A tribute to Stephen Covey (1932 – 2012)

Stephen Covey made an enduring contribution to both business thinking and personal development. His book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People published in 1989 has sold over 25 million copies. Time Magazine rated The 7 Habits as one of the 25 most influential business management books. He has featured in all of the Thinkers 50 lists from 2001 to 2011. But rather than continuing to list his achievements, I would like to focus on what Stephen Covey means to me – just one of his millions of readers.

Working at the boundaries

Stephen Covey wasn’t just a business writer. His books crossed over into the realm of personal development. He bridged these two spaces in a manner rivalled by few. One of his other stand out books Principled Centered Leadership offered guidance relevant to both worlds.

A member of the Latter Day Saints church, Stephen Covey was a deeply religious man. For me, his integration of business and religious thinking has been inspirational. No one has done it better with that level of success. His model of intelligence exemplifies this integration. In the 7 Habits, well before emotional intelligence was popularised, he identified four dimensions of the self, the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Later, in The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey applied this model to the business world. He advocates a “whole person in a whole job” where each of the four dimensions of the self are expressed:

  • use me creatively (mind)
  • pay me fairly (body)
  • treat me kindly (heart)
  • in serving human needs in principled ways (spirit).

The big picture

With his skills of integration Stephen Covey masterfully sketches out the big picture. His “five economic eras”, from The 8th Habit encapsulates human economy from the hunter/gatherer age, beyond the current information age, to his envisioned “age of wisdom”. He draws on Peter Drucker’s thinking on the massive leaps in productivity from age to age.

The great value in this concept is in understanding the limitations of legacy industrial age management processes when they are applied to information age contexts.    

“Its no longer a world of controlling people, it’s a world of unleashing people”.

 

The engagement connection

Stephen Covey’s clear articulation of the requisite leadership capabilities of the knowledge age focus heavily on communication. He offers lots of great communication tools and concepts such as the “emotional bank account”, but his greatest contribution in the communication realm is “voice”. When I first encountered The 8th Habit, I was a little cynical, thinking “how many other habits will be generated for future books?” But my cynicism evaporated with his masterful articulation of voice – the 8th habit is “find your voice and inspire others to find theirs”. This is an emancipating concept beautifully aligned with the needs of the age. For me, enabling voice, is central to the engagement process. Ideally, the loudest, or most powerful, or best resourced voice is not the only one heard.

Because he painted conceptually with such a broad brush, Stephen Covey’s work will remain relevant and will inspire for years to come. The concepts he articulates work at the level of principle and character and are therefore of universal application. May he continue to inspire!

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