By Lt. Col. Sunil Amin | 22nd Space Operations Squadron Commander
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — There are many different books about leadership but the most influential book I read was Steven Covey’s “Principle-Centered Leadership.” What struck me most about principle-centered leadership is it casts a net of personal value ownership over the workplace environment. Principle-centered leadership works on the basis of natural principles and continues to build on these principles into the center of our lives, relationship with others, agreements and management processes. We become more organized, rooted, balanced and unified when our lives are centered around correct principles with which we can associate. This type of focus in turn helps us center on the four fundamental dimensions of principle-centered leadership: power, guidance, wisdom and security. As Stephen Covey put it, “If you focus on principle, you empower everyone who understands those principles to act without constant monitoring, evaluating, correcting, or controlling.”
Power, in this context, refers to the capacity an individual has to influence behavior of another individual or team. There are three types of power: coercive, utility and principle-centered power. Coercive power is typically based on fear. Fear has been created in the follower by the leader and the follower acknowledges if they do not do as they are told, either something bad will happen or something good will be taken away from them. Individuals working under coercive leaders are unlikely to be committed and more likely to resist upper management. Utility power suggests followers act because they are aware of the benefits that will come if they do as they are told. Utility power only works if the follower has something the leader wants and vice versa. The last type of power is different in kind and degree from the previous two. Principle-centered power is based on trust and requires time to develop. Principle-centered power is key no matter how small or large the shop, flight or squadron. One must gain the trust and respect of the personnel they are leading.
Guidance is the direction people receive in life. Most of it comes from the social normatives as we grow. From the day we are born, we are guided by all elements that surround us, from parents to school, friends to co-workers. People on the low end of the guidance continuum lead social or selfish life-styles; they tend to have strong emotional dependencies. People in the middle of the continuum are still developing social conscience, learning through social norms, institutions, and relationships. Those on the high end of the continuum have the true principles from inspired and inspiring sources. We all start off on the low end of the continuum. When we are born, we tend to be selfish and always want attention. As we start growing older and venture out, we start moving into the middle of the continuum, developing our conscience from our surroundings and what we are taught by our parents, schools and environment. As we get older we begin the journey to the high end of the continuum. Guidance is always necessary especially when you have been introduced to a new environment. This is true for all of us who signed the dotted line when we entered into service. Corporate and civilian environments are structured differently from the military. In the corporate world you have social normatives that guide conduct and behavior, where in the military you have authoritative guidance and instructions that guide our conduct and behavior.
Wisdom is the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action, sagacity, discernment or insight. People at the low end of the continuum tend to base their thinking on misconstrued, distorted and discordant principles, and those on the high end show a good sense of judgment, discernment and comprehension. As a commander, one must acknowledge all information and discern what is true and what is fictitious, gather all pertinent information before making a conclusion and comprehend the effects of the decision that is made.
People receive security from their surroundings and interactions with others. Issues arise from dependencies we have on external sources that are made uncertain and insecure. Staying balanced with one’s security is key to self-development. As military members move around they learn to rely on internal and external sources. Security sources may include spouse, family members, co-workers or friends. Security always fluctuates and can at times swing to the extremes in a split second, but realizing this and centering on principles can ensure one gets back on the right track and stays balanced.
When principle-centered, we gain four sources of strength: power, guidance, wisdom and security. This provides the foundation to build meaningful relationships, make sound decisions and gives us a sense of ownership, and over time, increased talent, success and a better self. Principle-centered leadership affects all aspects of life and brings coherence to all the different areas in which we live and breathe.