A Personal Perspective on Stephen Covey's Legacy

Jul 19, 2012
6 Min Read

As a career/workplace writer for the past two decades, I’ve read hundreds of business advice books.  It seems just about every subject has been covered in these books – how to use cheese to get what you want, why you should set up a stripper pole in your conference room and why all bosses should get electric shock treatment.

And, of course, I’ve added to the business advice arena by writing a couple of my own books.

But here’s the real kicker: I keep my own books in a box in the closet, underneath the three-hole punch that doesn’t work and a sleeping bag the cat sleeps on. I’ve given hundreds of other advice tomes to my local library or donated them to schools.

There is one book, however, that has remained on my shelves. It’s yellowed with age and peppered with bookmarks.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey.

Covey died recently from injuries he received in a biking accident. He was 79.

I have to say I kicked myself when I read of his death. I’m mad at myself for never interviewing him. For decades I’ve admired his work and never even placed a phone call to see if we could chat.

That’s stupid, considering I’ve interviewed dozens of bigwigs in the business world who often appear with Oprah or pitch their message on CNN.

I’m not sure why I didn’t call Covey. It could be because I wasn’t sure how to “spin” anything new from him. This is the guy who fathered many of the business and lifestyle books out there today. If you Google his name, you get nearly 67 million results. Was there anything new that I could add by interviewing him?

This is where I give myself another swift kick. Because the great thing about Covey’s message was that it really wasn’t anything all that new. He didn’t spout trendy theories about what we can all do to be more successful. This is the guy who had nine kids and 52 grandchildren. He understood life and he shared that knowledge with the millions who just didn’t get it.

Here’s what he had to tell us in the “7 Habits”:

1. Be proactive. “We are responsible for our own effectiveness, for our own happiness, and ultimately, I would say, for most of our circumstances.”

2. Begin with the end in mind. “If you carefully consider what you wanted to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success. It may be very different from the definition you thought you had in mind.”

3. Put first things first. “The degree to which we have developed our independent will in our everyday lives is measured by our personal integrity. Integrity is, fundamentally, the value we place on ourselves.”

4. Think win/win. “Win/win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win/win sees life as a cooperative, not competitive arena.”

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. “We have a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice. But we often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first.”

6. Synergize. “What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.”

7. Sharpen the saw. “An increasingly educated conscience will propel us along the path of personal freedom, security, wisdom, and power.”

Nothing terribly earth-shattering in those messages, yet Stephen Covey managed to rock people at their core. There are better managers – and human beings – out there today because of what he wrote.

So, Stephen Covey, I’m sorry I never placed that call to interview you. But I’m lucky to still have your book on my shelf, and probably always will.  When my books are tossed into recycling or used as door stops, your book will be passed down to my children and grandchildren.


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