The acronym HiPPO carries a negative connotation, but it doesn't have to. Going forward, it can be a beacon of positivity.

Here's why.

The traditional HiPPO in business is the thing that so often is seen as the opposite of progress, engagement, leadership, inspiration, collaboration and humility.

The HiPPO (meaning Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) usually stirs perceptions from the wider team of egotism and short-sightedness, whilst generating frustration for everyone underneath them within an organisation.

If you have never worked within a company where you’ve had a HiPPO running the show, you’re one of the lucky ones.

If you think you might be the one being perceived as a HiPPO, then consider this a guide to change.

The reality is this…

Every business will always have a HiPPO, but do we have to accept and work in businesses where the typical negative influences on company culture are driven from the top down?

Do we have to accept these types of leadership traits?

  • Egotistical – “I have all the answers”
  • Arrogance – “I’m experienced enough”
  • Cowardice – “I don’t need to quantify this”
  • Blinkered – “But this is the way I’ve always done it”
  • Apprehension - “It’s easier to keep things the way they are”

A simple solution would simply be to eradicate these negative influences within a business. What I propose however, is that we reinvent the HIPPO to make it something every single person within a business (and generally in life) can aspire to.

I’m in, let’s reinvent the HIPPO

So how do we do it? Well, we change what the acronym is built from. Below you will see my proposed changes and my rationale.

In my experience, I’ve found the qualities I’ve listed below are integral to healthy and thriving relationships, both in and out of the workplace.

H for Humility

Personally speaking, in life but even more importantly in business, over my career I have come to truly appreciate the importance of having humility.

No matter how experienced I am in my profession, how much public speaking I do, how many hours I spend with users (listening to them during a research session), or how many businesses I go and meet who are at the start of a journey to transform their culture and strategy, I know I do not have all the answers.

Just as important is not pretending I have all the answers, either. I’ve no doubt that you will know a whole lot more than me in your areas of passion and experience.

In a business environment, having humility is a key to success. Correctly identifying and communicating individual strengths and weaknesses will create a stronger team unit, from the board level down through the departments and beyond.

I would summarise the importance of humility as this: know that you will never have all the answers, truly respect the thoughts and ideas of others, and listen more than you talk to give people in your presence the opportunity to share their very best (often buried away) ideas for improving experiences and our world.

I for Integrity

I have a confession to make, and quite an embarrassing one at that.

Back in 2010, if you were leaving people a recommendation on LinkedIn, you had the option of choosing three words which best describe that person.

When I was receiving recommendations, the word that was chosen for me most often was integrity.

Believe it or not, if someone asked me to describe what integrity means, I wouldn’t have had a compelling answer. My thought back then was simply that it related to being honest, but I couldn’t say much more.

Type integrity into Google and this is what you get:

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. It is generally a personal choice to uphold oneself to consistent moral and ethical standards.

On reflection (LinkedIn removed this feature a few years later), it makes me very proud that integrity was the word so often used to describe me as person.

For everyone reading this, having integrity (especially in business) will garner you more respect and provide you with a platform that more people will want to share with you.

P for Passion

The happiest, most fulfilled and not coincidentally, the most successful people you will meet all have something in common: they live life with passion.

A quick search in Google brings up this result:

Passion is a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion, a compelling enthusiasm or desire for something.

From my personal experience, you won’t be able to realise your potential in a role you’re not passionate about. I learnt that when I left BAE after one year of an apprenticeship.

You also can’t underestimate the importance of passion in motivating those around you. One key example of this is public speaking.

I have seen many public speakers over the last 10 years (and I’m one myself), and the speakers who stick with me and whose message resonates deliver their message with passion.

For everyone reading this, being passionate about what you do will demonstrate how much your work means to you, and your enthusiasm will be infectious.

P for Positivity

I have another confession to make. You know how you can be a “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” person? I am typically a “glass half-empty” person.

At this stage I won’t go in to explaining about imposter syndrome, apart from saying that it’s something that affects almost all driven, passionate, ambitious people.

