Photo by Sterling Morris
By Steve Eaton, editor
One day, years ago, Stephen R. Covey took a small group of people to a place in Salt Lake City to have them stand atop a building and look at a hole in the ground.
Dr. Covey hoped to communicate an important lesson to the most important group he’d ever teach — his family.
The hole was about to become a building, and Dr. Covey arranged for an architect to come and show them the planned structure’s blueprints, according to Dr. Covey’s oldest son, Stephen M.R. Covey.
His father explained to them that before you start to build, you must have a plan. He was teaching his children the second habit: “Begin with the end in mind.”
“We were the first guinea pigs for the seven habits,” said the younger Covey, who is now a speaker and author of the best-selling book The Speed of Trust. “He taught us the principles along the way. His influence on me was enormous, not just as a father, but as a mentor.”
A series of interviews with the friends and family closest to Dr. Covey all painted a similar picture of a man known and admired around the world and respected in his home. They called him a careful planner who knows how to be spontaneous, a fun-loving man, who is driven by his mission, and a powerful teacher who does his most important work within his own family. They say Dr. Covey lives the principles he teaches in his books.
Stephen R. Covey poses with his son, Stephen
M. R. Covey, at the announcement event.
(Photo by Casey McFarland)
“His greatest strength comes from the fact that he is who you think he is,” Stephen M.R. Covey said. “He is who he says he is. He is what he teaches. There isn’t a variance.”
Bob Daines, ’65, management, is a close friend of Dr. Covey. He used to have an office next door to him at Brigham Young University and he lives next door to him now. Mr. Daines said it takes diligent work for even Dr. Covey to practice the principles he teaches.
“He views much of the world and his surroundings through the prism of these principles, which he so strongly believes in and tries very hard to practice,” Mr. Daines said. “Some of those principles are not easy to practice, nor are they easy for him to practice. He works very, very hard at trying to incorporate them into his life and his family.”
Several told stories of how Dr. Covey plans months in advance to make sure he can spend time with his family. When his children were younger, he would often bring them with him when he traveled.
Boyd Craig, the executive director of the Stephen Covey Group, talked about a time Dr. Covey took a daughter with him to San Francisco. His daughter planned out a certain part of the trip, that was to be reserved for just the two of them, Mr. Craig said.
Stephen R. Covey celebrates the announcement
at the Huntsman Corporation. (Photo by Casey
On this trip, Dr. Covey had a meeting with a “very, very prominent person in our country.” At the end of the visit, Dr. Covey was invited to join this person and his wife for dinner at their favorite restaurant. His daughter overheard this invitation and feared their plans were about to unravel, and her heart just sank, Mr. Craig said.
Dr. Covey immediately told the person, with great respect, what an honor it would be to have dinner with him. But he explained that, “my daughter and I have made all these special plans for the evening, and there’s nothing more important to me than doing that.”
Mr. Craig said Dr. Covey avoids some of the life balance struggles many people go through because he knows how to put first things first.
“When I describe his passion for his work, it’s inseparable from his whole life, from his family life, his church life, his life as a neighbor and a friend – it’s all integrated,” Mr. Craig said. “He doesn’t have compartments in life. He has a mission in life that embraces the first things of life: family, friends and service to others. In his professional work, he has a mission to lift and inspire people and organizations to their highest potential, to greatness.”
Sean Covey, another son and author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, said that one way his father helps people reach their highest potential is simply by helping them recognize it in themselves.
Dr. Covey speaks to Huntsman Faculty. (Photo
by Steve Eaton)
“He believes fundamentally that people need affirmations and that a fundamental problem with most people is self-doubt,” Sean said.
Mr. Craig said Dr. Covey trusts people with projects and watches them rise to meet the challenges.
“That’s his definition of leadership,” Mr. Craig said. “It’s to communicate to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”
Stephen M.R. Covey can testify to that. He admits he was the son Dr. Covey described in his “green and clean” story in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The story describes how Dr. Covey assigned his 7-year-old son to be in charge of keeping his yard as nice as the neighbor’s yard, which Dr. Covey pointed out was always “green and clean.” His son initially struggled with the assignment but eventually took full responsibility for the project and did a great job caring for the yard around the family’s home.
Dr. Covey eventually ended up trusting his son with far more than yard work. Stephen M.R. Covey is the former CEO of the Covey Leadership Center, which he led to become the largest leadership development company in the world. Under Stephen M.R. Covey’s direction, the company doubled its revenues to more than $110 million, while increasing its profits by 12 times.
Dr. Covey teaches faculty members while on a
recent visit to the Huntsman School of Business.
(Photo by Sterling Morris)
Photo by Sterling Morris
Bob Whitman, the CEO of FranklinCovey, said that when he was trying to decide what to do after graduation from the University of Utah, he phoned Dr. Covey, who was a complete stranger then, and asked if he could talk to him. Dr. Covey spent more than an hour and a half offering him advice that changed his direction. The exchange was obviously pivotal for Mr. Whitman, but the investment paid off for Dr. Covey years later as well when Mr. Whitman was drafted to become the CEO of FranklinCovey.
Now Dr. Covey is investing in the potential he sees in the students at the Huntsman School of Business, and that will give him a chance to visit Logan more often. Dr. Covey has always had a number of ties to Cache Valley. His great-great-grandmother was from Logan, and his wife’s great-great-grandfather was the first president of the Logan LDS Temple.
His most recent connection to Cache Valley began when he was invited to speak at the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence Conference in May 2009. The Shingo Prize is a non-profit organization within the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business that has developed a worldwide reputation for helping companies change cultures, better tap employee strengths and become more efficient. Dr. Covey said he was very impressed to see the Shingo organization’s philosophies and approach, and how it has “institutionalized principles.”
That initial introduction led him to learn more about the Huntsman School of Business. Dr. Covey said he was impressed to learn that the school, a secular institution, has been teaching some of the same principles he has taught for years.
He said the right culture within the school will do the most to help shape principle-based leaders.
“You create a culture that is based upon universal and timeless principles, and you take an inside-out approach,” he said, “not just an outside-in approach.”
Dr. Covey said that students at the Huntsman School of Business can “lead lives of extraordinary contribution.”
“The leaders and faculty just seem to ‘get it,’” he said. “They understand that by instilling in today’s students a principled new mindset and skillset — one equal to the complex demands and challenges of today’s new global, economic, societal reality — they will produce generations of leaders who will not only serve and lead their families and communities with greatness; they will attract to the organizations and teams they lead, the world’s most talented, innovative, trustworthy people.”
For now, there’s not even a hole in the ground that one can point to as the eventual home of the Stephen R. Covey Center for Leadership. But Dr. Covey and other leaders at the Huntsman School of Business have begun with the end in mind. It’s an end, however, that they see as only the beginning — the beginning of something they hope will impact ethical leaders for generations to come.