In my books and workshops I enjoy sharing leadership principles. Right principles, consistently applied, bring results. The definition of principle helps explain why this is so: “a fundamental, primary or general law or truth.” Because of the fundamental, general law or truth, principles brought to the table have the power to transcend time, job positions and industries. Since unapplied principles serve little purpose, other than as philosophical fodder for academic conversations, it’s essential to study them often and apply them with diligent consistency. This approach itself relates to one of my favorite principles: right decisions, done repeatedly, compound success. Following are eight sample and effective principles to help you grow yourself, your team and organization.
1. The Pain Principle. Change brings pain and discomfort, and pain and discomfort are signs of growth.
If you lift weights with the intention of growing bigger and stronger, but routinely throw the weights down after the third repetition because it starts to get uncomfortable and painful, will you grow? No way. Rather, you’d have to dig deep, break a sweat and work through the pain and discomfort in order to progress. In fact, as the pain disturbs the status quo of your muscles, it would serve as feedback that you’re actually on the right track to make them bigger. Business works the same way. Leadership wimps who flinch in the face of pain and discomfort spend their careers looking for lightning bolts; the easy, painless way to grow their business. These losers would have a better chance of finding Jimmy Hoffa than discovering the easy way to become great.
2. The Persistence Principle. Persistence helps convert talent into results and lifts the short-on-talent to higher levels.
Persistence was well-defined by Amway co-founder Rich DeVos as “stubbornness with a purpose.” Talent in people goes largely unfulfilled when the talented never develop the discipline, work ethic or mental toughness—the persistence—to develop his or her gifts. On the other hand, the marginally talented who applies discipline, work ethic and mental toughness routinely run circles around the talent-privileged. Normally the underdog has bigger or more reasons—a powerfully compelling “why”—that helps them develop the persistence that can offset their talent deficit.
3. The Price Principle. There is no worthwhile prize without a price.
A price normally involves a sacrifice; it’s a tradeoff you make so that you can move towards your goals. Dieters sacrifice favorite foods and larger portions for the prize of looking great and getting healthy. Exercisers do the same, and also tradeoff television or sleeping time to hit the track or visit the gym in exchange for a more functional and attractive body they can be proud of. Leaders in business are no different. The number one tradeoff leaders must make normally involves giving up comfort zones in exchange for the pain and discomfort necessary to grow. Paying the price for what you want isn’t a one-time, lump sum proposition. Rather, it is an installment program. John Maxwell puts it well: “You can pay now and play later, or you can play now and pay later. But either way, you’re going to pay! And the longer you wait to pay it, the more it costs you, because you’ll be paying with interest.”
Author E.M. Gray added this observation: “Successful people have made the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do. Successful people don’t necessarily like to do these things either. But they subordinate their dislike to the strength of their purpose.” My guess is that whatever accomplishments you’ve racked up in life that you’re most proud of weren’t handed to you; you paid the price to get them. You can expect your next great accomplishment to require no less.
4. The People Principle. The greatest leadership lesson of all time is that you can’t do it alone.
The exception to the People Principle is if your goals happen to be small enough, so that you can accomplish them all by yourself. It’s like climbing a molehill. You can likely bumble around on your own and wind up at the top of that tiny mound. However, if you want to do something significant and climb Mt. Everest, you had better be bringing a team of great people with you. Business works the same way. In order to put the People Principle to work for you, it’s important to weave the following philosophy into the job description of every leader within your organization:
“Take the human capital you’ve been entrusted with and make it more valuable tomorrow than it is today through training, coaching, and mentoring.”
After all, as a business person and as a human being, your success won’t ultimately be measured by how far you go and how much you get; but by how many people you left better than you found them, and positively impacted throughout your journey.
5. The Personal Responsibility Principle. It is your inside decisions, more than outside conditions, that determine how far you go and how fast you get there.
I’ve written an entire article on this important topic, The Lost Art of Taking Personal Responsibility. Let me just add here that when you fail to take responsibility for your results and choose instead to blame, you surrender your personal power to things you cannot control, and put your fate in the hands of outside forces. Blame is the anti-focus. It shifts your energies away from areas you can impact and change, and casts them into no-return areas that serve only to condition your thinking to victim’s status, and cause you to spend your days lamenting your bad luck and sniveling about how everyone else gets all the breaks. The Personal Responsibility Principle makes clear that “unlucky” people aren’t really unlucky at all. For the most part, they simply have an incredible knack for making horrible life choices.
6. The Practice Principle. The level of your practice and preparation determine the level of your play.
Practice and preparation builds confidence and reduces stress. Practice demonstrates humility, teachability, discipline, and a commitment to excellence. Practice is part of the price you pay for a prize. It helps you become successful long before your success actually shows up. Perhaps Joe Louis said it best: “A champion doesn’t become a champion in the ring. He is merely recognized in the ring. He becomes a champion during his daily routine.”
7. The Performance Principle. You can work with someone for a period of time according to their potential but eventually you must work with them according to their performance, their results.
Rule #1: Tenure, experience and credentials don’t substitute for results.
Rule #2: Despite how well you like or believe in someone, you must eventually judge them by their results.
Rule #3: Don’t rationalize why Rules 1 and 2 don’t apply to the special and unique exception you have in mind and whose mediocrity you’ve committed to defending for far too long.
8. The Pride Principle. Every conceivable management failure can find its root in pride. Peel back the ostensible cause for failure, and pride is at the core.
Failing to build a team, to change, to admit mistakes, to give away credit, to continue learning, to listen to feedback and the like are all rooted in pride. The only antidote for pride is humility, but humility doesn’t come naturally, pride does. Thus, humility must be cultivated. A good start would be to face your own pride and take steps to replace it with humility. Chapter three of How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK, provides in-depth strategies for helping you to do this.
If you choose to memorize, internalize, live and teach these eight key principles, congratulations! If you have merely been entertained for the past few moments and don’t think these principles are important, or that they apply to you, I’ve included a bonus principle just for you:
The Pitiful Principle: Doing the wrong thing repeatedly, or doing nothing repeatedly, only makes you better at being bad.