"There are three constants in life... change, choice and principles.” ~Stephen R. Covey
The unfortunate passing of Stephen Covey has prompted me to consider the influence he has had on me as a person, as a leader and as someone who thinks and writes about leadership and public service. To my surprise (I never considered myself a Covey fan nor did I regularly seek out or read his material) I began to see more and deeper indications of the influence of his work on my own experience, thinking and writing.
My first exposure to Covey was not the "7 Habits" and other books and speeches of the Franklin-Covey business oriented era. It started with one of his early and not-so-well known books "Spiritual Roots of Human Relations." It was a tremendously influential reading for me as an LDS missionary serving in France in the mid 70's. Its lessons have remained with me and served me well in my personal life, my spiritual life and my professional life for nearly 40 years.
The most memorable, powerful and personally enduring principle I learned from Covey in "Spiritual Roots" is that no one can be good at everything and everyone is good at something(s). However, it is our nature judge and categorize ourselves and others by our weaknesses, and, by doing so we skew our perceptions of reality and we limit ourselves and others. Covey teaches that we should let our strengths, not our weaknesses, define how we see ourselves and others and let strengths and positive attributes shape the way we interact. In short, we should emphasize the positive and successes in ourselves and others rather than fixate on negatives and failures.
When "7 Habits" came out, I remember thinking as I read it that this is all common sense and everyone understands, or should understand these principles already. I didn't receive the epiphany I expected and that others seems to receive. I think that part of the reason is that I had previous incorporated the same ideas from "Spiritual Roots" which contained the seeds of what would become the "7 Habits."
As I have managed, led, taught and written over the years, I am realizing how much the principles Covey promoted have become part of my body of work- not consciously nor with any sense of discipleship- but because adherence to these types of principles is effective and leads to success in public administration. For example, I have found that a focus on the positive, on successes, is a powerful tool and is a critical component to success and happiness. This "glass half full" attitude has characterized my personal leadership style and has greatly colored my thinking and writing.
Covey's seven habits can be re-read into topics and terminology that have become regular themes, with my unique twist, in my work and in the articles on public management and leadership:
1. Be proactive (Covey). Always have a plan, choose your future (Scott).
2. Begin with the end in mind (Covey). Articulate your desired outcome and work backwards from there (Scott).
3. Put first things first (Covey). Have the courage to set and enforce priorities (Scott).
4. Think win-win (Covey). Reality is not zero-sum (Scott).
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Covey). Communication is not a 50/50 proposition. It is a 100%/100% transaction (Scott).
6. Synergize (Covey). Collaborate (Scott).
7. Sharpen the saw (Covey). Find balance (Scott).
Covey's eighth habit, in his book with the same name, is ...from effectiveness to greatness- which correlates to my firmly held philosophy of "good to great", continual growth and improvement. This habit has been the solid foundation of my professional and consulting endeavors.
Covey's ability to reduce complex concepts into understandable and compact ideas, easily understood by nearly everyone, has given his work currency and wide spread popularity. The positive, humanistic and simple ideas he articulated have become imbued into our management culture and our body of common knowledge. Just as I have been subtly and unconsciously influenced by his wisdom and insights, we have all been beneficiaries of his work and owe him a debt of gratitude.
Thank you and RIP Stephen R. Covey.