Today, I want to talk about one of my core values as an entrepreneur, and that’s principle-centered leadership. The term comes from a book of the same name by Stephen R. Covey, which is one of my favorite books, period. So what exactly is principle-centered leadership?

Principle-centered leadership is about becoming principle-centered and incorporating characteristics into your life such as balance, positivity, and synergy. There are four principles and eight characteristics that can, as Covey puts it, help in “developing the rich internal power in our lives.”

If you’re interested in learning more about principle-centered leadership, you’ve definitely come to the right place. This article will explore the concept in full, breaking down the central principles and characteristics so you too can become more principle-centered! 

What Is Principle-Centered Leadership? Where Did It Come From?

To start, let’s discuss principle-centered leadership in more detail.

As I touched on in the intro, the concept of principle-centered leadership is based on a book that’s entitled Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen R.  Covey.

You probably know Covey for his ultra-popular book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Born in 1932, Covey published a slew of books before he died in 2012. He was also a professor, a keynote speaker, and a businessman. Time Magazine called him one of their 25 most influential people in 1996.

Principle-centered leadership, according to Covey, means to live a principle-centered life that’s guided by four central principles.

I’ll talk more about those in the next section, but for now, you need to know that they’re security, guidance, wisdom, and power. 

Covey says that “Principles provide ‘true north’ direction to our lives when navigating the ‘streams’ of our environments.” He also likens principles to compasses, as Covey wrote in his book that “they point us in the right way and show us the direction we need in our everyday life.”

The point of principle-centered leadership is so, “at our core, we can be sure it unifies and integrates the other aspects of our lives.”

And yes, that’s right, principle-centered leadership–despite the very professional-sounding name–is not only something you can apply to your work life. You’re supposed to become principle-centered in your personal life as well.

The goal, according to Covey, is to achieve what he calls “total quality.”

What is that? “Total quality is the continuous improvement in the four levels…personal and professional development, interpersonal relations, managerial effectiveness, and organizational productivity. Total quality values people. It is rooted in the timeless principles of faith and hope, constancy and consistency, and virtue and truth in human relations.”

If it all doesn’t quite make sense to you yet, I promise you that by the time you’re done reading this article, it will! 

What Are the Four Central Principles of Principle-Centered Leadership?

To help you understand what I was talking about in the last section, I need to expound further on the four central principles of principle-centered leadership. Then I can delve more into the four unique levels for applying those principles.

Okay, so first, as a reminder, the four principles of principle-centered leadership are security, guidance, wisdom, and power. 

Let’s talk more about each of these principles now.


According to the teachings of Covey in his book, the principle of security encompasses your personal strength, self-esteem, emotions, identity, and sense of worth.

Let’s break that down a little bit.

If you’re on my blog Motivate Motion, then I know you’ve got personal strength. You’re trying to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and make a better life for yourself. 

Self-esteem and a sense of worth go hand-in-hand. If your sense of worth is low, then your self-esteem will be as well.

Your emotions absolutely play a role in how you feel about yourself and can influence you positively or negatively. 

Finally, there’s your identity. When you know who you are and you’re confident in that, you feel secure in yourself. 


The second principle of the four is guidance. Covey says that this is “the direction we receive in life.”

In other words, think of all the influences in your life sort of like the guidance counselors you had back in grade school.

Is everyone looking out for your best interests? Could you have more supportive influences in your life than you do at current? Where are those influences guiding you? Is that the same place you would have guided yourself?

This is all great food for thought! 


Next is wisdom, which Covey defines as comprehension, discernment, judgment, and balance.

This is quite an interesting take on wisdom, which most people attribute to being smart. 

Covey thinks that having wisdom is more about being able to comprehend a situation, discern whether it’s a good spot to be in, and then use your better judgment to make a decision.

What I find the most interesting of all though is how Covey says a sense of balance is integral to wisdom. 

I would even take it a step further and say that a sense of balance is integral to life. 

