together we can change ourself

together we can change ourself

General -Stephen R. Covey

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Center on Principles
Stephen R. Covey
February 1994
Real character development begins with the humble recognition that we are not in charge, that principles ultimately govern. I don’t talk much about ethics and values because to me those words imply situational behaviors, subjective beliefs, social mores, cultural norms, or relative truths. I prefer to talk about universal principles and natural laws that are more absolute. You may think that it’s just a matter of semantics and that when most people talk about values they really mean these universal principles. But I see a clear difference between principles and values. Hitler was value-driven; Saddam Hussein is value-driven. Every person and organization is driven by what they value, bt they aren’t necessarily ethical or principle-centered.

The Humility of Principles
The key to quality of life is to be centered on principles. We’re not in control; principles are in control. We’re arrogant when we think we are in control. Yes, we may control our actions, but not the consequences of our actions. Those are controlled by principles, by natural laws. Building character and creating quality of life is a function of aligning our beliefs and behaviors with universal principles. These principles are impersonal, external, factual, objective, and self-evident. They operate regardless of our awareness of them, or our obedience to them.

If your current lifestyle is not in alignment with these principles, then you might trade a value-based map for a principle-centered compass. When you recognize that external verities and realities ultimately govern, you might willingly subordinate your values to them and align your roles and goals, plans, and activities with them. But doing so often takes a crisis: your company’s downsizing; your job’s on the line; your relationship with the boss goes sour; you lose a major account; your marriage is threatened; your financial problems peak; or you’re told you have just a few months to live. In the absence of such a catalytic crisis, we tend to live in numbed complacency so busy doing good, easy, or routine things that we don’t even stop to ask ourselves if we’re doing what really matters. The good, then, becomes the enemy of the best.

Humility is the mother of all virtues: the humble in spirit progress and are blessed because they willingly submit to higher powers and try to live in harmony with natural laws and universal principles. Courage is the father of all virtues; we need great courage to lead our lives by correct principles and to have integrity in the moment of choice. When we set up our own self-generated or socially-validated value systems and then develop our missions and goals based on what we value, we tend to become laws unto ourselves, proud and independent. Pride hopes to impress; humility seeks to bless. Just because we value a thing doesn’t mean that having it will enhance our quality of life. No “quality movement” in government, business, or education will succeed unless based on “true north” principles. And yet we see leaders who cling to their current style based on self-selected values and bad habits even as their “ship” is sinking when they could be floating safely on the life raft of principles.

Nothing sinks people faster in their careers than arrogance. Arrogance shouts “I know best.” In the uniform of arrogance, we fumble and falter — pride comes and goes before the fall. But dressed in humility, we make progress. As the character Indiana Jones learned in The Last Crusade, “The penitent man will pass.” In pride, we often sow one thing and expect to reap another. Many of our paradigms and the processes and habits that grow out of them never produce the results we expect because they are based on illusions, advertising slogans, program-of-the-month training, and personality-based success strategies. Quality of life can’t grow out of illusion. So how do we align our lives with “true north” realities that govern quality of life?

Four Human Endowments
As human beings, we have four unique endowments: self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination that not only separate us from the animal world, but also help us to distinguish between reality and illusion, to transform the clock into a compass, and to align our lives with the extrinsic realities that govern quality of life. Self-awareness enables us to examine our paradigms, to look at our glasses as well as through them, to think about our thoughts, to become aware of the psychic programs that are in us, and to enlarge the separation between stimulus and response. Self-aware, we can take responsibility for reprogramming or rescripting ourselves out of the stimulus-response mode. Many movements in psychology, education, and training are focused on an enlarged self-consciousness. Most popular self-help literature also focuses upon this capacity. Self-awareness, however, is only one of our unique endowments. Conscience puts us in touch with something within us even deeper than our thoughts and something outside us more reliable than our values. It connects us with the wisdom of the ages and the wisdom of the heart. It’s an internal guidance system that allows us to sense when we act or even contemplate acting in a way that’s contrary to our deepest values and “true north” principles. Conscience is universal. By helping companies and individuals develop mission statements, I have learned that what is most personal is most general. No matter what people’s religions, cultures, or backgrounds are, their mission statements all deal with the same basic human needs to live (physical and financial), to love (social), to learn (educational), and to leave a legacy (spiritual).

Independent will is our capacity to act, the power to transcend our paradigms, to swim upstream, to re-write our scripts, to act based on principles rather than reacting based on emotions, moods, or circumstances. While environmental or genetic influences may be very powerful, they do not control us. We’re not victims. We’re not the product of our past. We are the product of our choices. We are “response-able,” meaning we are able to choose our response. This power to choose is a reflection of our independent will. Creative imagination empowers us to create beyond our present reality. It enables us to write personal mission statements, set goals, plan meetings, or visualize ourselves living our mission statements even in the most challenging circumstances. We can imagine any scenario we want for the future. If our imagination has to go through the straightjacket of our memory, what is imagination for? Memory is limited. It’s finite; it deals with the past. Imagination is infinite; it deals with the present and the future, with potentiality, with vision and mission and goals with anything that is not now but can be. The man-on-the-street approach to success is to work harder, to give it the “old college try.” But unless willpower is matched with creative imagination, these efforts will be weak and ineffective.

Nurturing Our Unique Gifts
Enhancing these endowments requires us to nurture and exercise them continuously. Sharpening the saw once a week or once a month just isn’t enough. It’s too superficial. It’s like a meal. Yesterday’s meal will not satisfy today’s hunger. Last Sunday’s big meal won’t prepare me for this Thursday’s ethical challenge. I will be much better prepared if I meditate every morning and visualize myself dealing with that challenge with authenticity, openness, honesty, and with as much wisdom as I can bring to bear on it.

Here are four ways to nurture your unique endowments:

Nurture self-awareness by keeping a personal journal. Keeping a personal journal — a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences — is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and the synergy among them.

