Stephen Covey and his Gifts to Business People

All business people owe a lot to Stephen Covey, who died this week at the age of 79.  Covey wrote his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in 1989.  There were no earth shatteringly new concepts in it—to be highly effective, people should:

  • Be Proactive
  • Start with the End in Mind
  • Put First Things First
  • Think Win-Win
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the Saw (balance and renew yourself)

At some level, most of us know that these are things to do.  In a way, though, Covey took it a step further.  He seemed to say, these are a good way to BE.  Practice these behaviors until these are a part of who you are.

Covey infused his work, and his speaking and teaching, with what is known as Spiritual Intelligence (SQ).  In his 2004 book, The 8th Habit, Covey defined Spiritual Intelligence :

“Spiritual Intelligence is the central and most fundamental of all the Intelligences because it becomes the source of guidance for the other three . . .  Spiritual Quotient [is] “conscience, ” having the following characteristics:

  • enthusiastic
  • intuitive
  • takes responsibility
  • moral
  • wise
  • integrity
  • servant
  • humble
  • fair
  • ethical
  • abundant
  • compassionate
  • respectful
  • cause-oriented”

Covey was one of the first, and certainly the first popularly available, to bring this kind of thinking into the workplace.  It was Stephen Covey who helped leaders understand that there was something greater than the bottom line, something somewhat intangible—you know it when you see it– to bring to the table when leading organizations.  Covey helped people understand their own personal responsibility for ‘leading’ themselves through self-management and positive interaction with others.  He encouraged people to “find your voice” and inspire others to find theirs.

His writing and teaching encouraged people to be whole, to focus on all the parts of their lives and to do that which was most important, not what was more urgent.  When I read Jim Collin’s later book, Good to Great, I was struck by the description of Level 5 Leadership and how closely these leaders seemed to follow Covey’s 8 Habits:

Level 5 Leaders

  • They are humble and modest.
  • They have “unwavering resolve.”
  • They display a “workmanlike diligence – more plow horse than show horse.”
  • They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results. They “attribute much of their success to ‘good luck’ rather than personal greatness.”

One of the most important things that I ever heard Stephen Covey say was his description of how he came to these ideas.  He said that he went through all the theories of leadership, all the writing on leadership and pulled these behaviors on leadership from that research.  At the time, I was envious of the research that he had done, and I took with a grain of salt his conclusions.  I have since done my own research, traveling through many of the same thought leaders and historians that he did, and I now know that his conclusions are pretty right on, and much more coherent and inspiring than anything I could have come up with on my own.

R.I.P.  Stephen R. Covey, October 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Executive Development, Leadership, Personal Change, Success

One response to “Stephen Covey and his Gifts to Business People

  1. Jim Zahora

    Excellent summary – thanks. Covey was one of the best at defining a common sense approach to work and life. One of his favorite saying was “common sense is not always common practice”. He will be missed.

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