In a world where it’s so painfully common for people to talk a big story, but not walk their talk I believe one cannot fail to respect everything that Stephen Covey stood for and achieved. Until his recent sad and untimely death resulting from a cycling accident (at the age of 79), Covey provided the tools, the guidance and direction for millions of people to live more enriching, meaningful lives.
When Covey wrote the blockbusting “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and for ever afterwards he was always adamant to stress that he wasn’t claiming to have invented the concepts embedded in the 7 habits. However, what he had uniquely and powerfully done was to organize them in to a sequence, a structure and a gestalt that made sense and what’s more – when consistently applied – really worked.
He was able to understand clearly that when writing or advising on how to be a better leader, the individual first had to start with their inner self (the private victory), before they begin to apply themselves to how they lead others. His work with schools that was written up in the book ‘The Leader in Me’ is very powerful and shows ways in which values learning can be embedded in to the day to day experience of school children (instead of being taught like some dry academic subject). If, as a result, the world has more schools existing as values-based learning communities, then the world will be a far better place.
Age didn’t slow down Covey’s pace. I believe in his later years he was still doing extensive work as a visiting faculty in universities in the USA. Also, I believe in many ways he actually topped the 7 habits when he published the 8th habit. Innovatively marketed with a superb DVD with some fascinating short films it carried a powerful message about everyone’s duty to both find their own voice and to help others find theirs.
Then, just last year, he published the very substantial work, “The 3rd Alternative”. This essentially took the 3 habits of public victory from the 7 habits; Habit 4: Think win-win, Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood and Habit 6: Synergise and explored them in greater depth. The thrust was around the idea that attempts to solve issues, be creative or work together with others will not work most effectively if it’s all about “my way, not your way”. Instead, he espoused the belief that creative, empowered people should be able to put their individual ideas aside in favour of created synergistic ideas that meet all needs.
I often sensed in Covey’s work a drive that came from some level of frustration when he looked around a world in which shallow concepts of the cult of the personality were gaining precedence over time proven principles of character. I often suspected that he never believed he could rest when he saw people ‘playing so far below their potential’, that he saw it as a duty as well as a right for all of mankind to strive for self-actualisation.
Covey sometimes shared the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “People will pass away, but principles never will; they endure.”
The principles that Covey shared will continue to be of enormous value in our lives, if we are ready to take a moment to reflect on our greatest purpose and the character habits necessary to achieve it.
I share here a tribute piece from a Fast company contributor reflecting on Covey’s impact in her life:
Fast Company – Timeless Recipes for Success
A final thought we do well to remember;
“Sow a thought, reap an action;
Sow an action, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character, reap a destiny” Samuel Smiles
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