Principle-Centered Leadership

Principle-Centered Leadership

by Stephen R. Covey

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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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780795309595
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Publication date: 12/02/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 340
Sales rank: 196,137
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Dr. Stephen R. Covey is a renowned authority on leadership, a family expert, teacher, organizational consultant, and vice chairman of FranklinCovey Co. He has a B.S. from the University of Utah, an M.B.A. from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from Brigham Young University.Dr. Covey's insightful advice has helped millions. His book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold millions of copies and was named one of the most influential business books by Forbes magazine. Covey has authored numerous other works. He has been named one of Time magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans and has been awarded eight honorary degrees.


Provo, Utah

Date of Birth:

October 24, 1932

Date of Death:

July 16, 2012

Place of Birth:

Salt Lake City, Utah

Place of Death:

Idaho Falls, ID


B.S., University of Utah, 1950; M.B.A., Harvard University, 1957; Ph.D., Brigham Young University, 1976

Read an Excerpt



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 will discover new territory and make new contributions. Their security lies in their initiative, resourcefulness, creativity, willpower, courage, stamina, and native intelligence rather than in the safety, protection, and abundance of their home camps, of their comfort zones.

They rediscover people each time they meet them. They are interested in them. They ask questions and get involved. They are completely present when they listen. They learn from them. They don't label them from past successes or failures. They see no one bigger than life. They are not overawed by top government figures or celebrities. They resist becoming any person's disciple. They are basically unflappable and capable of adapting virtually to anything that comes along. One of their fixed principles is flexibility. They truly lead the abundant life.


Synergy is the state in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Principle-centered people are synergistic. They are change catalysts. They improve almost any situation they get into. They work as smart as they work hard. They are amazingly productive, but in new and creative ways.

In team endeavors they build on their strengths and strive to complement their weaknesses with the strengths of others. Delegation for results is easy and natural to them, since they believe in others' strengths and capacities. And since they are not threatened by the fact that others are better in some ways, they feel no need to supervise them closely.

When principle-centered people negotiate and communicate with others in seemingly adversarial situations, they learn to separate the people from the problem. They focus on the other person's interests and concerns rather than fight over positions. Gradually others discover their sincerity and become part of a creative problem-solving process. Together they arrive at synergistic solutions, which are usually much better than any of the original proposals, as opposed to compromise solutions wherein both parties give and take a little.


Finally, they regularly exercise the four dimensions of the human personality: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

They participate in some kind of balanced, moderate, regular program of aerobic exercise, meaning cardiovascular exercise — using the large leg muscles and working the heart and lungs. This provides endurance — improving the capacity of the body and brain to use oxygen — along with many other physical and mental benefits. Also valuable are stretching exercises for flexibility and resistance exercises for strength and muscle tone.

They exercise their minds through reading, creative problem- solving, writing, and visualizing. Emotionally they make an effort to be patient, to listen to others with genuine empathy, to show unconditional love, and to accept responsibility for their own lives and decisions and reactions. Spiritually they focus on prayer, scripture study, meditation, and fasting.

I'm convinced that if a person will spend one hour a day on these basic exercises, he or she will improve the quality, productivity, and satisfaction of every other hour of the day, including the depth and restfulness of sleep.

No other single hour of your day will return as much as the hour you invest in sharpening the saw — that is, in exercising these four dimensions of the human personality. If you will do this daily, you will soon experience the impact for good on your life.

Some of these activities may be done in the normal course of the day; others will need to be scheduled into the day. They take some time, but in the long run they save us a great deal of time. We must never get too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw, never too busy driving to take time to get gas.

I find that if I do this hour of exercise early in the morning, it is like a private victory and just about guarantees public victories throughout the day. But if I take the course of least resistance and neglect all or part of this program, I forfeit that private victory and find myself uprooted by public pressures and stresses through the day.

These principles of self-renewal will gradually produce a strong and healthy character with a powerfully disciplined, service-focused will.




One way to revisit the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is to identify the unique human capability or endowment associated with each habit.

Those associated with Habits 1, 2, and 3 are primary human endowments. And if those endowments are well exercised, secondary endowments are bequeathed to the person through the exercise of Habits 4, 5, and 6. And the endowment associated with Habit 7 renews the process of growth and development.

The primary human endowments are 1) self-awareness or self-knowledge; 2) imagination and conscience; and 3) volition or willpower. The secondary endowments are 4) an abundance mentality; 5) courage and consideration; and 6) creativity. The seventh endowment is self-renewal. All are unique human endowments; animals don't possess any of them. But they are all on a continuum of low to high levels.

• Associated with Habit 1: Be Proactive is the endowment of self-knowledge or self-awareness — an ability to choose your response (response-ability). At the low end of the continuum are the ineffective people who transfer responsibility by blaming other people, events, or the environment — anything or anybody "out there" so that they are not responsible for results. If I blame you, in effect I have empowered you. I have given my power to your weakness. Then I can create evidence that supports my perception that you are the problem.