Educate your conscience by learning, listening, and responding. Most of us work and live in environments that are rather hostile to the development of conscience. To hear the conscience clearly often requires us to be reflective or meditative, a condition we rarely choose or find. We’re inundated by activity, noise, conditioning, media messages, and flawed paradigms that dull our sensitivity to that quiet inner voice that would teach us of “true north” principles and our own degree of congruency with them. I’ve heard executives say that they can’t win this battle of conscience because expediencies require lies, cover-ups, deceit, or game playing. “That’s just part of the job,” they say. I disagree. I think such rationalization undermines trust within their cultures. If you have back-room manipulation and bad mouthing, you will have a low-trust culture. A life of total integrity is the only one worth striving for. Granted, it’s a struggle. Some trusted advisors, PR agents, accountants, and legal counselors might say, “This will be political suicide,” or “This will be bad for our image, and so let’s cover up or lie.” You have to look at each case on its own merit. No case is black and white. It takes real judgment to know what you should do. You may feel that you operate “between a rock and a hard place.” Still, with a well-educated conscience or internal compass, you will rarely, if ever, be in a situation where you only have one bad option. You will always have choices. If you wisely exercise your unique endowments, some moral option will be open to you. So much depends on how well you educate your conscience, your internal compass. When my kids were in athletics, they paid the price to get their bodies coordinated with their minds. You’ve got to do the same with your own conscience regularly. The more internal uncertainty you feel, the larger the grey areas will be. You will always have some grey areas, particularly at the extremity of your education and experience. And to grow, you need to go to that xtremity and learn to make those choices based on what you honestly believe to be the right thing to do.

Nurture independent will by making and keeping promises. One of the best ways to strengthen our independent will is to make and keep promises. Each time we do, we make deposits in our personal integrity account the amount of trust we have in ourselves, in our ability to walk our talk. To build personal integrity, start by making and keeping small promises. Take it a step and a day at a time.

Develop creative imagination through visualization. Visualization, a high-leverage mental exercise used by world-class athletes and performers, may also be used to improve your quality of life. For example, you might visualize yourself in some circumstance that would normally create discomfort or pain. In your mind’s eye, instead of seeing yourself react as you normally do, see yourself acting on the basis of the principles and values in your mission statement. The best way to predict your future is to create it.

Roots Yield Fruits
With the humility that comes from being principle-centered, we can better learn from the past, have hope for the future, and act with confidence, not arrogance, in the present. Arrogance is the lack of self-awareness; blindness; an illusion; a false form of self-confidence; and a false sense that we’re somehow above the laws of life. Real confidence is anchored in a quiet assurance that if we act based on principles, we will produce quality-of-life results. It’s confidence born sp; of character and competence. Our security is not based on our possessions, positions, credentials, or on comparisons with others; rather, it flows from our own integrity to “true north” principles. I confess that I struggle with total integrity and do not always “walk my talk.” I find that it’s easier to talk and teach than to practice what I preach. I’ve come to realize that I must commit to having total integrity to be integrated around a set of correct principles. I’ve observed that if people never get centered on principles at some time in their lives, they will take the expedient political-social path to success and let their ethics be defined by the situation. They will say, “business is business,” meaning they play the game by their own rules. They may even rationalize major transgressions in the name of business, in spite of having a lofty mission statement.

Only by centering on “timeless” principles and then living by them can we enjoy sustained moral, physical, social, and financial wellness.

Currents in the Stream
Stephen R. Covey
March 1994
When I talk of the “stream,” I mean the external forces and the powerful, deep currents that influence all we do in business. Changes in technology have totally revolutionized our world. The instant communication and rapid transfer of knowledge along the “information highway” have altered everything. The media have aroused expectations, and created various models and images in people’s minds. All of this turns the social wheel, which then turns the political wheel, which ultimately affects the economy and international wheels. The powerful social, political, and economic currents have created a white-water environment for everyone in business. Some leaders like to think that “the problem” is in the stream and that “if we only had more (or less) government regulation, more protection, a better social climate, better schools if only the stream were different then we’d be more competitive.”

Changeless Core
While conditions might always be better, I focus on the need to have a changeless core so that I can flow with the changes and trends in the stream. People without the changeless core are often at the mercy of all these influences. They’re buffeted and tossed by every wind of policy and practice. They’re distracted by what’s floating on the surface or by what’s blowing in the wind of their industry, profession, or company. They become opportunistic and jump at situational opportunities that are very attractive at the time, even if that means leaving their “knitting” or abandoning their primary profit centers for a time. We’re tempted in our own company toward that trend. We’ve done some surveys to determine what clients want. They want us to get into implementation. But if we move into that, we would leave our knitting paradigms and principles. That’s a very attractive thing. It’s seductive. But eventually it might pull us away from our essential mission.

At both the individual and corporate level, you need both the stability of product line and some entrepreneurial spirit. In a small firm, you have to resist the temptation to do “anything for a buck.” In a large firm, you have to have eyes for new opportunity. It takes that same balance on an individual and corporate level. The key is the alignment between the changing streams and the changeless, principled center. That becomes the strategic path that you have to develop. When you have a framework that comes out of both the awareness of the changing environment and the essential function or purpose that you’re trying to serve, you will think and act long-term. As Peter Drucker says, “Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable.”

Complementary Team
That duality of short-term opportunism and long-term stability might be found in one dynamic leader, but it usually it takes a complementary management-leadership team. Only a few very dynamic leaders understand both. Typically it’s either one or the other either predisposed to surfing and riding the waves, or to developing this deep changeless core. They either get caught in ruts and routines or live in the world of dreams and idealism with little practical, pragmatic sense about them. We need courage balanced with consideration. Consideration includes an awareness of the stream of realities. And courage includes steadfastness toward your vision, mission, and values. I once consulted with the leaders of a large organization. They had a changeless core, but no dynamic vision. They were woefully out of touch with the stream. The president had spent most of his life in the roles of professional, technician, and producer. Because he enjoyed production, he spent half his time personally answering calls and letters and micro-managing. After we talked for a while, he could see it clearly, and he said, “What have I done? I’ve pulled away from my vision!”