Without balance, what do you have? You know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing. 

Whether you’re striving for more work/life balance or even balance between being a mother and being a woman, it’s worth finding. 


Finally, the fourth principle that makes up the backbone of principle-centered leadership is power. 

I know this sounds good at its core, but you have to hear how Covey defines power. 

According to him, power is “the capacity to act” and “the strength and courage to accomplish something.”

It’s not about political power or the power that comes with fame and notoriety. It’s about being bold enough to have dreams and then go after them.

Whether you decide to go back to school, change careers, or re-enter the working world after being a stay-at-home mom for many years, that’s power! 

Four Levels in Which the Four Principles Apply  

Now that you know the four pillars or principles that comprise principle-centered leadership as defined by Covey, I next want to talk about the four levels you can apply the above principles. They are as follows.


The first level is the personal level, aka the relationship you have with yourself. 

This is the most important relationship of all, but many people rightfully forget that as the years go on. You get married and your spouse becomes the most important person in your life. 

You have children, and they become your number one. You could even work a very demanding career and find your personal relationship wither away as you focus on work and pleasing your boss.

By evaluating the four principles and applying them on a personal level, you can strengthen that all-important relationship with yourself. 


The second level is interpersonal relationships or those relationships you have with others besides yourself. 

These relationships include those with your spouse or partner, your children, your friends, your neighbors, and your community.

By strengthening your relationship with both yourself and others, you’ll feel more fulfilled. And don’t worry if you’re not quite sure how and where to do it yet. I’ll tell you more about how to get started later. 


Switching now to professional work, the next level in applying the four principles of principle-centered leadership is on a managerial level. In other words, this is your “responsibility to get a job done with others.”

From your image to the way you handle competition to how you serve customers, following the four principles can make you a better employee. 


Lastly, there’s applying the principles on an organizational level. This only applies to those in upper management positions, as organizational power refers to how you organize and manage people. 

The goal here is aligning your company values with your staff through policy changes and more. 

What Are the Characteristics of Principle-Centered Leaders?

Principle-centered leaders come in all shapes and sizes, but they tend to embody the same characteristics. In doing research for his book, Covey identified the following eight traits as those common among principle-centered people.

Exercise Mostly for Self-Renewal

When you hit the gym and start lifting weights or running on the cardio machine, what is your goal? Are you thinking about toning up or losing weight so you can fit into that dress in time for your friend’s wedding in two months?

If so, then you’re not being as principle-centered as you could be. According to Covey’s writings, principle-centered people exercise for one purpose, self-renewal.

They understand that exercise does a body good. Moving your body can stave off diseases and conditions that can tragically shorten your life. 

Plus, exercising releases feel-good hormones that naturally boost mood, which is a great reason to get out there and exercise! 


Yes, I know, synergy is one of those tired buzzwords in the corporate sphere, but it wasn’t when Covey originally published his book.

So for a moment, try to strip back all the connotations of the word synergy and just let it be another word. 

To synergize means that you, according to Oxford, “produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”

In other words, you’re making a positive change with someone or something else. It’s a change that you couldn’t do alone.

Whether you work more closely with your partner to help your kids get their schoolwork done or you partner up with a colleague at work on a big project, that’s synergy.

Principle-centered people are always looking for opportunities to be more synergistic, and they embrace those opportunities wholeheartedly. 

Embrace Life as an Adventure

Speaking of embracing things, a principle-centered person also understands that life is a crazy ride, that you can’t always chart out the direction, and that that’s okay. 

It’s an adventure, and what do you do on an adventure? That’s right, you have a blast! 

A principle-centered person isn’t surprised and upset when life goes awry. They’re not helpless in the course of their own lives, but they’re willing to go along for the ride and try to get the most out of it. 

Have Balance in Their Lives

One of the biggest traits of a principle-centered person is a strong sense of balance. 

They’re not afraid to say no, whether that’s to a demanding boss who’s constantly asking for more, more, more, or a friend or family member.

