Here in the Leadership Initiative, we have started to develop a concept called principled leadership. Principles are “motivating forces that guide a leader’s actions.” The most fundamental principles are our values. Thus, principled leaders consistently use their values to guide decisions. Like ethical leadership, principled leaders follow a moral code. However, principled leaders are also transparent in communicating those values so that followers can know what to expect from a leader. One may not always agree with a principled leader because one will not always share his or her values. We will, however, always know where principled leaders are coming from, because we know their values and trust that those values are guiding their decisions. 

While leaders, like all individuals, may differ in their ethicality, we do not necessarily find judging individuals as more or less ethical the most productive way to develop leaders. Most leaders make decisions in shades of grey where values trade-offs are common. Principled leaders, as do we all, make value tradeoffs, such that favoring values at one time means sacrificing on certain values. Principled leaders make decisions guided by those most cherished values, or unafraid of favoring some values or others, and consistently lead in a transparent manner, all while adhering to the ethical codes and standards of their environment.

P-E-T-A-L is our multi-level, evidence-based principled leadership model that has advantages over other models and measures of leadership.


Principled A leader who consistently makes decisions based on values.

Elevating A leader whose values match normative standards

Techniques A leader who clearly communicates his principles to others

Activities The behaviors a leader skillfully executes to achieve principles

Levels A leader who realizes effectiveness must occur at multiple levels


P-E-T-A-L is built upon decades of leadership research and is firmly grounded on a strong foundation of evidence. Meanwhile, different from most existing leadership models, which are more singular and only measure a few leadership traits, the P-E-T-A-L model is more comprehensive by including leadership skills from multiple levels, including the organization/unit as a whole, the leadership acts involved in relating to others and, most fundamentally of all, leadership of oneself. We label these three levels as Stewardship, Relational Skills, and Self-Leadership, respectively.