For me, advocating the importance of positivity is in some way contradictory to my general persona, but one thing I know is 100% true: when I focus on being positive in my life and in my work, more positive things happen.

A key part of being (and staying) positive is knowing that you are working towards something.

Maybe things don’t fall in to place straight away. Maybe you are getting setbacks and people around you start to lose faith. Throughout this, staying positive, keeping the faith, planning for long term personal (and business) success is crucial.

The higher you are in a business, the more people will look to you for guidance. If they see the captain of the ship doesn’t believe, then why should they?

For everyone reading this, remember that our lives and our careers should be a marathon, not a sprint.

Have determination to reach your goals, keep pushing forward, fight back against those negative thoughts in your mind, and know that positive thoughts bring positive experiences.

O for Openness

When we are open-minded, we are creating opportunities for ourselves to have new experiences in our lives or in our careers. We are stepping outside of our comfort zone to try new things.

In some ways, this is facing up to our fears: fear of taking on a new role that is going to stretch us, fear of putting our experiences and reputation on the line, fear of standing in front of people to deliver a presentation.

Being open these past 15 years has led me to where I am today. Yes, I have had to face up to my fears on many occasions; but would I swap all that anxiety, worry, stress, and the sleepless nights for having a simple career which is just plodding along on auto-pilot?

Not for one minute.

What are your biggest fears? Are you truly fulfilling your potential? Is there something that you wish you could do which will take you completely outside of your comfort zone? Just remember: who dares, wins.

For everyone reading this, whether you’re at the top of the chain and worried about change, or anywhere in the business, if you take one thing away from reading this article, it is this: open your mind to the possibility of facing up to some of your biggest fears.

Will you aspire to be the HIPPO?

So there we have it, the re-invented HIPPO. Humility, Integrity, Passion, Positivity, Openness.

Thank you for reading (the first step in being open to change) and I look forward to working alongside and working with more HIPPOs during the rest of my career.

For more on leadership, read the following:

Paul Rouke

Published 20 July, 2016 by Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & CEO at PRWD, author, creator of the CRO Maturity Audit, and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

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Comments (6)

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Michelle Cubas

Michelle Cubas, Enterprise analyst & certified business coach at Positive Potentials LLC

Well said, Paul. Like the positive spin. American politics could benefit using HIPPO for a platform plank! #coachcubas

almost 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWD

Thanks for your feedback Michelle. You can't beat positivity for bringing about cultural change within businesses!

almost 2 years ago


Conner Josey, Head of digital delivery and operations at B&Q

Had one of my team thank me after they read this article today, what for I asked? For being a HIPPO they responded & my immediate reaction was oh dear, until they immediately directed me to this article. I'm not there in full and better in some than others but what great feedback to receive I thought! Cheers

almost 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWD

@Conner - thank you immensely for sharing your story here. It means a huge amount to me, and it fills me with great pride that my article and re-invention has influenced both one of your team members and then now you.

Thank too for having some of the characteristics of the type of manager and leader that more people need in order to fulfill their potential

almost 2 years ago


Alexander Abell, Sr. Marketing Strategist, Corporate Learning at Bisk

Sharing this one with my team!

It's an excellent spin on a term that over the years has perpetuated the ever-widening chasm between leadership teams and their workforce.

The old rule used to be, "Uh oh. The HiPPO has another dumb idea, we should test it against what we know is right" or worse "well we better do that because [HiPPO] said so and there is no crossing [him/her]" but that always felt a bit icky to me.

Your re-invention of the term is a reminder that leaders should strive to demonstrate the qualities that will inspire and engage their teams, and everyone else should feel empowered enough to proudly bring the wealth of their experiences to the table and speak candidly (and not just at face-value) with those whom their companies have entrusted with the (often arduous) task of steering the ship.

Great stuff, Paul!

almost 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWD

Thanks very much for your feedback Alex, its great to hear your thoughts on the re-invented HIPPO and its relevancy for you and the companies you work with.

Long live the HIPPO!

12 months ago

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