23 July 2012

Vale Stephen Covey: One of the greatest leadership educators of our time

On Monday last week (16 July 2012) Dr. Stephen R. Covey passed away due to the residual effects of a bicycle accident he suffered three month earlier.

He was 79.

Dr. Covey made teaching principle-centred leadership his life's work. His most famous work is the international 20 million-selling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In 2002, Forbes named The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People one of the 10 most influential management books ever written. Chief Executive magazine recognised The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as one of the two most influential books of the 20th century. Other bestsellers from the pen of Dr Covey include First Things First, Principle-Centered Leadership, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, and The 8th Habit.

In 1996, Dr. Covey was recognised as one of Time magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans.
It’s hard to overstate the massive influence that The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People had when it was published in 1989.

As Tom Butler-Bowdon says in 50 Self-Help Classics (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2003) …
'Having studied the success literature of the last 200 years for a doctoral dissertation, Covey was able to draw a distinction between what he termed the ‘personality ethic’ – the quick-fix solutions and human relations techniques that had pervaded much of the writing in the twentieth century – and the ‘character ethic’ – which revolved around unchanging personal principles.
Covey believed that outward success was not success at all if it was not the manifestation of inner mastery. Or in his terminology, ‘private victory’ must precede ‘public victory.

The emphasis on habits as the basic units of change has also been important in the book’s success. Covey saw that real greatness was the result of the slow development of character over time; it is our daily habits of thinking and acting that are the ground on which that greatness is built.'

Here is a brief overview of Covey’s famous 7 Habits:

Habit 1: Be Proactive:
Proactive people use their resourcefulness and initiative to find solutions rather than just reporting problems and waiting for other people to solve them. Once we decide to be proactive, exactly where we decide to focus our efforts becomes important. Reactive people often focus their efforts over areas of concern over which they have no control (eg spend time thinking and talking about what another person should or could have done differently rather than reviewing their own behaviour and action for areas worthy of change or improvement).

Habit 2: Begin With The End in Mind:
Develop a personal mission statement or philosophy or creed. Focus on what you want to be (character) and do (contributions and achievements) while staying true to your values and principles.

Habit 3: Put First Things First:
Put into action, daily, the things that will have you accomplish the outcome of Habit 2. Having the long-term picture in mind, we can plan our days and weeks for maximum effectiveness and enjoyment. We consciously and consistently spend our time with people who, and doing things that, genuinely matter.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win:
Seek agreements and relationships that have benefit for both parties. Outcomes are not achieved at the expense of the success of another person. The pursuit of this habit is also never done at the expense of compromising our own principles.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood:
'Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.
When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing and problem solving.’ (page 241)

Habit 6: Synergize
Through genuine communication, find ways to leverage individual differences where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Through mutual trust and understanding one can find a better solution in conjunction with another person, than could have been found individually.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
We need to balance the physical, spiritual, mental and social dimensions of life. It’s important to take time out to regularly renew ourselves in each of these areas.

Stephen Covey was an exceptional human being. As a father of nine and a grandfather of fifty two children, Dr Covey was devoted to his family as much as he was to his teaching.

He lived a life faithfully practising the principles upon which his fame was based.

Stephen R. Covey was one of the most outstanding educators of his lifetime.

May he rest in peace.
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