That experience taught me the supreme importance of imagination over memory. If people live out of their memory, they’re bound to the past if they live out of imagination, they create opportunity. Peter Drucker said that effective executives are opportunity-minded; ineffective executives are problem-minded. Effective executives focus on the future. Ineffective executives focus on the past; in fact, they see the present through the past; effective executives see the present through the future. Imagination is more powerful and significant than memory. As Einstein said, “Imagination is greater than knowledge.”

Be Proactive
This balance between the changing stream and the changeless core is one of the clearest manifestations of the primary habit of effective people be proactive. Proactive people see opportunities everywhere, and they adapt to the stream. They have the power to adapt because they’re coming from something that does not change. They’re very creative in their minds and innovative in their methods. They’re not hung up by forms and structures and old modes of thinking and ways of behaving.

Reactive people are constantly reading the political pulse, and their social radar is so deeply attuned to what is happening, and they’re so responsive to it, that if those forces are in any way adverse or contrary to what they’re trying to accomplish, they are quickly and completely filled with the blaming spirit. They get into what I call “spiritual and emotional cancers.” They compare the past or the way it used to be with what is. Criticizing and complaining are their full-time occupations. Economies have to be based on a solid foundation of proactive and innovative behaviors in management, manufacturing, and marketing.

The book, The Spoiled Child of the Western World, essentially says that the western world, starting in Greece, has been pushing further to the west until it gets right to the outside edge of a country where all the flakiness of the culture distills in one place. Some might think that analysis fits California or Hawaii, but I suggest that it fits anyplace where people want to “ride the surf” to prosperity. Hedonism may bring short-term pleasure but not long-term prosperity.

If the economy of an area isn’t growing, but the population is or if people are not inventing, designing, making, and marketing products and services of substance then we can expect an economy based on “pizza and videos.” And that simply doesn’t cut it. Many executives I talk to believe that “the answer” is to “move out” of what they perceive to be a hostile business environment and seek a better stream, an operating environment more conducive to business. They feel that they are defenseless victims against the powers of the stream.

I’ve been in many situations where executives talk about the “uneven playing field” and about how “government is strangling business.” While I understand why they are frustrated, I often perceive in their talk and walk a reactive spirit and a tendency to absolve themselves of responsibility for optimizing the present situation. They want to have something or somebody take care of them rather than respond proactively to make their opportunities grow. I honestly think there’s never been a time of greater opportunity.

There’s more opportunity today than ever before simply because there are so many new niches, so many new needs. I would even say this is true in Russia. The people we’ve had come here from Russia and the people we’ve sent over there from our company say that they desperately need this spirit of proactivity and this spirit of taking responsibility and not blaming. But they’ve had seventy years of history that has induced such deep paranoia and such atrophy of their initiative muscles that they’re still waiting for things to happen.

That’s why it’s a country in crisis and why it can go to the extreme right or the extreme left so easily. When an individual or a country loses this principle-centered, changeless core, then the person or nation rather quickly sinks to the depths of irresponsibility in social will. But when you’re starving to death, none of the political promises have been kept, and no one’s taking care of you like they used to, you can see why that happens.

Two Cab Drivers
When I was in Germany, I remember talking with two cab drivers. One was an older gentleman, and the other was a young man. The older cab driver was longing for the old days. As he drove us around Berlin, he described the awfulness of all this so-called “new freedom,” and how he now has much less opportunity. The younger cab driver looked at the same exact world, and yet he was excited about the opportunities. He was thinking creatively about how he might improve his condition. The other was trying to maintain the old position.

These two cab drivers are like two executives one accommodating the new realities, and one opposing all change. One leads a young company that’s aggressive, fast, and opportunistic; the other leads an older company that is time-bound, filled with archaic structures and systems, and blind to new opportunities. Cultures tend to flow from the reactive or proactive tendencies of the leadership. Organizations tend to be shadows of their founders and current leaders.

The childlike leader with a proactive nature might see adversity as an opportunity for adventure, play, fun, and freedom, whereas an old leader might see it as potential risk, disaster, or death. In a snow storm, the child sees a time to play, but the father the person in the ultimate seat of responsibility is often weighed down by the realities of having to shovel the walks and put chains on the tires. That’s why it often takes a complementary team to lead and manage.

After President Clinton gave his speech on NAFTA in front of George Bush, it was then the former president’s turn to speak. When he got up, he just gave a very authentic expression, “I now know why you were elected and I was not.” It’s that ability to speak enthusiastically about seizing the future the excitement and glory of change, of celebrating change and loving it.

Genuine excitement over change can only come when you have a deep sense of who you are, what you want to accomplish, what your agenda is, and how you feel about things. We need to have the attitude that the future is here, and that things are going to change. We need to recognize and run with opportunity and exercise the proactive spirit that we all have inside us as long as we don’t abandon our changeless core principles.

Currents in the Stream
Stephen R. Covey
March 1994

When I talk of the “stream,” I mean the external forces and the powerful, deep currents that influence all we do in business. Changes in technology have totally revolutionized our world. The instant communication and rapid transfer of knowledge along the “information highway” have altered everything. The media have aroused expectations, and created various models and images in people’s minds. All of this turns the social wheel, which then turns the political wheel, which ultimately affects the economy and international wheels. The powerful social, political, and economic currents have created a white-water environment for everyone in business. Some leaders like to think that “the problem” is in the stream and that “if we only had more (or less) government regulation, more protection, a better social climate, better schools if only the stream were different then we’d be more competitive.”

