Habits, goals, and principles

2006

It's that time of year. People sit down and examine what they didn't do last year and resolve - once again - to lose weight, get in shape, or start a new habit of some kind. But since these intentions usually fall short, perhaps it's reasonable to consider trying something different this year.

The mere fact that New Year's resolutions are often faded memories by March or April attest to some level of human frailty when it comes to follow up. So instead of goals or new habits, why not examine our internal principles? Instead of losing weight or walking "x" number of times per week, how about giving thought to our values and beliefs from which we make our choices?

My current Webster's dictionary defines a principle as "a fundamental law; a personal or specific basis of conduct or management; a guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct."

With all the corruption we see in the corporate world and in various governments, wouldn't it be nice to see people revisiting and reconsidering their principles?

Alas, corporate fat cats and high-ranking government officials are outside our circle of influence. Since the only person over whom we have control is ourselves, it just makes sense that if we're going to advocate a review of principles, we ought to start with ourselves.

Recently I saw on TV an interview with football coach Dan Hawkins. Hawkins has taken a job as head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes after five successful years (winning 53 games and losing only 10) coaching the Boise State Broncos. In this reflective interview, Coach Hawkins was asked about some of the (few) losses his teams experienced. He downplayed them. "It's about the principles," he said. "It's about the principles that matter."

For example, one of Coach Hawkins' axioms is "Don't try to win, just be a winner." He believes if a person (or a team) does the right things, then doing those things consistently will lead them to winning.

Another of Coach Hawkins' principles is to hire good people and let them do their thing. He's not a micro-manager. He sets high expectations, but he also creates an atmosphere of trust. As a result, his entire organization operates on a level of mutual respect.

Can you imagine how smooth your workplace would operate under similar principles?

Continuing with a bit of definition, principles are not practices. Practices - the actions we take – are derived from principles. Good principles lead to good actions. Poor or non-existent principles are the conditions that lead people to poor or dangerous choices. Compare a person with no principles to a ship without a rudder.

Larry Colero, a Certified Management Consultant based in Vancouver, Canada, suggests we should have three levels of principles: Personal, Professional, and Global. Here is Colero's suggested list of Personal principles:

Concern for the well-being of others
Respect for the autonomy of others
Trustworthiness & honesty
Willing compliance with the law
Basic justice; being fair
Refusing to take unfair advantage
Benevolence: doing good
Preventing harm

On a professional level, Colero suggests:

Impartiality; objectivity
Openness; full disclosure
Confidentiality
Due diligence / duty of care
Fidelity to professional responsibilities
Avoiding potential or apparent conflict of interest

Interestingly, Colero says that over the years he's suggested these lists, very few changes have been recommended. This ought to tell us something about the resiliency, durability, and reliability of good, solid principles.

If you've not thought of them for a while, perhaps a review of principles would be beneficial. It certainly couldn't hurt. And based on the current state of affairs we see around us, it might genuinely help.

Besides, we're more likely to have success reviewing our principles than keeping a weight-loss goal … and we might even be a better person for it.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.

Older Comments

Thanks, Dan, for quoting an excerpt of my work on universal principles of ethics. They still haven't changed, and continue to be used worldwide for a wide range of purposes. I'd like to clarify two things:

1. I don't think people 'should' do anything in general, and the principles were not meant as a prescription for moral behaviour. They often conflict with each other, so a person could go crazy trying to comply with them all in every situation. Judgement is the essential ingredient underlying these typical principles. It requires both intuition and analysis in applying the general principles like 'rules of thumb' to weigh options, consider impacts, and perform other steps often required to make ethical choices.

2. I appreciate the need to keep your article brief, but the presentation of the first two categories of principles without the third may make them difficult to understand and apply out of context. For those who want to read the entire set, including what I called Global ethics (for lack of a better term) and a short explanation of how these principles should be applied in combination with each other, they can take a look at the 3-page article at: www.ethics.ubc.ca/papers/invited/colero.html

Again, thanks for using my material, Dan. Larry Colero

Larry Colero Vancouver, Canada