Principle-Centered Leadership

by Stephen R. Covey
Quality at Four Levels

Consider the case of Janet and Steve, earnest employees trying to do a quality job. They work in different departments but serve on a cross-functional team to design important new processes and strategies.

The company's training program has always been deficient in educating its people in the corporate "big picture," as well as in cultivating specific management and leadership skills. As a result, Steve tends to hold back in team meetings. He feels a little overwhelmed in serving with this high-powered team, although his co-workers thought he should represent them because he is such an honest, hard-working person within his discipline. Janet has a broad professional background and substantial self-confidence. Her past business approach has been to "bulldoze" her way through problems. Her nature is inherently competitive. Her past supervisors have been very demanding and control-oriented. She has learned that covering mistakes to achieve her personal and departmental goals works. In working together, the cross-functional team has run into various obstacles. Their mandate was narrowly drawn, but as they work, they realize they must consider other aspects of the organization that they were not authorized to address. As they brainstorm, they realize they have no established corporate values to guide their thinking. Also, it is difficult to resolve problems because certain team members seem to have "pet projects" and private agendas. This difficulty is further compounded because advancement. What's wrong with this picture? Long-term, sustainable high performance requires quality throughout four levels of any organization. All four are essential to develop. They are totally integrated and interdependent.

Imagine a different type of organization chart and look at how the dilemma of Janet and Steve fits in. Think of four concentric rings representing the four levels of quality leadership and effectiveness. The center ring represents you as an individual. This personal level reflects the quality of your own trustworthiness-both your character and your competence.

The next ring out represents the interpersonal level, or the quality of your relationships with other people measured by the amount of mutual trust among them. Trust is the primary, powerful governing principle that supports the success of any productive, long-term relationship.

The third ring out represents the managerial level. It is the nature of the working relationships among people. Enduring organizational effectiveness will reflect the quality of empowerment people experience in the workplace. Do people have broad latitude to make decisions , synergize creatively with each other, even fail within established limits-and then learn from their experiences? Are they accountable through win-win agreements that include the supervisor as a resource, not a judge?

The outer ring is the organizational level. Organizational quality is determined by the degree of alignment among the primary elements that comprise the business or institution. Are the organization's mission, vision and core values widely understood, shared and internalized by employees?

Are they in harmony with the needs of customers, stakeholders and other factors in the external environment? Do systems such as training, hiring and promotion align with the organizational infrastructure? Steve and Janet's team reflects quality problems in all four dimensions. At the personal level, Steve needs greater management and technical competence and self-confidence. If the system doesn't provide the opportunity, he needs to develop his own career competence anyway. Janet has a character problem, scripted into a control paradigm by her former bosses. She needs to determine which principles she really wants in her life. Interpersonal trust is low in this group because of conflicting personal agendas and a "scarcity mentality." Managerial empowerment is low. Significant misalignment exists in organizational systems. People lack a shared mission and vision. Training and decision-making processes are deficient, and compensation systems reward independent initiative. No one sees the organization's big picture.

Quality requires leadership and effectiveness at all four levels: personal trustworthiness, interpersonal trust, managerial empowerment and organizational alignment. Systems reengineering alone is not enough.About the authors . . .

Stephen R. Covey is chairman of the Covey Leadership Center and author of Principle-Centered Leadership and the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Keith A. Gulledge is vice president and senior consultant with Covey Leadership Center's Professional Resource Group.


1995 Covey Leadership Center. Telephone (800) 553-8889.
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