At the upper end of the continuum toward increasing effectiveness is self-awareness: "I know my tendencies, I know the scripts or programs that are in me, but I am not those scripts. I can rewrite my scripts." You are aware that you are the creative force of your life. You are not the victim of conditions or conditioning. You can choose your response to any situation, to any person. Between what happens to you and your response is a degree of freedom. And the more you exercise that freedom, the larger it will become. As you work in your circle of influence and exercise that freedom, gradually you will stop being a "hot reactor" (meaning there's little separation between stimulus and response) and start being a cool, responsible chooser — no matter what your genetic makeup, no matter how you were raised, no matter what your childhood experiences were or what the environment is. In your freedom to choose your response lies the power to achieve growth and happiness.

Imagine what might happen if you could get every person inside a company to act willingly on the belief "Quality begins with me. And I need to make my own decisions based on carefully selected principles and values." Proactivity cultivates this freedom. It subordinates your feelings to your values. You accept your feelings: "I'm frustrated, I'm angry, I'm upset. I accept those feelings; I don't deny or repress them. Now I know what needs to be done. I am responsible." That's the principle "I am response-able."

So on the continuum you go from being a victim to self- determining creative power through self-awareness of the power to choose your response to any condition or conditioning.

• Associated with Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind is the endowment of imagination and conscience. If you are the programmer, write the program. Decide what you're going to do with the time, talent, and tools you have to work with: "Within my small circle of influence, I'm going to decide."

At the low end of the continuum is the sense of futility about goals, purposes, and improvement efforts. After all, if you are totally a victim, if you are a product of what has happened to you, then what can you realistically do about anything? So you wander through life hoping things will turn out well, that the environment may be positive, so you can have your daily bread and maybe some positive fruits.

At the other end is a sense of hope and purpose: "I have created the future in my mind. I can see it, and I can imagine what it will be like." Animals can't do that. They may instinctively gather nuts for the winter, but they can't create a nut-making machine, nor do they ask, "Why do I do nuts? Why don't I get someone else to gather nuts for me?" Only humans examine such questions. Only people have the capability to imagine a new course of action and pursue it conscientiously.

Why conscience? Because to be highly effective, your conscience must monitor all that you imagine, envision, and engineer. Those who attempt to exercise creativity without conscience inevitably create the unconscionable. At the very least, they exchange their creative talents for "canned goods," using their creativity — their applied imagination and visual affirmations — to win material things or social rewards. Then they become hopelessly imbalanced. They may speak the lines of the life balance script, but in reality their constitutions are written on the fleshy tablets of their spleen.

It is reaffirming to me to see that winners of the Academy Awards, for the most part, exhibit creativity with conscience. For example, Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves made a beautiful statement about Native Americans. The academy knows that the film industry has enormous influence, and with that creative power must come conscientious social responsibility.


Excerpted from "Principle-Centered Leadership"
by .
Copyright © 1991 Stephen R. Covey.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface: A Principle-Centered Approach,
Introduction to Section 1,
Chapter 1 Characteristics of Principle-Centered Leadership,
Chapter 2 Seven Habits Revisited,
Chapter 3 Three Resolutions,
Chapter 4 Primary Greatness,
Chapter 5 A Break with the Past,
Chapter 6 Six Days of Creation,
Chapter 7 Seven Deadly Sins,
Chapter 8 Moral Compassing,
Chapter 9 Principle-Centered Power,
Chapter 10 Clearing Communication Lines,
Chapter 11 Thirty Methods of Influence,
Chapter 12 Eight Ways to Enrich Marriage and Family Relationships,
Chapter 13 Making Champions of Your Children,
Introduction to Section 2,
Chapter 14 Abundance Managers,
Chapter 15 Seven Chronic Problems,
Chapter 16 Shifting Your Management Paradigm,
Chapter 17 Advantages of the PCL Paradigm,
Chapter 18 Six Conditions of Empowerment,
Chapter 19 Managing Expectations,
Chapter 20 Organizational Control Versus Self-Supervision,
Chapter 21 Involving People in the Problem,
Chapter 22 Using Stakeholder Information Systems,
Chapter 23 Completed Staff Work,
Chapter 24 Manage from the Left, Lead from the Right,
Chapter 25 Principles of Total Quality,
Chapter 26 Total Quality Leadership,
Chapter 27 Seven Habits and Deming's 14 Points,
Chapter 28 Transforming a Swamp into an Oasis,
Chapter 29 Corporate Constitutions,
Chapter 30 Universal Mission Statement,
Chapter 31 Principle-Centered Learning Environments,
Epilogue: Fishing the Stream,
A Personal Note,
About the Covey Leadership Center and the Institute for Principle-Centered Leadership,

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Principle Centered Leadership 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
jaden on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Weak effort. Not cohesive, rehash of common leadership principles. Big disappointment. I loved 7 Habits and Spiritual Roots of Human Development. This one fell far short of the bar.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
An oustanding book that is much-needed in a world that still relies too much on the power-brokering and strong-armed approach to leadership. This book gives people at any level in an organization the tools and vocabulary to assume appropriate leadership given freely for good purpose, and to become agents of appropriate change. I recommend that organizations make it required reading for all levels of employees, not just management.