Stephen Covey (Photo by Steve Eaton)
Stephen Covey is not finished yet.
No one would blame him if he took it easy for awhile. There aren’t many who can argue they’ve had a greater positive impact on people and organizations than the person who wrote the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and several other best-selling books. Forbes named the seven habits book, which has sold 38 million copies, one of the top 10 most influential management books ever written.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Huntsman Alumni Magazine, however, Covey made it clear he’s not ready to do any coasting. He has six more books in the works, and all of them are aimed at finding solutions and helping people embrace principle-centered paradigms. He said he met with President Barack Obama when Obama was still a candidate and, at press time, was planning on meeting with Obama administration officials and Secretary of Education Anne Duncan.
Despite his global reputation, none of Covey’s work seems to be about ego. He said he’s uncomfortable with people who would follow him as a guru and would rather see people embrace the principles he teaches.
“I don’t want my own followers or disciples,” he said. “It would be contrary to what I teach. I get credit for the seven habits; but when you look at those habits, they are just based on universal and timeless principles. They are natural laws such as the first habit of ‘be proactive.’ That means, basically, taking responsibility and taking initiative. I didn’t invent those ideas. I would rather see people principle-centered, by far, than to become a guru and have people become Covey-centered or something like that.”
Covey said he always knew the principles he taught, “were so powerful and so universal that they could be taught in any culture, any nation.” He may not, however, have ever imagined how far his teachings would reach.
“I was kind of surprised over the years that it has exploded around the world like it has,” Covey said of his books and teachings. “They’ve produced millions of my books over in China, but they don’t necessarily respect intellectual property, which is fine. I don’t really care about that. I like to see the principles operate.”
Covey said he agreed to speak at the Shingo Prize Conference because he wanted to learn more about the organization’s approach to operational excellence.
“It is definitely a new paradigm,” he said, citing the philosophy’s emphasis on efficiency, minimal inventory and close connections to the customer. “I am very impressed.”
Covey has always taught the importance of learning to tap human potential, a key part of what is taught by the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence.
Covey admitted that even he finds it challenging to live all the seven habits. He was asked which habit he had the most trouble living.
“I’d say it’s habit five, seek first to understand, because sometimes, when I’m convinced that I’m right, I don’t really want to listen,” he said. “I think that’s the toughest one. Sometimes my kids say, ‘I sense you are trying to listen, Dad, but I don’t think you really are.”’
Covey said many organizations invest too much of their time in what he calls “quadrant three,” things that are urgent but not important. Quadrant one are activities that are important and urgent; quadrant two are things that are important but not urgent and quadrant four are activities that are not important or urgent.
“Quadrant three is the consumer of most people’s energies,” he said. “That’s why it is so important to begin with the end in mind so you have a clear sense of what your priorities are and what is really important.”
Click here for more pictures of Stephen Covey speaking at the Shingo conference.