Lead­ers Have Lost Their Way – Prin­ci­ples Are the Path Home

Traveling Minds - - Table Of Contents - By Dr. Chance T. Ea­ton

It is the quar­terly ori­en­ta­tion day, and the new em­ploy­ees are be­ing show­ered with com­pany knick-knacks, food, drink and pro­fes­sional hand­outs. The ex­ec­u­tive team piles into the large room with sta­tus, com­mand and con­fi­dence. One by one, they present on their lead­er­ship jour­ney, their lead­er­ship style, a de­scrip­tion of com­pany cul­ture and how their de­part­ment cre­ates value for the com­pany. The new em­ploy­ees find them­selves in­spired by the pro­fes­sion­al­ism and well-ar­tic­u­lated au­to­bi­ogra­phies, and I can see them think­ing to them­selves “I have fi­nally found a great place to work.”

But talk is cheap. Over time, I tend to see less and less con­gru­ence be­tween such pre­sen­ta­tions and ac­tual be­hav­ior. In th­ese types of pro­fes­sional pre­sen­ta­tions, I hear the ex­ec­u­tives de­scribe the value and spirit of col­lab­o­ra­tion, but on the floor, I see con­flict and self­serv­ing strate­gies; in th­ese types of pre­sen­ta­tions, I hear the im­por­tance of proac­tive and ac­count­able ac­tion, but on the floor, I see re­ac­tive sur­vival-type be­hav­iors and con­flict; in th­ese types of pre­sen­ta­tions, I hear in­tegrity and hon­esty, but on the floor, I see a lack of fol­low-through and dis­hon­esty.

My val­i­da­tion for rec­og­niz­ing in­con­gru­ent be­hav­ior comes di­rectly from many of my re­spected col­leagues, who have no­ticed a higher fre­quency of poor lead­er­ship be­hav­ior. In par­tic­u­lar, I have been hear­ing the term “throw­ing un­der the bus” as a com­mon de­scrip­tor for the grow­ing fail­ures in lead­er­ship.

What went wrong? How did we get to this place where we re­ally can’t trust what our lead­ers tell us? In my opin­ion, we have moved away from ba­sic hu­man prin­ci­ples – the laws of hu­man na­ture that keep us grounded and have stood the test of time. We have re­placed prin­ci­pled think­ing and be­hav­ing with the need for ef­fi­ciency (short-term so­lu­tions) and rel­e­vance (sig­nif­i­cance and im­por­tance).

Prin­ci­ples, ac­cord­ing to lead­er­ship au­thor Stephen Covey (1989, 1991), are time­less laws with universal ap­pli­ca­tion; they are self-ev­i­dent and serve as a foun­da­tion for val­ues, thoughts, be­liefs and be­hav­iors. Prin­ci­ples are the guide­lines for hu­man con­duct. Though ev­ery per­son may have a unique lens in how they see and in­ter­pret the world, prin­ci­ples are fun­da­men­tal as­pects of our con­scious­ness, hold­ing the truths that bond our species to­gether. The proof that prin­ci­ples ex­ist can be found in the out­comes; for ex­am­ple, when you are not ac­count­able, are un­co­op­er­a­tive or lack pur­pose, peo­ple lose trust in your char­ac­ter and pre­fer to avoid your pres­ence. When you demon­strate ac­count­abil­ity and co­op­er­a­tion and be­have with pur­pose, peo­ple trust who you are and want to be in your pres­ence as you col­lab­o­ra­tively cre­ate syn­er­gis­tic so­lu­tions to our great­est chal­lenges. I have yet to see a per­son live with­out prin­ci­ples and be at all ef­fec­tive in their work, their re­la­tion­ships and their well-be­ing.

The fol­low­ing are what I con­sider to be pri­mary prin­ci­ples and sev­eral short sto­ries based on true events that I feel demon­strate the lost prin­ci­ples of our gen­er­a­tion.


Con­nie’s team in­cluded five tenured em­ploy­ees and seven em­ploy­ees that had only been with the com­pany for less than a year. The new em­ploy­ees were quite en­er­getic, en­gaged and ea­ger to pro­vide value. The more tenured em­ploy­ees were less en­gaged and would of­ten talk about “the way things used to be.” With such a di­verse group, Con­nie knew she needed to im­ple­ment team-build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to bring them to­gether.

Con­nie went on to build a three-month train­ing pro­gram for her team, with the group meet­ing for

two hours per month, cul­mi­nat­ing in two days of off-site train­ing. The train­ing con­sisted of the team col­lab­o­ra­tively de­vel­op­ing a shared mis­sion and vi­sion state­ment. This al­lowed for ev­ery­one to pro­vide in­put into defin­ing who they were, what they did, how they did it and where they were go­ing as a team. Not only did it help cre­ate pur­pose and di­rec­tion but it al­lowed for ev­ery­one’s voice to be heard. Once the mis­sion and vi­sion state­ment was cre­ated for their work group, they worked as a team to iden­tify their in­di­vid­ual and team strengths, weak­nesses, op­por­tu­ni­ties and threats, ul­ti­mately re­sult­ing in a strate­gic goal bank. Based on the work group’s goal bank, in­di­vid­ual team mem­bers cre­ated cal­en­dar-year SMART goals that in­cor­po­rated their unique in­di­vid­ual strengths.

