The Five P's of Leadership

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 9, 2018 4:14:10 PM

There are whole libraries full of things that tell you what to do about leadership and how to remember what’s important. Here’s another short edition to that library – the 5 P’s of leadership. They are:

  1. Pay Attention to What’s Important
  2. Praise What You Want to Continue
  3. Punish What You Want to Stop
  4. Pay for the Results You Want
  5. Promote the People Who Deliver Those Results

Pay Attention To What’s Important 

Time management courses, strategy books, and management gurus all will tell you that there’s not a lot that’s really important. Your job as a leader is to concentrate on what’s most important so that it gets taken care of. Then let the rest of the stuff take care of itself.

Now if you’re a perfectionist, that’s going to be hard for you to do. But there’s not a “P for perfectionism” in this scheme of things. No, we recognize that there are limited resources of time, energy, people, and money. Because those resources are limited, you want to go for the big stuff first.

What you’re after is the 20% of stuff that gives you the biggest bang for the buck. What underlies all of this is something called Pareto’s Law. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian Economist and Sociologist in the late 19th century. He formulated something he called "The Law of the Unequal Distribution of Results." You probably know it as the 80/20 rule. All the 80/20 rules says is that there’s 20% of the stuff you do that gets you 80% of the results. The trick is finding that 20%. Once you’ve found it you then have to pay attention to it.

Pay attention to it in your written and oral communications. Restate the key themes over and over. Don’t undervalue repetition, repetition makes for memory and memory makes for action.

Pay attention to it in your casual contacts. John Kotter, in his book to general managers, pointed out that effective general managers make great use of the random contacts they have with people. Those contacts could be in the hallway, at the water cooler, in the elevator, or walking down the street. They seize on those moments to talk about the things and ask the questions that are important to their leadership agenda. You should do that too.

Organize your day, your communications, your organizational structures, your reward systems and everything else to pay attention to what’s important and then do that with unremitting diligence.

Praise What You Want to Continue 

Praise is your best training tool. In technical terms, praise is a positive consequence that follows a positive action. It’s a reward for something done right. Use praise to get people to continue to do things or to take positive action. That’s where it’s best used.

Remember, too, that praise is a tool that is most effective when it’s used inconsistently. Used consistently, praise tends to loose its force. So, don’t worry so much about praising everything that people do right, but do worry about praising. That’s important, because most of us came up in a world where we didn’t praise enough. Seek out opportunities to praise but don’t get anal retentive about it. 

Punish What You Want to Stop

Punishment is the mirror image of praise. It’s a negative consequence that follows negative behavior. It follows a principle stated almost in biblical terms by one of my past trainees. She said: "the good shall be rewarded and the unjust shall be punished in proportion to their deeds."

Punishment—negative consequences—are the tool you use to get people to stop stuff. If you figure out what’s most important for people to quit doing in your organization, rig up some kind of negative consequence for them if they do it. Be careful though, because you may fall prey to the hot stove guideline. It was Mark Twain (or if it wasn’t it should have been) who said, "A cat who sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. But he won’t sit on a cold stove either.

The management lesson here is that if you zap people too much with negative consequences, they don’t just quit doing the stuff that you don’t want them to do. They quit doing pretty much everything. That’s why "rule by fear" and "controlled ferocity" cultures have a devil of a time getting people to take initiative. They’ve been zapped so often they’re just not willing to risk it.

Pay For the Results You Want 

Years ago when I was managing distribution and customer service centers I happened to compliment one of the customer service reps. She immediately turned around to me and said, "Don’t just tell me, show me, payday is Friday."

Pay is one of the tangible ways you can reward people for doing good stuff. It’s another form of praise in visible, tangible form. Don’t limit your thinking about pay to just money, though. Pay people with time off, recognition, choice assignments, small gifts, and special bonuses to encourage the behavior you want.

One of my clients used to carry around a pocket-full of restaurant gift certificates as he wandered around his trucking company. When he found somebody doing something that he wanted to encourage he was likely to whip out a gift certificate and hand it to them on the spot. It created the kind of event and drama that makes for good communication, and it encouraged positive behavior.

Another client of mine, a police chief this time, did something similar. She was a police chief in Texas, and, as you might expect, she talked like a Texan. She had little slips made up with one of her favorite phrases on them. It was, "’preciate ya."

When she heard something about one of her officers that was positive, she sent them one of her ‘preciate ya’ slips. When she caught somebody doing something she wanted to encourage she handed one out. Officers collected the slips and when they got enough, they got recognition in the department newsletter and some extra time off. Look for ways to pay for the results you want. Pay and praise are the things that get the engine of progress going.

Promote People Who Deliver The Results You Want

This one just makes sense. The problem is that lots of organizations forget about it. They maintain reward and promotion systems that reward the old behavior, even while they’re trumpeting the new behavior in memos, meetings, and executive retreats.

When I was just starting out in consulting, a much more experienced and wiser consultant said to me, "When you first go into an organization, pay attention to who it is they promote. Listen to the stories that folks tell you about who gets promoted and rewarded and why. That will tell you just about everything you need to know about what the real organizational priorities are."

What are the stories that your people tell in your organization? What are the stories they tell about their bosses? You want those stories to be positive about great things their bosses have done. If all the stories are negatives, buddy you've got a problem.

What do your folks say about the folks who are promoted? Do they feel they got promoted on merit because of their performance or because they just happened to "know somebody" or worse.

The five P’s of leadership will help you stay on track to positive organizational change. Remember to pay attention to what’s important, praise what you want to continue, punish what you want to stop, pay for the results you want, and promote the people who deliver those results and you’ll help your organization be the very best that it can become.

Wally Bock contributed this article to the Fundraising Free Press.  To find out more, check out his website

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: Capital Campaigns, leadership skills, professional development, Professional Skill Building, professional skill building

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