Review: Principle-Centered Leadership

I approached Stephen Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership not long after having read his famous The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Given the very high benchmark, I was a bit disappointed by the chaotic structure and repeating content. However, the key insights of Dr. Covey’s teachings on leadership sum up to quite an interesting model of leadership within organizations.

The key notion of the book is that leadership, in the same way as life in general, should be governed by principles. Dr. Covey describes four levels of leadership and corresponding four key principles that should be followed by effective leaders and organizations.

  • Personal level. The means to becoming an effective leader on the personal level is following the principle of trustworthiness. In order to be trustworthy, you need to show character and develop competence.
  • Interpersonal level. Leading people, which happens on the interpersonal level, can only be successful if it is based on the principle of trust. This in turn requires that both sides of the relationship are trustworthy (showing character and competence).
  • Managerial level. On the managerial level, a leader can obtain best results by following the principle of empowerment. People should supervise themselves – as a manager, you should become a source of help rather than a supervisor.

Dr. Covey lists six conditions of empowerment:

1. Character

2. Skills

3. Win-win agreement

4. Self-supervision

5. Helpful structure and systems

6. Accountability

  • Organizational level. In the design of leadership-centered organizations, one should focus on the principle of alignment. Great organizations should be aligned on the correct principles, values, strategy, style, structure and systems.

The four levels and principles can be easily applied to the context of distributed social networks. On the first two levels, the key takeaway is that a leader should reveal his character and competence to be successful. This can be done for example by keeping a blog and showing integrity through online behaviors. The same should be valid for all the community members, in order to create a sense of trust within the community. The principles of empowerment and alignment defined on the managerial and organizational levels can also be applied to social networks. We should not be tempted to think about a crowd, but rather about the individuals contributing to and aligned on a common cause, who need to be listened to, understood, and empowered.

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