They’ve learned that while saying no can be sort of awkward at first and may sometimes create hurt feelings, it’s a freeing word. 

People move on, life does as well, and once you say no once, it becomes a lot easier to say it the next time. 

That’s the only way to achieve balance, after all, by prioritizing it. 

Have Faith in Others

Although it’s very easy to look at headlines today and feel completely and utterly jaded by the state of our society, principle-centered people aren’t like that.

Innately, they believe in other people. They think that if you give someone else a task that a person will succeed at it.

Maybe that’s what happens, or maybe it doesn’t, but having that belief in someone is huge. 

Think of how much more you could bolster up the people in your life, from your kids to your colleagues, if you believed in them with all your might! 

Radiate Positivity 

It’s not just that a principle-centered person is positive, oh no. Covey says they radiate positivity, which is quite different. 

They understand that a positive attitude is the best treatment for any situation. That doesn’t mean that they ignore bad things or assume that nothing in life will ever go wrong, but they can maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity.


Another valuable trait of principle-centered leaders is their dedication to service.

This can mean several different things depending on the application. Perhaps, in a work environment, a principle-centered person is passionate about customer service and prioritizing a customer’s needs.

In one’s personal life, a principle-centered person might dedicate their time to causes they feel strongly and passionately about.

Always Learning 

Finally, a principle-centered person understands that just because you have a college degree doesn’t mean your days of learning are over. 

There’s always something to learn, whether that’s in your industry or field or even hobbies and interests in your personal life. You can learn from your mistakes as well so they become fewer and further between. 

Tips for Applying Principle-Centered Leadership to Your Personal Life 

As promised, I want to talk about how you can use leadership principles in your life for the betterment of your family and yourself!

Principle-Centered Leadership for Your Relationship with Your Children

Here are some tips that Covey himself recommends that can help you make “champions of your children.” I like the sound of that!

  • Prioritize serving others and believing in others no matter what. Your child should learn to have faith and trust other people.
  • When your kids have friends, get to know their friends and adopt those friends into your family.
  • Teach your child the power of visualization to plan and realize their potential.
  • Be the best example for your children that you can be.
  • When family events are on the calendar, plan ahead to avoid surprises.
  • Cultivate what Covey calls “an enjoyable family culture.”
  • Allow your children the space to discover their own interests outside of your influence.
  • At every chance, embrace their greatness.
  • Raise your child’s self-esteem to a healthy degree. 

Principle-Centered Leadership for Your Family

On a more familial level, here is how Covey says you can use principle-centered leadership:

  • Create a family mission statement if you don’t already have one.
  • Build and strengthen internal security.
  • Practice problem-solving, communication, and time management whenever possible.
  • Discover family systems and realign them if necessary.
  • Set new goals.
  • Don’t be afraid to change and evolve in familial roles as the years go by. 
  • Have a long-term perspective so you can always see the forest for the trees. 

Tips for Applying Principle-Centered Leadership to Your Professional Life 

In his book, Covey identified what he calls “chronic problems” among companies. These are long-term problems that you can’t simply slap a Band-Aid on and call it good. 

The problems include:

  • A lack of self-integrity
  • Low or no trust
  • Improper skills
  • Incorrect style
  • Bad alignment
  • A lack of strategic path
  • No shared values or vision

How do you solve these chronic problems within a business or organization? Covey recommends “quantum improvements” akin to a paradigm shift. 

As he writes, “principle-centered leadership embraces the principles of fairness and kindness and makes better use of the talents of people for increased efficiency, but also leads to quantum leaps in personal and organizational effectiveness.”


Stephen R. Covey published his book Principle-Centered Leadership in 1989. There’s a reason we’re still talking about principle-centered leadership today, and it’s because it’s more valuable than ever.

Whether it’s your personal life that needs a paradigm shift or your professional life, I hope the information in this article helps you become a more principle-centered person!