Changeless Core
While conditions might always be better, I focus on the need to have a changeless core so that I can flow with the changes and trends in the stream. People without the changeless core are often at the mercy of all these influences. They’re buffeted and tossed by every wind of policy and practice. They’re distracted by what’s floating on the surface or by what’s blowing in the wind of their industry, profession, or company. They become opportunistic and jump at situational opportunities that are very attractive at the time, even if that means leaving their “knitting” or abandoning their primary profit centers for a time. We’re tempted in our own company toward that trend. We’ve done some surveys to determine what clients want. They want us to get into implementation. But if we move into that, we would leave our knitting paradigms and principles. That’s a very attractive thing. It’s seductive. But eventually it might pull us away from our essential mission.

At both the individual and corporate level, you need both the stability of product line and some entrepreneurial spirit. In a small firm, you have to resist the temptation to do “anything for a buck.” In a large firm, you have to have eyes for new opportunity. It takes that same balance on an individual and corporate level. The key is the alignment between the changing streams and the changeless, principled center. That becomes the strategic path that you have to develop. When you have a framework that comes out of both the awareness of the changing environment and the essential function or purpose that you’re trying to serve, you will think and act long-term. As Peter Drucker says, “Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable.”

Complementary Team
That duality of short-term opportunism and long-term stability might be found in one dynamic leader, but it usually it takes a complementary management-leadership team. Only a few very dynamic leaders understand both. Typically it’s either one or the other either predisposed to surfing and riding the waves, or to developing this deep changeless core. They either get caught in ruts and routines or live in the world of dreams and idealism with little practical, pragmatic sense about them. We need courage balanced with consideration. Consideration includes an awareness of the stream of realities. And courage includes steadfastness toward your vision, mission, and values. I once consulted with the leaders of a large organization. They had a changeless core, but no dynamic vision. They were woefully out of touch with the stream. The president had spent most of his life in the roles of professional, technician, and producer. Because he enjoyed production, he spent half his time personally answering calls and letters and micro-managing. After we talked for a while, he could see it clearly, and he said, “What have I done? I’ve pulled away from my vision!”

That experience taught me the supreme importance of imagination over memory. If people live out of their memory, they’re bound to the past if they live out of imagination, they create opportunity. Peter Drucker said that effective executives are opportunity-minded; ineffective executives are problem-minded. Effective executives focus on the future. Ineffective executives focus on the past; in fact, they see the present through the past; effective executives see the present through the future. Imagination is more powerful and significant than memory. As Einstein said, “Imagination is greater than knowledge.”

Be Proactive
This balance between the changing stream and the changeless core is one of the clearest manifestations of the primary habit of effective people be proactive. Proactive people see opportunities everywhere, and they adapt to the stream. They have the power to adapt because they’re coming from something that does not change. They’re very creative in their minds and innovative in their methods. They’re not hung up by forms and structures and old modes of thinking and ways of behaving.

Reactive people are constantly reading the political pulse, and their social radar is so deeply attuned to what is happening, and they’re so responsive to it, that if those forces are in any way adverse or contrary to what they’re trying to accomplish, they are quickly and completely filled with the blaming spirit. They get into what I call “spiritual and emotional cancers.” They compare the past or the way it used to be with what is. Criticizing and complaining are their full-time occupations. Economies have to be based on a solid foundation of proactive and innovative behaviors in management, manufacturing, and marketing.

The book, The Spoiled Child of the Western World, essentially says that the western world, starting in Greece, has been pushing further to the west until it gets right to the outside edge of a country where all the flakiness of the culture distills in one place. Some might think that analysis fits California or Hawaii, but I suggest that it fits anyplace where people want to “ride the surf” to prosperity. Hedonism may bring short-term pleasure but not long-term prosperity.

If the economy of an area isn’t growing, but the population is or if people are not inventing, designing, making, and marketing products and services of substance then we can expect an economy based on “pizza and videos.” And that simply doesn’t cut it. Many executives I talk to believe that “the answer” is to “move out” of what they perceive to be a hostile business environment and seek a better stream, an operating environment more conducive to business. They feel that they are defenseless victims against the powers of the stream.

I’ve been in many situations where executives talk about the “uneven playing field” and about how “government is strangling business.” While I understand why they are frustrated, I often perceive in their talk and walk a reactive spirit and a tendency to absolve themselves of responsibility for optimizing the present situation. They want to have something or somebody take care of them rather than respond proactively to make their opportunities grow. I honestly think there’s never been a time of greater opportunity.

There’s more opportunity today than ever before simply because there are so many new niches, so many new needs. I would even say this is true in Russia. The people we’ve had come here from Russia and the people we’ve sent over there from our company say that they desperately need this spirit of proactivity and this spirit of taking responsibility and not blaming. But they’ve had seventy years of history that has induced such deep paranoia and such atrophy of their initiative muscles that they’re still waiting for things to happen.

That’s why it’s a country in crisis and why it can go to the extreme right or the extreme left so easily. When an individual or a country loses this principle-centered, changeless core, then the person or nation rather quickly sinks to the depths of irresponsibility in social will. But when you’re starving to death, none of the political promises have been kept, and no one’s taking care of you like they used to, you can see why that happens.

Two Cab Drivers
When I was in Germany, I remember talking with two cab drivers. One was an older gentleman, and the other was a young man. The older cab driver was longing for the old days. As he drove us around Berlin, he described the awfulness of all this so-called “new freedom,” and how he now has much less opportunity. The younger cab driver looked at the same exact world, and yet he was excited about the opportunities. He was thinking creatively about how he might improve his condition. The other was trying to maintain the old position.

These two cab drivers are like two executives one accommodating the new realities, and one opposing all change. One leads a young company that’s aggressive, fast, and opportunistic; the other leads an older company that is time-bound, filled with archaic structures and systems, and blind to new opportunities. Cultures tend to flow from the reactive or proactive tendencies of the leadership. Organizations tend to be shadows of their founders and current leaders.

