Principle Centered Leadership- Time to Review!

Characteristics of Principle Centered Leaders

-A Review

“Correct principles are like compasses:  They are always pointing the way.  And if we know how to read them, we won’t get lost, confused, or fooled by conflicting voices and values.  Principles are self-evident, self-validating natural laws.  They provide “true north” direction to our lives when navigating the “streams” of our environment.”[i]– Stephen Covey

These words were written by Stephen Covey in his 1990 book “Principle Centered Leadership”.   So why are we reviewing this old book?  Yes, there are numerous newer books about leadership, but after all these years these Principle Centered Leadership Principles still hold true.  I was first introduced to this book when starting my Emergency Medical Directorship-  and even today still find it relevant and worth a review by every leader.

It is rather amazing how this “True North” principle is also now the backbone of many strategic plans and Mission creations.  This book is actually a compilation of multiple articles written for the Harvard Business Review.   It covers a multitude of subjects including Moral Compassing, Marriage and Family Relationships, and management expectations.  Every leader should consider this as a resource for leadership as well as an educational tool for future leaders.

Stephen Covey Highlights 8 Characteristics of Principle Centered Leaders:

1) “They are Continually Learning”

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”- Abigail Adams 

Leaders are constantly educating themselves-  now luckily as physicians- we do have some mandatory CME learning, but more important what are you doing on your own to expand your knowledge?  One way to expand your knowledge is to make yourself a small goal on learning.  Make yourself a promise that you will expand or reinvigorate your learning process.   Read a new book, open that throw away journal, get a new APP on your phone.  Now once you have the success of keeping that learning promise, you can expand to even more learning opportunities.

2) “They are Self Oriented”

“Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic” ― Stephen Covey

These leaders wake up every morning with a mission, with a desire to “yoke up” and “put on the harness of service”- Stephen Covey.  It is important that these leaders not only “yoke up” with others as in allowing them to come along, but leaders take that co-worker or spouse and pull along side them.  I have always told my direct reports as well as peers- that I would never ask them to do anything I wasn’t prepared to do myself.  The important thing is the sense of having a load to carry,  especially with someone else provides a purpose, a sense of responsibility and a sense of contribution.  My fraternity brothers used to ask me “Elliott- what is your purpose today?”  Yes- I must admit I try to start everyday with a plan.  Starting your day, your clinic, or your office hours with at least a few goals in mind is extremely satisfying when at least some of those goals are accomplished.  You can simply look back and feel some gratitude that you did provide some service to some one that day- even if the service was to yourself.

3) “They Radiate Positive Energy”

“It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.” –Robert H. Schuller

Principle centered leaders are cheerful, upbeat, and optimistic.  Their positive energy attracts others with positive energy and also neutralizes those with negative energy.  Most importantly- be aware of your own energy and how that affects others.  No one wants to follow an “Eeyore”.

4) “They Believe in Other People”

Behavior and potential are 2 different things.  Principle Centered Leaders don’t overreact to negative behavior- but realize the unseen potential in all people.  By believing in the unseen potential, you create a climate of growth and opportunity.  The biggest complement any of our associates can give my ED department is to take advantage of personal growth within the department.  We have current Nurse Practioners in the department who started out as unit coordinators and one current ED Physician who started as an ED Tech.  Promoting personal growth helps the entire department.  Developing employees is a Key to Retention.  93% of employees state they would stay on the job longer if their talent was developed within the same company.

5) “They Lead Balanced Lives”

This is not the usual “work life balance” discussion- as there is controversy about this concept.  I agree with one of our administrators that the term “work life balance” is a poor conception as it  means you have to choose one or the other.  The balanced life in these leaders refers to actions and attitudes being proportionate to the situation.

They are not workaholics, they are not extremists, they are not chained to schedules.  These leaders DO read, watch and observe.  They are open in communication and see no need to brag or drop names- they are confident in their own worth.  They are happy for other’s successes.

It is their actions and attitudes which are balanced- no need to manipulate, and they think in terms of continuums and priorities.  Translation- these Balanced leaders are simply nice people who are approachable, fair and flexible.

6) “They See Life as an Adventure”

True security comes from within and these leaders savor life.  They savor the possibilities each person and event can create and their security lies in their own intiatives, willpower and creativity.  There is no need for these leaders to categorize others to create their own self worth.  “They see success on the other side of failure”  In short- these are optimistic folks and see a win-win whenever possible.

7) “They are Synergistic”

The term synergy means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  When true leaders work with others, they develop synergies- where the result is greater than what was started.  This is in contrast to compromise- where both parties feel cheated.  Synergy allows much better solutions for all.  Delegation is easy as they believe in people and since they are not threatened by other’s successes, there is no need to micro manage others.  These leaders simply improve the situations they touch.

8) “They Exercise for Self Renewal”

“We must never get too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw, never too busy driving to take time to get gas.” -Stephen Covey

There are 4 basic dimensions of the human personality- physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  These leaders take time for themselves every day to improve their own personality.  Cardiovascular time for the physical and reading to improve the mind.  They emotionally show empathy and listen to others, as well as show unconditional love, and spirituality through a focus on prayer and meditation.   This time spent for self-renewal will result in a strong healthy character ready to give and provide service for others.


If you possess all of these traits you are a true leader.  However-  we are all leaders in our own circle of influence and I bet we can all improve upon at least one area of leadership.

Which of these principles do you think is most important?

Feel free to share or to simply use these principles to improve your own life and leadership style.

-Mark Elliott, MD, MBA

[i] Covey, Stephen,  Principle Centered Leadership, Free Press, 1990


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