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The Five Principles of Leadership: Guiding Your Path to Success

By Tricia Ball, Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce President & CEO
By Tricia Ball, Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce President & CEO

Marshall University President Brad D. Smith, former CEO of Intuit and co-founder of the Wing2Wing Foundation, shared his insights on leadership through what he calls the "Five Principles of Leadership" or the "Five P's" at the Huntington Young Professionals (HYP) August Luncheon. Huntington Young Professionals, Sponsored by Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, is an affiliate group of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce. These principles—potential, purpose, people, playbook, and pay it forward—offer a comprehensive framework for effective leadership that can be applied across various industries and roles.


1. Potential: Creating an Environment for Growth

“I see two people: the person you are today and the person I know you’re capable of being. And I’m going to make my life’s work to introduce those two people.” – Bill Campbell

According to Smith, a leader's role is not to inject greatness into their team members but to foster an environment in which their potential can flourish. He emphasized that every individual possesses inherent greatness, and a leader's task is to create an environment where that individual can shine. Smith recalls the influence of Bill Campbell, a legendary coach and executive, who believed in the potential of each person. Campbell's philosophy of authenticity resonated deeply with Smith, as he shared the story of being advised not to get rid of his West Virginia accent while working in Silicon Valley. Smith encouraged everyone in management roles to start one-on-one meetings by focusing on personal growth before diving into project-related tasks, affirming the principle that people should always come before projects. As Smith said, “people do not care what you know until they know that you care.”


2. Purpose: Setting the Ideal State

“The purpose of leadership is not to make the present bearable. The purpose of leadership is to make the future possible.” – Joan D. Chittister

Smith stressed the significance of having a clear and ambitious purpose as a foundation for leadership. A purpose should be a grand vision, challenging enough that no individual on the team can achieve it alone. Smith advised that while “SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound) Goals” are good for an objective, leaders want to create an ideal state for a purpose. An ideal state is what a perfect world would like when a problem or opportunity has been solved amazingly well. Smith cited examples of companies that set ambitious ideals, like the founders of Google, whose ideal state is to produce one right answer to every search; Amazon, whose ideal state is to be the world’s greatest retailer by having the broadest selection, the lowest prices, and the fastest delivery; and Toyota, whose ideal state is create an automobile that never breaks down. Marshall University’s current ideal state, affectionally called “Marshall For All, Marshall Forever,” is that, by 2037, 100% of students will be placed in a career of their choice with zero student loan debt by graduation. By pursuing challenging objectives, leaders can inspire and rally their teams toward remarkable achievements.


3. People: The Heart of Effective Leadership

“A player who makes a team great is better than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that's teamwork.”” – John Wooden

Smith said that a leader’s first job is to recruit a team of all-stars, and then teach them how to be an all-star team. He said he looks for three things when building a team:

  1. Intellectual curiosity – find someone who is a “learn it all,” not a “know it all.”
  2. Humility – find someone who is humble enough to say when they need help or don’t know the answer.
  3. Grit – find someone who is okay with failing and is willing to try again when they get knocked down.

Smith underscored the power of teamwork by sharing the wisdom of geese. Science has shown that geese can travel 70% further when flying together in a V formation rather than alone because it reduces wind resistance. Geese take turns leading at the front, as the lead position is tiring and they rotate frequently. The honking sound isn't complaining but actually serves as an encouragement and rhythm to maintain the formation. If a goose becomes weak or sick, others drop down to protect it until it recovers, what Smith calls “the power of we before me.” Smith said putting together a team like that is the key to achieving a purpose everyone else thinks is unattainable.


4. Playbook: Simplifying Strategy Execution

“More businesses die from indigestion than starvation.” – David Packard

Leadership involves crafting a playbook to not only maximize individual ability but to harness organizational capability. Smith cautioned, though, that the more complicated a playbook is, the less effective it becomes. He said that they key is to realize that “more force behind a more narrow area maximizes execution,” referring to an example from when he punched through a cinder block to receive his Black Belt. Smith advocated for a limited number of priorities to ensure effective execution. He referenced the "critical few priorities" concept, which has proven that no more than six variables can be truly causal to a desired outcome and that, once you go over six, it starts to diminish execution. He went on to talk about the power of three, referencing Shakespeare writing plays in three acts, number one hits on the pop charts singing the chorus three times, and even commercials saying the phone number at the end of a jingle three times. Smith said that you can maximize the results of your all-star team when you focus them on a playbook of three to six priorities.


5. Pay It Forward: The Ripple Effect of Leadership

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

Smith encouraged the young professionals in the room to read a book called The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Mater – And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay. For the older professionals, Smith shared that when he stepped down as the CEO of Intuit, he interviewed people in their 70s and 80s to help him identify and articulate his “why.” He shared that his way to pay it forward is by coming home to West Virginia, serving those who served him, and giving back to the institution that made him.

(Read more in Smith’s “How to Discover Your Why: What I Learned from my Transition from CEO”)

He emphasized the importance of extending a helping hand to those who are following in their footsteps, fostering a culture of mentorship and support. This principle underscores the idea that leadership is not just about personal success, but also about elevating others and leaving a positive legacy.


President Smith's Five Principles of Leadership—potential, purpose, people, playbook, and pay it forward—offer valuable insights for aspiring and established leaders alike. The book A Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt further expands on these management lessons from legendary coach and business executive Bill Campbell, whose mentoring has helped create well over a trillion dollars in market value.

By embracing these principles, leaders can create environments that foster growth, set ambitious goals, prioritize people, streamline strategy execution, and contribute positively to the development of others. Incorporating these principles into your leadership approach can pave the way for impactful and meaningful leadership journeys.

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