The childlike leader with a proactive nature might see adversity as an opportunity for adventure, play, fun, and freedom, whereas an old leader might see it as potential risk, disaster, or death. In a snow storm, the child sees a time to play, but the father the person in the ultimate seat of responsibility is often weighed down by the realities of having to shovel the walks and put chains on the tires. That’s why it often takes a complementary team to lead and manage.

After President Clinton gave his speech on NAFTA in front of George Bush, it was then the former president’s turn to speak. When he got up, he just gave a very authentic expression, “I now know why you were elected and I was not.” It’s that ability to speak enthusiastically about seizing the future the excitement and glory of change, of celebrating change and loving it.

Genuine excitement over change can only come when you have a deep sense of who you are, what you want to accomplish, what your agenda is, and how you feel about things. We need to have the attitude that the future is here, and that things are going to change. We need to recognize and run with opportunity and exercise the proactive spirit that we all have inside us as long as we don’t abandon our changeless core principles.

Taproot of Trust
Stephen R. Covey
December 1991

Efforts to empower employees and to align systems will be forever frustrated in cultures of low or no trust.

I have long advocated a natural, gradual, day-by-day, step-by-step, sequential approach to personal and organizational 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. And 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.

In this article, I suggest that real character and skill development are 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.

And so we must also acquire the attitudes, skills, and strategies for creating and maintaining trustful relationships. 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.

Very early in my life, at age 20, I was assigned to manage the work of others and to train men and women more than twice my age in the principles and skills of effective management and leadership. It was a humbling, frightening experience.

Like me, most people once on their own soon find themselves in some sort of “management” position. Often these responsibilities come before we are ready for them. But we learn by doing and by making mistakes, and over time we gain some degree of competence and confidence.

When we become leaders of organizations, we encounter a whole new set of problems. Some of these are chronic, others acute. Many are as common to Fortune 500 companies as they are to families, small businesses, and volunteer groups. Certain conditions of organizational effectiveness apply across the board.

No leader can afford to forget that personal and organizational integrity are closely intertwined. Nor can any leader afford to lose sight of the mission and shared vision – the constitution of the corporation.

Personal Dilemmas
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 and between personal and professional areas of life 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 can we be genuinely happy for the successes and competencies of another?

How do we replace prejudice (the tendency to pre-judge 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?

Management Dilemmas
Principle-centered leadership will also help you to resolve the classic managerial and organizational dilemmas: How do we maintain control, and yet give people the freedom and autonomy they need to be effective in their work?

How can we have a culture characterized by change, flexibility, and continuous improvement and still maintain a sense of stability and security?

How do we get our people, the culture, aligned with the strategy so that everyone in the organization is as committed to the strategy as those who formulated it?

How do we unleash the creativity, resourcefulness, talent, and energy of the vast majority of the present workforce whose jobs neither require or reward such use?

How do we clearly see that the dilemma of whether to play tough hardball to produce a bottom line or to play softball to “be nice” to people is based on a false dichotomy?

How do we serve and eat the lunch of champions (feedback) and then the dinner of champions (course correction) within the context of the breakfast of champions (vision)?

How do we turn a mission statement into a constitution – the supreme guiding force of the entire organization instead of a bunch of nebulous, meaningless, cynicism-inducing platitudes?

How do we create a culture where management treats employees as customers and uses them as local experts?

How do we internalize the principles of total quality and continuous improvement in all our people at all levels of the organization when they are so cynical and fatigued from the disillusionment in the wake of all the past programs of the month?

How do we create team spirit and harmony among departments and people who have been attacking, criticizing, contending for scare resources, playing political games and working from hidden agendas for years?

Perhaps you have asked yourself one or more of these questions as you have grappled with real-life challenges in your personal life and in your organizations. As you gain an understanding of the basic principles of effective leadership, you will be empowered to answer these and other tough questions by yourself. Without this understanding, you will continue to use hit-and-miss, seat-of-the-pants approaches to living and problem solving.

Four Levels, Four Principles

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.

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, which enables two parties 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 the success or failure in relationships and in the bottom-line results of business, industry, education, and government.

Empowerment at the Management Level
If you have no or low trust, how are you going to manage people? If you think your people lack character or competence, how would you manage them? When you don’t have trust, you have to control people. But if you have high trust, how do you manage people? You don’t supervise them, they supervise themselves. You become a source of help. You set up a performance agreement so they understand what’s expected. You overlap their needs with the needs of the organization. You have accountability, but they participate in the evaluation of their performance based on the terms of the agreement. People are empowered to judge themselves because their knowledge transcends any measurement system. If you have a low-trust culture, you have to use measurement because people will tell you what they think you want to hear.

Alignment at the Organizational Level
If you have a low-trust culture with a control style of management, you will have a hierarchal organization with small spans of control. You will resort to “go-fer” delegation and prescribe and manage methods. Your information system will gather immediate information on results so you can take decisive corrective actions. Your motivation system will be the carrot-and-stick. Such primitive systems may enable you to survive against soft competition, but you are easy prey for tough competitors.

If you have a high-trust culture, your organization can be very flat and extremely flexible with large spans of control. Why? People are supervising themselves. They are doing their jobs cheerfully without being reminded because you have built an emotional bank account with them. You’ve got commitment and empowerment because you have built the culture around a common vision on the basis of certain bedrock principles, and you are constantly striving to align strategy, style, structure, and systems with your professed mission (your constitution) and with the realities out there in the environment (the streams).

My challenge is this: when you find something out of alignment, work on it developmentally at all four levels from the inside out on the basis of the four master principles.

New Wine, Old Bottles
Stephen R. Covey
December 1994

The adage about “you can’t put new wine in old bottles” still holds true, as evidenced by attempts to profit senior executives with new leadership styles.

For 30 years I’ve worked with chief executives in many organizations, training them to be better coaches, servant leaders, and sources of help rather than be judges, policemen, motivators, and magicians.

Most training programs try to put new wine in old bottles. For instance, they take the marvelous “new wine” concept of servant leadership, which the Greenleaf Center has created and implemented so successfully, and they mix it with the old command-and-control or benevolent authoritarian approach.

But such mixing only compounds the original problem because it gives the boss an aura of respectability as a coach or servant leader, when in fact he’s fundamentally unchanged in his basic style. He’s now a wolf in sheep’s wool.

That’s why most people resent performance appraisals. In fact, when I speak to an audience, I know how to get a fast reaction. I simply say, “The latest artifact of modern-day bloodletting in management is performance appraisal.” The audience will almost stand and cheer. People have had it with performance appraisals where management uses a human relations approach and a coaching style, but there’s no clear performance agreement. And so the person is still not the one ultimately responsible for results.

Servant leadership requires humility of character and core competency around a new skill set not just directing, motivating and evaluating people using traditional performance appraisals.

Three Steps to Transformation
To become servant leaders, executives need to take three steps: building relationships of trust, setting up win-win performance agreements, and then being a source of help.

Build a new relationship. The new relationship is horizontal, not vertical, and is based on the principle of mutual respect and equality not on power and position within the organization. You view the roles of worker, manager, and leader in a new light. The roles are equal, but different. Only when you have built relationships of trust do you have the foundation necessary to set up a meaningful performance agreement.

Create a new psychological contract or performance agreement. The agreement represents a clear, up-front mutual understanding and commitment regarding expectations in five areas:

purpose – specify the quantity and quality of desired results;
guidelines – focus on principles, not on procedures, policies, or practices;
resources – identify available human, financial and physical resources;
accountability – schedule progress reports and specify performance criteria; and
consequences – state both positive and negative rewards that reflect the natural consequences of actions taken.
The new agreement gives the other person total freedom within the guidelines to accomplish objectives. The moment such an agreement is set, the leadership paradigm shifts from one of benevolent authoritarianism to one of servant leadership. You become a source of help to those individuals who have entered into this agreement with you. The accountability process is based on self-evaluation, using feedback from different stakeholders. In fact, I often refer to this agreement as “stewardship delegation,” since in such agreements each person becomes a “steward” over certain resources and responsibilities.

With the transfer of power and responsibility for results, the leader becomes the servant and a source of help. Once you establish performance agreements with a clear understanding of common purposes and a deep buy-in by all parties, then people can do whatever is necessary within the guidelines to achieve desired results. The leader then takes the position of a servant. He is no longer one who directs, controls, or judges Instead, he becomes a coach and resource who can interpret the data or lend experience, but the individual or team makes most decisions including staffing, budgeting, and coordinating. If the person or team hits a brick wall or finds the resources and guidelines insufficient, you may have to revisit and renegotiate the performance agreement with them.

In the mutual accountability sessions conducted by the person or the team, the servant leader asks four questions:

How’s it going? or, What’s happening?
What are you learning from this situation?
What are your goals now? Or, What do you want to accomplish?
How can I help you?
These questions keep the person responsible and accountable for results. Without that new mindset and skill set, servant leadership won’t work.

Flying High
I once had an experience that for me was a simulation of servant leadership. I was working with the Oregon Air National Guard and was scheduled to go up in an F-15. But because Congress has put its foot down on such flights without special permission, it was canceled. (When I checked into it and saw the kind of strength you need in your back and neck muscles to deal with those G-forces, I was glad my flight had been canceled. )

Anyway, they put me in a flight simulator, and while I was in the simulator, I was attacked by different “bandits” that tried to shoot me down. An instructor taught me how to use the stick in my right hand and the guns in my left hand to fight the bandits. My teenage son, Joshua, could easily have killed these bandits, because he plays all these video games, but I was just total thumbs and they shot me down one right after another.

Then they sent across the screen a “dumb bandit.” It couldn’t shoot me down, but I had to shoot it down. Well, I sat there for 15 minutes, and I could not kill this bandit. Finally, the commander put his hands on my hands and showed me how to do it.

Next, they took me into a room where pilots go after they’ve had their “dog fights.” In this room, the pilots see visual recreations of the encounters as captured from the perspective of the other planes. So I sat there as they showed the pictures taken from different angles by planes involved in this simulation.

The commander sat next to me and showed me how my plane was seen from all the other angles on these simulated combat missions. So, in this way, I had access to all the data. The commander helped me interpret the data and understand what was happening and why. He explained why I should have done this or that. Of course, I was very open to his instruction because we share the same objective to save our lives, to win the battle, and to preserve the peace. So we quickly formed a relationship based on trust, shared vision, common purpose, and access to all the information.

From this experience, I gained important insights about servant leadership. At first, I had a limited vision and had trouble working the controls. I was being shot down all the time. Even with the instructor’s hands over mine, I could hardly shoot down a dumb bandit.

But after seeing the big picture, the shared vision and mission, I had a much broader awareness of what was going on. With a servant leader by my side, I learned fast.

This experience represents the difference between “go-fer” delegation (“go for this, now do this, now do that”) and empowerment (“let’s spend the time to set up the agreement and to operate within the guidelines, but from the moment we set it up, you’re responsible for desired results, and I’m a source of help”).

In her book, The New Science of Leadership, Meg Wheatley teaches the same basic principle. She says what you need is a common vision and purpose and free information flow, because it’s going to be chaotic, and you’ve got to expect it. But use chaos to your advantage. Let people have whatever information comes in, and then become a source of help to them.

The servant leader often has to help expand vision and perspective, and then bring to bear his experience. But people want it. They’re asking for it because their lives are at stake. They know that their organizations are fighting for their economic life. And so the people working under the servant leader have more responsibility and accountability. They’re at the controls and sense that they’re in charge, that this isn’t a game any more, that there’s something at stake here.

