6 Bases of Power – the nine characteristics of a Principle-Centered leader

I raised quite a firestorm a few years ago when I wrote an article called “Cardboard Elvis.” (You can check it out here.)

It discusses the disparity between charismatic leadership and principle-centered leadership. They are not mutually inclusive nor are they mutually exclusive. The article explains that while society in general is attracted to charismatic leaders, it is the principle-centered ones that actually build substantial organizations that last and do the most ethically and morally to serve their communities.

But principle-centered leaders are not always flashy. They are not always the best orators. They don’t always attract much attention. They do, however, tend to attract quality people and, here’s the clincher, they tend to keep those quality people over a long period of time.


Well, let’s look at it from two perspectives. First, from the viewpoint of the associate or employee; Money is not the only reason someone takes a job. There is a large segment of the workforce that looks for companies that embrace the same value system and will work for less as long as the values remain consistent and are proven over time to be core values.

The principle-centered leader attracts them because his/her life reflects what his mouth said we should be. Stated as a principle of motivation it is this:

People want what it is that you’ve got because you reflect with your life what it is that you say with your mouth that you ought to be.

You, the principle-centered leader, are genuine, without wax, solid, certain, true, honest, transparent, upright, fair, just, and balanced. A tall order for sure, but the result is lasting power and influence!

From the perspective of the principle-centered leader, s/he will accept nothing less than a whole person. S/he will tolerate no compromise in principles, will demand that the core values of the organization be maintained even if it costs the organization, and will never excuse any untoward behavior by claiming that the end justifies the means.

I am by no means the first person to ever espouse this. Perhaps the most famous was Steven Covey who contrasted Primary and Secondary greatness. Primary is what I’ve called principle-centered. Secondary is what I call charismatic. (You do understand that I am using the term “charismatic” in its generic sense? I am not referring to that branch of contemporary Evangelical Christianity that is, within the jargon of that genre, called charismatic. However, the principles I am defining here apply graphically there too.)

When I first released Cardboard Elvis most of my consulting and training clients were managers and leaders of several charities with religious affiliations. In the article, I refer to one leader in particular without naming any names. My experience with that particular leader had brought home the sharp contrast between charisma and principle in a way that negatively impacted me and a very large number of others.

Even though that person was unnamed and the organization they affiliated with was not mentioned, I received many, many letters and phone calls telling me that they knew who that person was. Every letter or phone call mentioned someone else, dozens of different leaders that headed up different organizations in different parts of the world.

What does that illustrate? That the condition is widespread and visible.

Principle-centered leaders honor their associates, employees, and followers because they live and work in a manner that never betrays their confidence in him or her. Power is created when the values of the leader overlap and coincide with the values of the associate. It becomes a self-igniting source of energy that will drive the wheels of productivity, creativity, and progress. Control is self-control, internal not external because followers believe deeply in the goals communicated to them. Motivation is intrinsic and the dynamics of work become much simpler to manage.

Covey has his eight characteristics of principle-centered leadership. I have nine. You can read his in one of his books or elsewhere on the net. You can see mine right here:

  1. Consistent – They don’t blow hot and cold, positive and negative, righteous and evil.
  2. Balanced – They live to work and work to live, but that’s not all they do. They have home lives of comfort and security, relationships of affection and respect, and schedules that include work and play.
  3. Honorable – They have motives that speak the best of society and are civilization builders. They plant trees they will never sit under, swear to their own hurt, echo all that is good and decent.
  4. Upright – They never stoop to anything, no dirty tricks, no misleading statements, no questionable tactics.
  5. Fair – They treat everyone the same and live and enforce rules the same.
  6. Just – They have high morals and live by them, they know right from wrong and live on the right side.
  7. Sincere – They are never duplicitous, never misleading, never dishonest.
  8. Truthful – They are determined to tell the truth – that which is correct and accurate, the whole truth – leave nothing out, and nothing but the truth – add nothing to it.
  9. Reliable – They are people of their word, make commitments they will keep, and form a solid basis upon which associates, employees, and followers can build their lives.

Who do you know that you can identify as principle-centered? I hope it is more than only one.

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