The 3Ps of great Leadership

The 3 Ps of leadership

In the previous module we looked at how a leader positions herself from an operational point of view, whether she focuses her attention on the people in her team, or whether she focuses on the processes that support the team. But how does a leader’s attitude apply? This module will look at this in a bit more detail as we examine the 3 Ps of leadership, Principles, Purpose and People. 

Most people who have a range of experience working in various teams, would have come across a range of leadership styles and some of these would align with our own values and some inevitably won’t. However, within each leadership style you still get those who are perceived as good leaders and those who are not. For example we’ve all experienced good leaders who are autocratic in their style, and no doubt we’ve all experienced poor leaders who are more democratic in their style. What makes a good or a bad leader, therefore, is not necessarily the style of leadership that they are most aligned to, it is more than that and far more closely aligned to their ability to navigate the Principles or Values of the organisation or team, the Purpose behind their team and People within the team. Those who can effectively blend all three Ps are more likely to achieve greater success as leaders. Let’s have a look at these in more detail.

Starting with Principles: These are the values that define the team’s ethos. In many ways, this is the most important of the three Ps because the values are what underpins the culture in which the people and purpose will grow. Without a set of principles or values the team will be rudderless. 

A good example of this is the ‘Green’ School concept. Initiated in Bali, the Green School was conceived of with the underlying principles of sustainability and a green agenda. You just have to take a look at their website and you’ll gain an instant sense of what their underlying principles are, without having to read too far into it. Their set of values is also very clear if you DO read about them and this is an indication that they have a strong set of principles.  

A leader who has a sound set of principles, and whose principles align with those of the team that they are leading will make use of these principles just as a sailor makes use of the north star; as a guide to inform their decision making. However, a leader who ONLY looks after the principles of how his team conducts themselves isn’t necessarily successful unless he understands the purpose of his team’s role as well.

Purpose refers more to WHAT a team gets done. The purpose of any organisation refers to the core business or activity of the organisation. For schools the core business is about educating children. Good school leaders will pay close attention to the quality of teaching and learning that is delivered at their school. For this reason they make sure that they keep an eye to the efficiency of how things are running, and maintain a close eye on accountability of their team and the individuals in it. This is why accountability systems are so important to any organisation. Without them in place, or indeed if they are not well designed in line with the team’s goals, it won’t matter how well the team is being led, it will be almost impossible to achieve goals, especially if they are ambitious ones which require hard work and lots of input from everybody. 

The 3rd P stands for people. People are THE most important resource of any organisation, whether it be a school, a factory or a military unit. All teams are made up of people. Good leaders recognise this and pay attention to the people in their teams. They make sure that their team members have the support they need to function at their best, and they also make sure that their team members have opportunities to thrive and grow professionally.

Clearly a leader who focuses on only one of these three aspects, will be ineffective in significant ways. But let’s look at leaders who neglect only one of the 3Ps, and try and imagine how that is likely to play out.

Starting with a leader who has a sound set of values which align with the team’s values, and that same leader is a great leader of people, in other words he knows how to look after his team. This type of leader would make sure his team were all on board behind a communal set of values. This means they would think along the same lines together so there is likely to be a good sense of togetherness, or teamwork. People are valued individually as well so work is enjoyable. Results, however, are not a focus so the organisation risks falling behind, becoming unprofitable or simply not achieving its goals. 

Moving on to our next type of leader who is still a principled person but who does not really care too much about the people in his/her team, but rather focuses on results. Most likely outcome here is that the team will feel as though they work for someone who is perhaps a bit aloof, or seemingly uncaring of them as individuals, and only really cares about getting results. This is likely to be a miserable team, even though they achieve good results, they won’t feel as if their leader(s) care about them as individuals. Teams like this can be identified by a high turnover of staff, for example, or indeed by the work rate of individuals being relatively low. People won’t feel motivated on an individual level, and therefore, won’t be inclined to bring more than they have to, to the table.

Our third example leader is one who cares deeply about his people, and is very good at attending to the core business at hand, but lacks a set of binding principles. People in teams like this will feel valued as individuals, and will do the work that is put in front of them, probably to a high standard. BUT there is unlikely to be any sense of team spirit or team goal, and vision is very difficult to attain. Teams led by such leaders are likely to feel like a group of individuals rather than a team.

The best leaders are those who can position their leadership in the centre of this Venn diagram. They attend to all three of the Ps with equal importance, varying their style to make sure they meet the demands of their teams as and when they need them. If there is a need to re-establish values, they conduct training or discussions to do this. If results are dropping they attend to this by seeking structures and processes that can resolve this, and if they sense their team members are unhappy with any area of work, they attend to the individuals and groups as necessary. 

Good leaders have their fingers on the pulse of their teams, and in this way they attend to the right P at the right time.   

This module and the previous one have focused on the principles of leadership that apply across all levels of leadership, and are therefore, important to think about if you are considering your leadership skill in a broad sense. In the next module we will start to look more specifically at things that effective middle leaders do. You will be able to apply the theory of the past couple of modules to what comes up in the module about effective middle leaders, to strengthen your understanding of leadership overall.

Point of Reflection:

It is very difficult to operate perfectly in balance in terms of the 3Ps. Not many leaders will have their finger so firmly on the pulse of their teams that they are able to respond immediately to changing dynamics within the team’s operations.

Reflect on the relationship between the team you are in, and the wider organisation within which you exist. 

  1. Where has the organisation responded well to your needs as a team?
  2. Where has the organisation not responded well to your needs as a team?
  3. What, in your opinion, was the reason for this?

Personal Development Activity:
Sorting Activity (30 mins)

  1. In your leadership journal, create a 3 way Venn diagram and label it like the one in the modular material (People, Processes, Principles)
  2. Place the following famous leaders where you believe they belong on the diagram:
    • Justin Trudeau (Canadian Prime minister)
    • Vladimir Putin (Russian President)
    • Volodymyr Zalensky (Ukrainian President)
    • Paul Kigame (Rwandan President)
    • Michelle Obama (ex First Lady of the USA)
    • Mother Theresa (Nun and Missionary)
    • Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Political Ethicist)
    • Boris Johnson (UK Prime Minister)
    • Nelson Mandela (Ex President of SA)
    • Winston Churchill (ex Prime Minister of UK)
    • Maya Angelou (Poet, Civil Rights Activist)
    • Donald Trump (ex President of the USA)