Examples of Servant Leaders
In many organizations I’ve worked in or with, I’ve seen examples of servant leaders who have really made a difference. For example, when I was just 20 years old, I served as an assistant to the president of an organization. One time I asked him, “Why don’t you ever give me any feedback? You never tell me if you like my speeches.” And he said, “Do you want to be dependent upon me? You know within yourself what’s happening. If you want some help, you just ask me. I’m here. “From then on, I was free of the president. I didn’t have to worry about his reaction. He never praised me or blamed me, but if I wanted help, he’d give it. So I would ask him, “What do you think of this.” He served me as a source of help.

Later in life, I served as a vice president under a benevolent dictator. The servant leader who replaced him was actually tougher. That experience taught me that servant leadership is not soft or touchy-feely. It’s a much tougher style because when you set up performance agreements and become a source of help, people have to be tough on themselves. They just can’t sit around and blame others.

I’ve come to greatly admire the leadership that Horst Schulze, president of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, provides to his management and staff. He’s a very authentic person. His energy, commitment, and service to his people has created a culture of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” While recently staying at the Ritz-Carlton at Amelia Island, I walked through the kitchen and was amazed to find that it was as clean as the lobby. The people there were in a class of their own. I’m convinced that it’s the culture that has drawn out the best in them.

I’ve also been thrilled to see models of servant leadership in action at Saturn. I recently read that Skip LeFauve, president of Saturn, now heads up the small car group of General Motors. Both he and Mike Bennett, head of the UAW, have had enormous influence in creating a spirit and model of synergistic teamwork. The results speak for themselves.

At the Toro Company in Minneapolis, chairman Ken Melrose has certainly made a difference. Only an exceptional chief executive would subject himself voluntarily to internal scrutiny and external accountability, involving all the stakeholders. Melrose is one such executive. He even posts his personal goals outside his office for all to see, along with an accounting of his performance against those goals. Both his office and his mind are open, and people at all levels are invited to share their ideas. He freely shares information in good times and bad, thus creating a culture of trust.

By inviting people’s involvement, he gains influence and commitment. He empowers others. His sense of stewardship, not ownership, of his resources makes him a model of servant leadership.

I recently attended a football game that demonstrated a magnificent contrast between the servant leadership and benevolent authoritarian styles of management. Both teams had great coaches. But as I watched the game, I could see one coach pacing up and down the sideline, making every decision on both offense and defense. In stark contrast, the other coach only got involved in the pivotal decisions, because he had set up a system of empowerment with his assistant coaches.

Historically, the servant leader tends to have a longer tenure. In many organizations, leaders, like coaches, come and go. They have two or three years to turn things around, or they’re out. Servant leaders, like the second coach I described, often have 200-win careers that span several decades. But often their contributions are rather subtle and long-term. The critics of servant leaders are people who want more dramatic near-term results; however, you don’t get real and sustained success this way. You can manage things, but you must lead people, and that leadership takes time. Remember: with people, fast is slow, slow is fast.

Moral Compassing
Stephen R. Covey
December 1989

When managing in the wilderness of the changing times, a map is of limited worth. What’s needed is a moral compass. When I was in New York recently, I witnessed a mugging skillfully executed by a street gang. I’m sure that the members of this gang have their street maps, their common values – the highest value being, don’t fink or squeal on each other, be true and loyal to each other-but this value, as it’s interpreted and practiced by this gang, does not represent “true north” – the magnetic principle of respect for people and property. They lacked an internal moral compass. Principles are like a compass. A compass has a true north that is objective and external, that reflects natural laws or principles, as opposed to values which are subjective and internal. Because the compass represents the eternal verities of life, we must develop our value system with deep respect for “true north” principles.

As Cecil B. deMille said about the principles in his movie, The Ten Commandments, “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law. ”

Principles are proven, enduring guidelines for human conduct. Certain principles govern human effectiveness. The six major world religions all teach the same basic core beliefs – such principles as “you reap what you sow” and “actions are more important than words.” I find global consensus around what “true north” principles are. These are not difficult to detect. They are objective, basic, unarguable: “You can’t have trust without being trustworthy” and “You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you behave yourself into.”

There is little disagreement in what the constitutional principles of a company should be when enough people get together. I find a universal belief in: fairness, kindness, dignity, charity, integrity, honesty, quality, service, and patience.

Consider the absurdity of trying to live a life or run a business based on the opposites. I doubt that anyone would seriously consider unfairness, deceit, baseness, uselessness, mediocrity, or degradation to be a solid foundation for lasting happiness and success.

People may argue about how these principles are to be defined, interpreted and applied in real-life situations, but they generally agree about their intrinsic merit. They may not live in total harmony with them, but they believe in them. And, they want to be managed by them. They want to be evaluated by “laws” in the social and economic dimensions that are just as real, just as unchanging and unarguable, as laws such as gravity are in the physical dimension.

In any serious study of history – be it national or corporate – the reality and verity of such principles become obvious. These principles surface time and again, and the degree to which people in a society recognize and live in harmony with them moves them toward either survival and stability or disintegration and destruction.

In a talk show interview, I was once asked if Hitler was principal-centered. “No,” I said, “but he was value-driven. One of his governing values was to unify Germany. But he violated compass principles and suffered the natural consequences. And the consequences were momentous – the dislocation of the entire world for years.”

In dealing with self-evident, natural laws, we can choose either to manage in harmony with them or to challenge them by working some other way. Just as the laws are fixed, so too are the consequences. In my seminars, I ask audiences, “When you think of your personal values, how do you think?” Typically, people focus on what they want. I then ask them, “When you think of principles, how do you think?” They are more oriented toward objective law – listening to conscious, tapping into eternal verities. Principles are not values. The German Nazis, like the street gang members, shared values, but these violated basic principles.

