4 Leadership Principles for People-Centered Leaders

leadership principlesIf you’re a leader of an organization, there is no shortage of voices on improving the actual practice of leadership. The world is full of great leaders of great organizations. When people think of leadership in the corporate world, they think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Biz Stone, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Drucker, and many, many others. Take a look at the books on leadership on Amazon.com, and you’ll find books by many leadership experts such as John Maxwell, Stephen Covey, Henry Cloud, Patrick Lencioni, Peter Drucker, and Simon Sinek. With all the leadership advice that is available, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. All the voices can quickly turn into noise when it’s all coming at you at once. Some basic leadership principles can help you to make sense of the leadership challenge.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is an opportunity to direct human behavior in the areas of creativity and productivity. Any time a group of people is focused on accomplishing something significant, there is often a need for one or more people to be the voice and mind that keeps the group working together toward their goal. Out of all the voices on leadership out there, Simon Sinek has become one of the most trusted because of his profoundly principle-centered approach to leadership. Sinek understands that there are two ways that people throughout history have approached leadership, and these two ways are based upon the primary motivation of the leader.

In his groundbreaking leadership book Start With Why, Sinek wrote,

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

A leader who is concerned primarily with his own accomplishment will be driven to lead people through manipulation. Every person he leads is expendable because leading is all about the task and not about the people making the task happen. These type of leaders will use whatever strategies they can come up with to get people to do what they want. Many of these leaders will rule their people through fear and threats of punishment for any detraction from their desires. This type of leadership may get you what you want, but at what cost?

The best leaders are the ones who inspire those they lead. Their followers look up to them as someone worth following. Manipulative leaders are often viewed as insecure because they’re clearly not confident in their ability to influence people to do what is necessary to accomplish a great task. In fact, the very tasks that the leader wants accomplished may not even be that noble in their first place. Great leaders know what kinds of projects should be accomplished and influence their people to make it happen.

4 Leadership Principles of the People-Centered Leader

When given the choice between a leader who cares more about their agenda or their people, who wouldn’t choose the leader who cares more about the people they lead than what they’re trying to accomplish? While the manipulative leader might be able to coerce their people into doing what they want, a leader who genuinely cares about the welfare of his people will have people that will go the distance to ensure the leader’s vision becomes a reality. The people-centered leader influences loyalty in their people in a way that the manipulative leader never could.

1. Know and Share Why You Do What You Do

Simon Sinek has also said,

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

This is never more true than in leadership. No one does anything without some overriding motivation driving them to do what they do. Motivations can be good. The leader who sees one of his people hurting because of a recent tragedy may be aware of the negative effect their absence may be on a project, but they may be more motivated by a desire to see that person get the time away that they need to recover. That’s an example of a good motivation. But motivations are all too often very negative. The leader who is motivated by a need to see a project completed will demand their people’s participation no matter what is going on in their personal life.

People want to know why something is important. They want to be motivated. Think about it. The decisions you make and the actions you take are usually all that your people see if you’re a leader. Yet beneath the decisions and actions are the motivations driving those actions. Those are things people don’t see, but they know are there. What motivates you to do the things that you do? Really think about it and try to clearly put it into words.

If you need to lead a group of people to accomplish something, why not surround yourself with people who are motivated by the same things you are? If your people are motivated by the same things you are, they’ll do the things you want them to do, and they’ll do it gladly and with excellence. The best leaders are able to articulate why they do what they do, and they share it with those they lead so that they can be motivated by the leader’s vision as well.

Defining the why behind the actions you take is also a great strategy for defining what actions to take. If an action doesn’t fit your why, then you move on to something else that does. By knowing their core motivations, a leader can run an organization more tightly and build an organizational culture around a shared vision. 

2. Encourage Regularly

If you’re going to be a people-centered leader, you have to be intentional about letting your people know that you genuinely care about their well-being and their professional growth. This also means that you’re relentlessly observant of the things that your people do well and praise them for it. The people-centered leader doesn’t just give compliments to motivate people, however. Instead, they compliment because they genuinely care about their people’s strengths. An encouraging leader will seek out ways to provide opportunities for their people to continue to develop their strengths.

3. Operate from Your Strengths

Tom Rath of the Gallup Organization has written in his book Strengths-Based Leadership, “If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.” The temptation for many leaders is to do everything themselves. They want to exhibit competence in every area where leadership can be exercised. The problem is that no one is wired to to be talented at everything. We all have areas of strength, and, unfortunately, we also have areas of weakness. While leaders can work hard to try to compensate for their weaknesses, their weaknesses will likely never elevate to the level of a strength. While they should, to a certain degree, seek to improve in their areas of weakness, spending all their energy in trying to develop their weaknesses into strengths is wasted energy. After all, if you’re good at something, that’s the thing that you should do. Great leaders work from their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.

In an article for AskMen.com, Simon Sinek wrote,

“If you want to lead, focus on your own areas of leadership. If you’re a great motivator, then motivate. If you’re a great manager, then manage. If you’re a great organizer, then help others stay organized. If you’re a visionary, then talk about the things you can see.”

An agenda-centered leader will be often be ruled by self-consciousness as the prospect of one of their people being more competent in an area where they’re not naturally gifted. This will drive the leader to either work extra hard to compensate for their own weaknesses or do everything they can to keep the person who is gifted in that area from exercising their strengths. In that type of leadership culture, everyone suffers. A people-centered leader isn’t bothered by the areas of leaderships where some of their people are more gifted. They recognize the areas where they are gifted, and they operate from those strengths. Instead of keeping people from exercising strengths in areas where they are weak, they celebrate the strengths of their people and seek opportunities to help them develop their strengths even more.

4. Allow Others to Compensate for Your Weaknesses

Not only will the people-centered leader celebrate the strengths of their people, they’ll entrust their people to use those areas of strength for the good of the organization. A people-centered leader understands their role not as someone who is above and outside of the team, but as one part of the team. They happen to be an integral part of the team who provides strategy and motivation, but they understand that, as a part of the team, they are surrounded by people who, in some areas, can do a better job than they can. This type of leader is confident enough to delegate responsibility so that their people are excelling in the areas where they are gifted and they’re developing their own leadership skills. Sinek also captured this important principle in the same article for AskMen.com:

“Identify your own strength, build on it and surround yourself with people who are brilliant at all the things you’re not. What you’re left with is a team worth leading.”

The people-centered leader is focused on the strength development of every member of their team, and they are more likely to see significant success because their people know why they’re doing what they’re doing and they trust their leader enough to do the things they need to do with excellence. Develop the leadership capability of your people so that you’re constantly developing new leaders for the future.

People-centered leaders are more often able to create the momentum needed to get things accomplished with their team than those with an agenda. If you want to create a culture of trust, creativity, and healthy productivity, people-centered leadership is the way to go.