• Sarah Cameron

Why You Need Leadership Principles In Your Business


Take some time to browse the ‘Corporate’ or ‘About Us’ sections of an organisation’s website, and you will likely find sections about leadership culture or leadership principles. Do not skip them and move on; take a closer look. Leadership principles are a core component of a company’s culture and, looking at them will tell you a lot about what the organisation stands for.

Leadership principles are not – and should not – be confined to the realms of larger companies, they have a significant purpose in every organisation. But what are they, and why must you absolutely must have them in your business

What are leadership principles?

Leadership principles are guideposts to effective management. Often communicated or displayed in lists, prominently on websites, and communicated through the vehicle of internal communications, as an integral part of an organisation’s culture - leadership principles reflect company values. They are non-negotiable behaviours and/or qualities that every leader on the books must abide by.

Leadership principles are rarely technical or full of jargon. They are more connected to attitudes or soft skills. Some examples are:

“Learn and be curious” (Amazon).  
 
“Do what you love” (Apple). 
 
“Lead by example” (IKEA). 
 
“Celebrate your people's success, not your own” (Marriott International). 

Leadership principles are significantly transferrable. They are designed to be equally attainable, whether you are an entry-level manager or a C-suite executive. The idea is simple: if leaders live by leadership principles, they will go far in the organisation.

Setting leadership principles is not a quick process – you will need to sit with your leadership team and carefully and thoroughly consider what your organisation stands for, where your culture is today and, where you want it to be. This ‘mapping out’ stage must not be rushed as it’s that move from today’s culture to a future culture where these behaviours will make a real difference.

Why are leadership principles important?

It’s dangerous to cast aside leadership principles as ‘fluff’ or worse still, ‘brainwashing’. They have a very real place in any organisation, not just multinationals like Amazon or Apple.

Firstly, leadership principles can help you recruit the right people. Setting out these principles will ‘advertise’ what the leadership culture is like to prospective candidates. If they like what they read, and better yet, self-identify with what you are offering, they will apply to the position hopefully will be hired - then you will end up with superb leaders who are culturally aligned to your organisation. A word of caution here: make sure you deliver on what you are promising, otherwise you will be destroying the psychological contract before it has even started!

Leadership principles also serve as behavioural norms. These are the organisational expectations in terms of how leaders are expected to act and represent the business. In this sense, leadership principles act as a barometer of consistency, thus contributing to employer branding, standards, and organisational culture.

Both employees and the wider organisation might find direction and purpose in leadership principles. Individuals might use these principles to shape who they are, as well as factoring them into their personal and professional goals. Organisations might use leadership principles to drive new projects and shape wider strategic initiatives. Leadership principles can therefore be powerful motivational and operational tools.

Another reason to set leadership principles is that they can attract clients or customers. People prefer to do business with organisations of the same mindset as their own. Companies can align with other organisations whose principles are similar and offer business to organisations with significant commonality.

Final thoughts:

When looking at your long-term to-do list, setting organisational leadership principles might not look like priority number one, but taking the time to carefully set them out will provide your leaders and the organisation with a clear framework to which all other behaviours and actions can be attached. If they are set out carefully, thoroughly communicated and most important of all, always adhered to, leadership principles will serve as your organisation’s guiding star and will come to mean as much to your organisation as its logo or the name above the door.