Values are maps. Principles are territories. And the maps are not the territories; they are only subjective attempts to describe or represent the territory. The more closely our maps are aligned with correct principles – with the realties of the territory, with things as they are – the more accurate and useful they will be. Correct maps will impact our effectiveness far more than our efforts to change attitudes and behaviors. However, when the territory is constantly changing, when the markets are constantly shifting, any map is soon obsolete.

A Compass for the Times
In today’s world, what’s needed is a compass. A compass consists of a magnetic needle swinging freely and pointing to magnetic north. It’s also a mariner’s instrument for directing or ascertaining the course of ships at sea as well as an instrument for drawing circles and taking measurements. The word compass may also refer to the reach, extent, limit or boundary of a space or time; a course, circuit or range; an intent, purpose or design; an understanding or comprehension. All of these connotations enrich the meaning of the metaphor.

Why is a compass better than a map in today’s business world? I see several compelling reasons why the compass is so invaluable to corporate leaders:

The compass orients people to the coordinates and indicates a course or direction even in forests, deserts, seas and open, unsettled terrain. As the territory changes, the map becomes obsolete; in times of rapid change, a map may be dated and inaccurate by the time it’s printed. Inaccurate maps are a frustration for people who are trying to find their way or navigate territory.

Many executives are pioneering, managing in uncharted waters or wilderness, and no existing map accurately describes the territory. To get anywhere very fast, we need refined processes and clear channels of production and distribution (freeways), and to find or create freeways in the map provides description, but the compass provides more vision and direction.

An accurate map is a good management tool, but a compass is a leadership and an empowerment tool. People who have been using maps for many years to find their way and maintain a sense of perspective and direction should realize that their maps may be useless in the current maze and wilderness of management. My recommendation is that you exchange your map for a compass and train yourself and your people how to navigate by a compass calibrated to a set of fixed, true north principles and natural laws.

Strategic Orientation
Map vs. compass orientation is an important strategic issue, as reflected in the statement by Mr. Matsushitu, president of the Japan’s giant consumer electronic company: “We are going to win and the industrial West is going to lose because the reasons for your failure are within yourselves: for you, the essence of management is to get the ideas out of the heads of the bosses into the hands of labor.” The important thing here is the stated reason for our “failure.” We are locked into certain mindsets or paradigms, locked into management by maps, locked into an old model of leadership where the experts at the top decide the objectives, methods, and means.

This old strategic planning model is obsolete. It’s a road map. It calls for people at the top to exercise their experience, expertise, wisdom and judgment and set 10-year strategic plans – only to find that the plans are worthless within 18 months. In the new environment, with speed to market timetables of 18 months instead of five years, plans become obsolete fast.

Peter Drucker has said: “Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable.” And if our planning is centered on an overall purpose or vision and on a commitment to a set of principles, then the people who are closest to the action in the wilderness can use that compass and their own expertise and judgment to make decisions and take actions. In effect, each person may have his or her own compass; each may be empowered to decide objectives and make plans that reflect the realities of the new market.

Principles are not practices. Practices are specific activities or actions that work in one circumstance but not necessarily in another. If you manage by practices and lead by policies, your people don’t have to be the experts; they don’t have to exercise judgment, because all of the judgment and wisdom is provided them in the form of rules and regulations.

If you focus on principles, you empower everyone who understands those principles to act without constant monitoring, evaluating, correcting or controlling. Principles have universal application. And when these are internalized into habits, they empower people to create a wide variety of practices to deal with different situations.

Leading by principles, as opposed to practices, requires a different kind of training, perhaps even more training, but the payoff is more expertise, creativity, and shared responsibility at all levels of the organization.

If you train people in the practices of customer service, you will get a degree of customer service, but the service will break down whenever customers present a special case or problem because in doing so they short-circuit the Standard Operating Procedure system.

Before people will consistently act on the principle of customer service, they need to adopt a new mindset. In most cases, they need to be trained – using cases, role plays, simulations and some on-the-job coaching – to be sure they understand the principle and how it is applied on the job.

With the Compass, We Can Win
“A compass in every pocket” is better than “a chicken in every pot” or a car in every garage.

With moral compassing, we can beat Japan. My view is that the Japanese subordinate the individual to the group to the extent that they don’t tap into the creative and resourceful capacities of people – one indication being that they have had only two Nobel Prize winners compared to 186 in the U.S. The highest leadership principle is win-win interdependency, where you are both high on individual and high on team. But once people start to realize that this “compass” is going to be the basis for evaluation, including leadership style of the people at the top, they tend to feel very threatened.

The president of a major corporation recently asked me to meet with him and his management team. He said that they were all too concerned with reserving their own management style. He said that the corporate mission statement had no impact on their style. These executives felt that the mission was for the people “out there” who were subject to the law, but that they were above the law. The idea of moral compassing is unsettling to people who think they are above the law. Because the constitution, based on principles, is the law – it governs everybody, including the president. It places responsibility on individuals to examine their lives and determine if they are willing to live by it.

All Are Accountable to the Laws and Principles
I’m familiar with several poignant examples of major U.S. corporations telling their consultants, “We can’t continue to do market feasibility studies and strategic studies independent of our culture and people.” These executives understand what Michael Porter has said: “A implementation with B strategy is better than A strategy with B implementation.

We must deal with people/culture issues to improve the implementation of strategy and to achieve corporate integrity. We must be willing to go through a constitutional convention, if not a revolutionary war, to get the issues out on the table, deal with them, and get deep buy-in on the decisions. That won’t happen without some blood, sweat, and tears.

Ultimately, the successful implementation of any strategy hinges on the integrity people have to the governing principles and on their ability to apply those principles in any situation using their own moral compass.

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

December 29, 2006 at 10:55 am

Posted in Stephen Covey

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