal Effectiveness
  9. Section 2: Managerial and Organizational Development
  10. Epilogue: Fishing the Stream
  11. A Personal Note
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. Index
  14. About the Covey Leadership Center and the Institute for Principle-Centered Leadership
  15. Endnotes
Zitierstile fĂŒr Principle-Centered Leadership

APA 6 Citation

Covey, S. (2009). Principle-Centered Leadership ([edition unavailable]). RosettaBooks. Retrieved from (Original work published 2009)

Chicago Citation

Covey, Stephen. (2009) 2009. Principle-Centered Leadership. [Edition unavailable]. RosettaBooks.

Harvard Citation

Covey, S. (2009) Principle-Centered Leadership. [edition unavailable]. RosettaBooks. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Covey, Stephen. Principle-Centered Leadership. [edition unavailable]. RosettaBooks, 2009. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.