What I Learned from Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey was an influential person in the development of my philosophies on life and leadership. Many knew him as the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 25 million copies since it was first published in 1989. In April, at the age of 79, Covey fell off of his bicycle, and was in the hospital for months trying to recover. On July 16th, he lost that battle. It is a sad loss, of an illustrious teacher, for the business community. To honor him, I have decided to share the three most important things I learned from this great man.

Begin with the end in mind
This habit encourages a person to start every project, life change, and decision by focusing on what they want the end to look like. Covey said that it “is based on imagination—the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes.” This habit or mental model has shaped my life in three different areas: my vision, my relationships, and my projects.

Think Win-Win
Most people think in terms of either/or. It is a natural human process. However, by defeating this mindset, a person can open up new doors. Covey said: A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:

  •  Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  • Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others
  • Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone

The WIN-WIN model has helped me shift from dichotomous ways of thinking during conflict, with my clients, and even in relationships. I’m constantly asking, “How can we both get what we want?” Many people think WIN-LOSE/ LOSE-LOSE/ or LOSE-WIN … so I love thinking in terms of having it all – WIN/ WIN!

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
The simple temptation to show what you know can be extremely inhibiting, especially in leadership. It takes practice and patience to simply listen. Listening is an art and it doesn’t mean simply sitting without speaking, or even just paying attention.  What Covey is referring to is the ability to actively listen and ask good questions.  Questions like, ““What does this person want?” “What’s at the root of this?” “What happened before this that may have triggered this response?”” Finding answers to these questions—thus understanding the other person—is an easy way of finding solutions.

What it all boils down to is mindset. Developing and holding the right mindset on a daily basis makes a person more successful. It doesn’t always come easy and often takes effort, especially at first, but once mastered the results are undeniable.

Covey, Stephen R. “Books: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” StephenCovey.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2012.

Flirting with Failure

Steve Jobs’ name is synonymous with success. It would probably be hard to imagine that he was once fired from Apple for the development of several unsuccessful computers that cost millions of dollars to develop. He then went on to head up another endeavor with NeXT computers. Ever heard of them? Don’t worry, neither has anyone else. It was a huge failure until Apple bought the company in 1997, bringing Steve Jobs back into Apple computers and starting a comeback in business that would yield the invention of the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. Jobs was no stranger to failure, but by the end of his career he molded all the lessons he learned from those disappointments into great success.

What would happen if you left room for yourself or your employees to fail? What could be gained from this? Well, you can’t actually fail unless you’re doing something. It is a sign of effort. Many companies preach the ideology that failure is not an option. This breeds inactivity.  When employees are punished for taking a chance and trying something new, they can start to avoid trying anything new. This causes a stale work environment completely void of creativity and risk taking. No-failure zones also create pressure to break the rules and find shortcuts to avoid punishment, causing quality to suffer as well. It’s hard to be successful when your company fears failure. It’s like Thomas Watson, Founder of IBM, said, “Double your rate of failure, that’s where you will find success.”

Certainly not all failures should be celebrated, but simply taking the edge off can create a much healthier environment, especially when trying to break new ground. The next time you are met with failure, consider learning from the event and responding in a variety of ways:

  • Follow it with a “ta-da!”
  • Lead a conversation discussing what there is to learn from the experience
  •  Try something else: “That didn’t work! How about this?”

Promoting a creative workplace can help employees feel free to take a few chances in order to find new innovative solutions. You never know, you might even find yourself with an iPod of an idea.

Gray, Patrick. “The Power of Failing.” techrepublic. CBS Interactive, 4 Jan. 2012. Web. 17 July 2012.

Schulz, Nick. “Steve Jobs: America’s Greatest Failure.” National Review Online. N.p., 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 17 July 2012.