Con­nie was demon­strat­ing pur­pose for her team. The prin­ci­ple of pur­pose in­volves know­ing who you are and, most im­por­tantly, where you are go­ing; es­tab­lish­ing a mis­sion and vi­sion; and gen­er­at­ing mean­ing and encouragement. The re­sult of Con­nie prac­tic­ing pur­pose with her team brought them to­gether with a shared iden­tity and di­rec­tion. Hu­man be­ings need pur­pose to ground who they are while in­spir­ing pos­si­bil­ity.


The de­part­ment lost their train­ing man­ager but was set to hire seven new em­ploy­ees. The lead­ers weren’t overly con­cerned about on­board­ing and train­ing the new em­ploy­ees. They were plan­ning on hir­ing a train­ing man­ager but not un­til af­ter the new hires started. Sounds like a ridicu­lous story, but I must ad­mit that th­ese things re­ally do hap­pen. Amy, who was a tenured pro­fes­sional in the job, hated to see any em­ployee strug­gle, es­pe­cially new ones. Once she heard of the plan to hire em­ploy­ees even be­fore the train­ing man­ager, she set out to de­velop a train­ing plan her­self. She knew it wouldn’t be per­fect, but she was go­ing to do ev­ery­thing in her power to make the best of this sit­u­a­tion.

Amy was demon­strat­ing ac­count­abil­ity by tak­ing per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for the bet­ter­ment of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. She was demon­strat­ing tenac­ity and ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion in the midst of chaos. This prin­ci­ple is about rec­og­niz­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with hav­ing free will; it in­cludes be­ing proac­tive and tak­ing ini­tia­tive for do­ing great work. The re­sult of Amy’s ac­count­abil­ity was found in the qual­ity of ser­vice, con­fi­dence from her new team mem­bers and trust in her to be a re­spon­si­ble per­son for the bet­ter­ment of the team and or­ga­ni­za­tion. Hu­man be­ings need ac­count­abil­ity in or­der to have own­er­ship of their per­sonal lives and be re­spon­si­ble free agents.


Sally was ad­dicted to nico­tine and smoked two packs of cig­a­rettes a day. Work­ing in a fast-paced fi­nance com­pany and fac­ing sev­eral chal­lenges in her per­sonal world, she found that smok­ing was the one thing that could bring her peace in her chaos of a life. One day her 16-year-old daugh­ter, Becka, told her that she would some­times cry watch­ing her mother tem­po­rar­ily re­move her­self from her fam­ily to smoke. She said, “I know you are stressed, and we have a lot go­ing on, but I can’t bear to watch you smoke like that. You do so much for us, and I feel like you are not go­ing to live long enough to watch us grow up.” This struck Sally, and right then and there she promised Becka that she would never smoke again.

Sally went to work the next day and strug­gled to man­age her day with­out tak­ing a smok­ing break. Watch­ing oth­ers leave the build­ing to take a smoke be­gan to drive her in­sane. But ev­ery time she felt her flesh scream­ing for the nico­tine, she re­mem­bered her prom­ise to Becka. To this day, Sally has not had an­other cig­a­rette.

Sally was demon­strat­ing in­tegrity by fol­low­ing through with what she promised her daugh­ter and her­self. In­tegrity is keep­ing your prom­ises, be­ing hon­est with your­self and ex­press­ing the grit and re­silience that keeps us true to our­selves. The re­sult of Sally’s in­tegrity was seen in the re­la­tional growth be­tween her and Becka and the trust de­rived from fol­low-through with what she held to be im­por­tant. Hu­man be­ings need in­tegrity to pri­or­i­tize their life pur­pose and demon­strate hon­esty in their ac­tions.


Kent had been pro­vid­ing project work to a lead­er­ship team. The lead­er­ship team was never very clear in their ex­pec­ta­tions, so once Kent re­ceived feed­back, he would re­work the project and re­sub­mit it with their rec­om­men­da­tions and needs. (It is pretty com­mon in project work that a team isn’t quite sure what they want un­til they see what they don’t want.) Though the process wasn’t frus­trat­ing, one in­di­vid­ual leader in par­tic­u­lar was be­gin­ning to get un­der Kent’s skin. In the feed­back re­ports, there was of­ten a con­de­scend­ing tone and per­sonal in­sult, such as “Wrong again … that is just not how we do it around here … I wouldn’t have done

it that way.” To make sense of and keep this leader’s per­spec­tive, Kent would of­ten check in with one of his col­leagues to make sure he was be­ing ob­jec­tive. Once he felt con­fi­dent that the re­marks were no longer busi­ness-re­lated but in­stead per­sonal, he sched­uled a cru­cial con­ver­sa­tion with the leader. In this sit­u­a­tion, Kent sched­uled a meet­ing with the one leader, pointed out his process and what his ex­pec­ta­tions were for the project and al­lowed the leader to com­ment so he could fully un­der­stand their per­spec­tive. Once this was com­plete, Kent read back the com­ments he found to be in­sult­ing and per­son­ally at­tack­ing. He spoke in an as­sertive tone that he ex­pected to be treated with dig­nity and re­spect and if this couldn’t hap­pen, they would need to all come to­gether and re-eval­u­ate his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the project.

