Dennis Conner

Leadership = Purpose, Plan, People, and Priorities

Leadership is purpose, plan, people, and prioritiesWhether you are leading a team of thousands, hundreds, tens, or just yourself, these four P’s of leadership are essential for success. Without them you and your team are like a boat without a rudder, drifting on the sea in an unknown direction. Leadership is about choosing the destination and navigating the ship on the right course.

Dennis Conner is a four time winner of the America’s Cup sailing competition. He is known as “Mister America’s Cup,” for his leadership in the sport, raising it from amateur to professional status. He instituted year round practice and physical conditioning to raise his team to the top.


Conner covered all of the four P’s of leadership in his run of four wins, and is quoted as saying, “My goal in sailing isn’t to be brilliant or flashy in individual races, just to be consistent over the long run.”

Consistent success requires leadership in all areas.


How do you know if you have successfully achieved your purpose? You first need to know the purpose of your team. Before you begin to lead a team you need to clearly understand where you and the team will be when success comes. Only then can you articulate the greater good to your team members so they understand where they will be when the team is successful.

“There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose” – Napoleon Hill.

 Purpose is the cornerstone of leadership. It is that which supports all activity. It is like the North Star for the sailor. It can be counted on to lead you in the right direction.


Once you are clear on your purpose, you must plan a course to reach that purpose. Great leadership requires that the leader navigate the team to success.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” – Pablo Picasso

Sailors understand that the wind and waves can shift in a moment. Successful sailors know how to adjust their sails and sometimes their direction to make use of any wind conditions to achieve their purpose.

When obstacles arise, the course may need to be changed so that the purpose is successfully achieved. Continually adjusting the plan to stay on course is true leadership

Purpose, and a plan to reach your purpose, are essential to successful leadership. These two alone, though, are quickly found to have their limits. Long term success only comes when the last two of the four P’s of leadership are added.  


You brought your team where they are today, but you can’t bring them any further on your own. No matter how clear your purpose is, no matter the strength of your plan, if you want to extend the positive results beyond what you are accomplishing now, you will need to make room for others to share in the success of your leadership journey. You must surround yourself with the right people.

Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.

-Those whom you follow must be capable and willing to invest their time helping you grow.

-Your peers must be true partners who, like you, look for opportunities to complete as opposed to compete.

-Those whom you lead must have a teachable heart and a drive to learn.

In all cases there should be an open exchange of what each person does best. What can you fulfill in each other?


I summarize the first three P’s of leadership like this: Achieve your purpose by executing your plan through your people.

So why is there a fourth P of leadership having to do with priorities? Because our dreams, plans, and goals should be bigger than any solution we can imagine.

In order to get started finding that solution, boil down the activities to the smallest step you can imagine. What do I know my team and I can do tomorrow?

That is what priorities are for – To get everyone moving in the same direction.

First, eliminate what’s not important.

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” – Lin Yu Tang

Then, focus on what is important.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen R. Covey

It’s not will you need to lead through a crisis, it’s when. Here’s how.


If there is one guarantee in your leadership career it’s that your plans won’t always work. You will face a crisis or two that can derail your dreams if not handled correctly. Here is how other successful leaders have lead through crisis, come out on the other side intact, and gone on to achieve their dreams.

Aptitude. You have to know what to do in a crisis before there is a crisis.

During a crisis there is little time to think through options and there is no time to learn new skills. Experienced successful leaders already know what to do and how to do it when a crisis hits. How did they come upon this ability? They learned from others who were there before them and practiced before their own crisis happened.

Leadership expert John Maxwell tells a story about being on a private jet that hit a wind sheer during its landing. The plane turned sideways and bounced on the runway. As soon as wheels touched the ground, the pilot pulled the plane back up into the air, circled once and landed with no issues. John was impressed with the pilot’s actions and asked him when he decided to pull the plane up and out of the wind sheer? The pilot answered, “Twenty years ago when I learned how to react to any crisis that can happen during a landing.”

Attitude. You have to be willing to change course during a crisis to get back on course.

A crisis doesn’t mean the end to your dream, just a detour. Successful leaders never give in and never give up. They find a way to succeed.

I was in St. Thomas recently with a group of leaders and we had the opportunity to talk with three time Americas Cup winning skipper, Dennis Conner. We asked him what advice he could give us from his sailing experience on leading during a crisis. “It’s simple,” he said, “When winners face a crisis they just switch from being in front to finding a way to get back in front.

Altitude. You have to rise high above a crisis and be a beacon for others to follow.

The two most important words during a crisis are “Follow Me.” Now more than ever its time for the leader to be visible, vocal, and visionary. You own this one. It’s up to you to be right up front leading the charge.

Legendary French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle said, “Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own.”

Purpose, plan, people, and priorities – there can be no leadership without them

DenispostWhether you are leading a team of thousands, hundreds, tens, or just yourself, these four P’s of leadership are essential for success. Without them you and your team are like a boat without a rudder, drifting on the sea in an unknown direction. Leadership is about choosing the destination and navigating the ship on the right course.

Read More…

 Scroll to top