“What? I was just thinking about Stephen Covey this morning!”
That was my shocked reaction when I heard that Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, had died today, surrounded by family. But then I realized that it was no big coincidence, since I think about Stephen Covey’s ideas pretty frequently.
Like so many millions of people around the world, Covey had a major impact on my personal and professional development.
On the day of his passing, I write this tribute to a man of brilliant ideas and rare integrity.
7 Habits I Learned from Stephen Covey
- Re-purpose your Content to Suit Your Audience: When I first read the 7 Habits I was drawn to the ideas but found the concepts heavy and hard to digest. After several attempts to read the book, I discovered that Covey’s son Sean had repackaged this book for simpler minds as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. The funny cartoons, real-life examples, and inspiring quotes helped me get through the heavy stuff and read to the end. Aside from the advice about how to “Just Say No to Drugs,” I found this version of the book really spoke to me even though I was well out of my teens. Then I was able to go back to the original version and work from there. I admire how Covey re-purposed his content in this and many other ways, by creating various books, videos, audio and software to get his consistent message across to people of all kinds.
- The Best Marketing Doesn’t feel Like Marketing: Covey was not your standard motivational speaker. He was modest in stature and employed no tricks to get his audience hyped up and “motivated.” His book covers are very basic, and lack the usual pictures of a toothy grin and an expensive suit. Yet his brilliant ideas and shining integrity drew people to him – really powerful, successful people – and his fame spread seemingly organically. Though I’m sure there was smart marketing behind his phenomenal success, nowhere in his writing or recordings do you feel it. And that is an incredible achievement.
- Focus on What You Can Change: Covey’s famous Circle of Influence concept has helped me countless times to just say no – and not just to drugs :). I’ve made a habit of immediately identifying stressful situations that are outside my circle of influence and withdrawing from any involvement in them. I’ve made a lot of progress in focusing my talents and energies in the areas where I can have an impact. It’s worth reading the 7 Habits for this concept alone.
- Private Victory Precedes Public Victory: In Covey’s Inside-Out approach, building your own character and maintaining your integrity is prioritized over outward shows of success, such as money and status. In today’s web-centered world this message is more relevant than ever. It’s just so easy to present multiple versions of your identity on the blogs, social networks, games, etc. It’s so easy to impress others if you know a few tricks. It’s much harder to keep your eyes on your true values and goals, and the development of your character. But really that’s all that counts.
- Family Comes First: Covey’s strong emphasis on putting your family before work, even while pursuing a highly pressured and successful career, is a message that we all hear time and again. But there are few people who led by example as strongly as he did. This message cannot be repeated too many times, until we finally internalize it. You have only one life to live, and family comes before work!
- Celebrate Diversity: This is a great message that I internalized from Covey’s writings on “Habit 6: Synergize.” As a highly creative and strong-willed person, I have tended to work as a lone wolf in my early career. But Covey helped me finally appreciate the value of working with others who do things differently from me. He helped me accept the conflicts inherent in any team, and in any society, and even get to a place of celebrating them for the richness they bring into the world. I’m still working on this one, but it has already proved fruitful and rewarding.
- The Quadrant 2 Lifestyle: The first time I ever heard of Covey was when I saw him on Oprah when I was a teenager. I heard Oprah talking to him about Quadrants and immediately felt drawn to the idea of distinguishing between what’s urgent and what’s important and aiming to spend your time in Quadrant 2 – focusing on that which is important but not urgent. It’s a simple idea and I thought I’d find it easy to live that way, but in the many years that have passed I found this one tough to master. Covey himself admitted that “Habit 3: Put First Things First,” is the hardest of all the 7 habits to implement. I’m still working on it!
RIP Stephen Covey and thoughts of comfort to the Covey family at this time.
He lived a life of impact.