Kent was demon­strat­ing courage. The prin­ci­ple of courage in­volves know­ing when to speak your voice with con­vic­tion, know­ing what you stand for and where you draw the line and stand­ing up for what is right. Courage is be­ing brave in times of distress to stand up for what is right. The re­sult of Kent prac­tic­ing courage mod­els to oth­ers that it is ap­pro­pri­ate and nec­es­sary some­times to stand up and use our voice when dig­nity and re­spect are not be­ing hon­ored. Hu­man be­ings need courage to ex­press their in­tegrity.


The busi­ness sec­tion had im­ple­mented a new sched­ul­ing process that had Jake in a stir. He felt like the process took away his au­ton­omy and didn’t make any log­i­cal busi­ness sense. Fur­ther, he was now re­quired to fill out more pa­per­work to ful­fill the new sched­ul­ing pro­to­col. To bet­ter un­der­stand, he went to the sec­tion man­ager and asked to speak about the new pro­to­col. But be­fore he spoke, he sat pa­tiently and asked why the new process ex­isted and how it would cre­ate greater busi­ness value. He did not in­ter­rupt and al­lowed the man­ager to ex­plain why the pro­to­col was cre­ated. This re­quired him to be co­op­er­a­tive as he sat with pa­tience and mind­ful­ness – be­hav­iors of treat­ing an­other per­son with dig­nity and re­spect. As a re­sult of the con­ver­sa­tion, he learned that the pro­to­col had an im­por­tant pur­pose and value to the rest of the busi­ness sec­tion, as it cre­ated greater clar­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the other team mem­bers. Once Jake fully heard the pur­pose and looked within him­self and rec­og­nized that the new pro­to­col was serv­ing the team, in this case, the team’s value from this de­ci­sion was much greater than his per­sonal needs.

Jake was demon­strat­ing co­op­er­a­tive­ness. The prin­ci­ple of co­op­er­a­tion in­volves lis­ten­ing; prac­tic­ing pa­tience; and, above all, serv­ing one’s team and treat­ing each per­son with to­tal dig­nity and re­spect. Though the new pro­to­col made his work a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult, he re­al­ized the ben­e­fits to the team were greater. The re­sult of Jake prac­tic­ing co­op­er­a­tive­ness mod­eled team­work to ac­com­plish im­por­tant goals. It demon­strated lis­ten­ing to the needs of oth­ers and work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively. Hu­man be­ings need co­op­er­a­tive­ness to ap­pre­ci­ate di­ver­sity and be­come aware of hu­man­ity’s unique and sub­jec­tive needs.


There are most def­i­nitely some amaz­ing lead­ers in the work­place, and I have had the plea­sure of work­ing with some of the best. But un­for­tu­nately there are way too many lead­ers who are strug­gling; they have ig­nored hu­man prin­ci­ples and in­stead cho­sen to fo­cus on short­term so­lu­tions and put ef­fort into be­ing sig­nif­i­cant and im­por­tant. Too many lead­ers have lost their way, and prin­ci­ple-cen­tered lead­er­ship is the path home.

Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Ef­fec­tive Peo­ple: Pow­er­ful Lessons in Per­sonal Change. New York: Fire­side.

Covey, S. R. (1991). Prin­ci­ple Cen­tered Lead­er­ship. New York: Si­mon & Schus­ter.

Covey, S. (2003). The 7 Habits of Highly Ef­fec­tive Peo­ple: Per­sonal Work­book. New York: Si­mon & Schus­ter.

Owen, J. P. (2004). Cow­boy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West. Ketchum, ID: Stoeck­lein Pub­lish­ing & Pho­tog­ra­phy.

Dr. Chance Ea­ton has over a decade’s worth of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the field of learn­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional de­vel­op­ment. Due to his unique ed­u­ca­tional and work ex­pe­ri­ences in fi­nance, psy­chol­ogy, lead­er­ship and man­age­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, noetic sciences and agri­cul­ture, Dr. Ea­ton pro­vides his clients with rel­e­vant busi­ness so­lu­tions grounded in the­ory and re­search. To learn more about Dr. Ea­ton’s ser­vices, visit Hr­so­lu­tion­sin­ter­na­tional.com.

Photo by Gi­vara13 Gi­vara13,

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