The 9 (or 99?) Ps of Leadership

Guest post from Sander Flaum:

Back in 2001, when I was asked to lead a forum in leadership at what is now the Fordham Gabelli Graduate School of Business, the concept was to bring noted leaders (business and otherwise) into a classroom where they could share their experiences and insights with MBA students. I believed that if students could meet successful leaders in a setting that encouraged open dialogue, we could transcend rote instruction and create life-learning experiences.

However, as a succession of leaders, including William Toppeta, CEO of MetLife, Myrtle Potter, COO at Genentech, Howard Safir, New York City Police Commissioner, and many others spoke at the Forum, it became clear that the concepts we were uncovering were in need of an organizing tool.

Then, as now, business writing was replete with alliterative formulas. A little Internet research will turn up “the 7 Ps of Marketing,” “the 7 Cs of Success,” “the 4 Ls of Retirement Planning,” and so on. To anyone who thinks these lists are a bit corny, consider that Jack Welch swore by his 3 Es: energy, energize, and edge. If an alliterative list was good enough for Welch, it’s good enough for me.

At the Forum, we decided to structure our insights about Leadership into Ps – and we didn’t stop with 7 – we eventually agreed upon 9! Were we the first to propose Leadership Ps? All I can say is that I haven’t found any Leadership list that antedates ours.

1. People – One of our early guest speakers, William Toppeta, put it this way: “Focus on the people and the numbers will come. Focus on the numbers and the people will go.”

2. Purpose – Obviously, you shouldn’t be leading if you don’t know where you’re going.

3. Passion – It’s not enough to be passionate about the job yourself, it’s also your responsibility to cultivate passion within the organization – not to rain on anyone’s parade.

4. Performance – Be as obsessed with your own performance as the performance of those who report to you.

5. Persistence – Jeff Rich, former CEO of Affiliated Computer Systems, told the Forum: “Persistence is about loving something so much that you refuse to ever abandon it.”

6. Perspective – Remember the role you and your organization are in the big picture.

7. Paranoia – It’s not worrying about oneself, but fear that your organization may be in jeopardy or missing opportunities. “Hypervigilance” is probably more accurate, but it doesn’t begin with P and it doesn’t have the same punch.

8. Principles – Christine Poon, a top executive at Johnson & Johnson, put it this way to the Forum: “A company’s values can provide a powerful inspiration and ultimately shape everything about the company.”

9. Practice – It’s essential to keep working at being a leader constantly – once you accept the responsibility of leading, there’s no holding back.

But wait, there’s more!

In the course of teaching these 9 Ps, I’ve noticed something peculiar. Most students carefully record each “P” in their notebooks (classroom habits are hard to break) and ask if they will be on the final. But a few more curious souls will grasp the process behind the 9 Ps and use them a springboard to inspire their own thinking about leadership. These people typically accost me outside the classroom, perhaps in an elevator or hallway, and after a moment, say something like: “Sander, I had an idea for a 10th P.”

Remembering P3 – Passion (and not raining on parades), I’ll say: “Great, tell me about it!”

And then I hear the suggestions: Probity, Process, Progressive, Poise, Productivity, Pursuit, Perfection – and more.

Do any – or all — belong in our list? Who knows how many Ps could be used to describe Leadership? For me, I’m satisfied with the 9 we developed at the Forum. But if someone wants to explore further, I’ll never try to hold them back.

As a leader, when you teach people in your organization, you’re not bestowing a gift. You’re planting a seed. A list like the 9 Ps is a trellis that can help their own ideas grow.

Sander Flaum, M.B.A., co-author of Boost Your Career: How To Make An Impact, Get

Recognized, and Build The Career You Want, is CEO of Flaum Navigators, a consulting firm that helps companies accelerate business growth through transformational ideas that galvanize leadership, brand building, and innovation. He is chair of the Fordham Leadership Forum at the Fordham University Gabelli Graduate School of Business, Executive-in-Residence at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, and is the author of several books including The 100-Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find The Essence of Leadership.
For more information, please visit: