Leadership Principles are curious. One might say it is an oxymoron, as the recent behavior of some of our most prominent Leaders seems to strongly suggest there are no principles.
One only has to turn on the news for an example. The information that rolls out about what has been happening within our government, and then the insistence that because “it has been happening for a number of years” equates to public knowledge, much less acceptance, is fundamentally dishonest. The Foundation of our Nation is our Constitution, and in order to have trust, our Leaders must recognize the importance of adhering to certain principles.
Leaders are only leaders when there are followers. If one thinks about it much, the sources of power for Leaders are limited—positional, political and popular support. Each of these forms of power largely relies on principles and behavior.
Principles form the basis for which others can trust and believe—and it is through trust and belief that followers offer support and take action. Leaders are often able to avoid scrutiny over principles through rhetoric and platitudes—but only in the short run. Over time, Leaders are not able to escape the way in which behavior reveals true principles. For we all know deep down in some recess of our conscience, true Principles form a system of trust and confidence which each of us need to thrive and succeed.
Principles are an internal set of guidelines for decision making. We look to Leaders to give us a foundation of trust in the basic manner of thinking and behavior forming his/her decisions. Honesty is an example of a principle that is core to developing trust, and it is trust for which each of us moves and makes decisions in our daily lives.
Pure logic would say trust is essential to forming the overall system for which people are able to be successful, and honesty, as a Principle, is essential in forming trust. Over time, behaviors will reveal whether or not we are able to trust in the honesty of our Leaders.
Why, then, do Leaders struggle so much with Principles?
There are likely various reasons, but the most immediate is personal gain. Personal gain can be in the form of money, power, notoriety or acceptance. Too often, Leaders fall into the trap of telling us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear. In the effort of achieving personal gain, Leaders seem to believe that straying from their Principles is acceptable if it is only temporary. Unfortunately, it is not. Principles must be firmly set in the minds of Leaders—and personal gain must be placed as secondary to Principles.
One might say, the true test of Leadership is when personal gain is abandoned for the sake of Principles. Wouldn’t that be refreshing to see? And something to truly believe in and follow.