Stephen R Covey: Inspiration and Legacy

I’ve intended to write about my heroes for a while. One of them, Stephen R Covey, passed away this week, so this seems the opportune time to pay tribute to a man who has been an inspiration to so many, myself included.

When I first started reading Covey’s best known work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, I didn’t get it. I wasn’t sure if what he said true, nor how I could reconcile his ideas with my existing world-view.

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are. Stephen R Covey

Stephen R Covey

Some years later, however, I read Seven Habits again. This time, it clicked. I finally understood why many hold work in high regard, and I read more of his work.

One thing I find inspirational about Covey is that he focused on principles rather than specific methods or techniques. As a result, his work applies to a widest possible variety of people and situations. There is clearly both breadth and depth of research behind Covey’s approach. He emphasised that his ideas were not original, but universal truths that are valued by people from many religious, philosophical and managerial systems .

Principles always have natural consequences attached to them. There are positive consequences when we live in harmony with the principles. There are negative consequences when we ignore them. But because these principles apply to everyone, whether or not they are aware, this limitation is universal. And the more we know of correct principles, the greater is our personal freedom to act wisely. Stephen R Covey

Stephen R Covey

Another aspect of Covey’s work that I admire is that he eschewed gimmicks. Instead, he promoted a deep commitment to values and principles. He emphasised character over charm, responsibility and integrity over quick fixes and easy results, and partnering with other people rather than competing against them.

I do not agree with the popular success literature that says that self-esteem is primarily a matter of mind set, of attitude – that you can psych yourself into peace of mind. Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way. Stephen R Covey

Stephen R Covey

Covey showed his extraordinary ability as a communicator in his ability to make old ideas relevant to a modern audience, and in his capacity to take complex ideas and made them seem simple (some say this is the very essence of genius). I especially enjoy Covey’s audio presentations. His measured tone, his apparently effortless grasp on his material, and the obvious joy with which he conveyed his ideas are a soothing counterpoint to his profoundly challenging message.

In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do. Stephen R Covey

Stephen R Covey

There is ample testimony that Covey lived by his own principles. This is perhaps the most inspiring of his traits. Those who knew him speak of his humility, his eagerness to learn, his love of life, his genuine interest in people, his emphasis on his own family. He was a man of great intellect, empathy and warmth. Covey’s example is as important as his teaching.

Covey was a deeply religious man, a practising Mormon, and his faith undoubtedly influenced his work. I am deeply humbled by the way he lived out his beliefs through his life, and I admire many of the values he espoused. However, there are aspects of the Mormon world-view that faith that I don’t subscribe to, so there are areas where I don’t share Covey’s convictions. Covey’s faith shares a common origin with mine, and I am persuaded that his teachings are, at least broadly, rooted in the things that I hold most sacred. So, while I recognise the need to exercise caution and discernment, I relish the influence he has had over me.

I believe that correct principles are natural laws, and that God, the Creator and Father of us all, is the source of them, and also the source of our conscience. I believe that to the degree people live by this inspired conscience, they will grow to fulfill their natures; to the degree that they do not, they will not rise above the animal plane. Stephen R Covey

Stephen R Covey

One of Covey’s favourite themes was to help you find your purpose in life. Covey believed we don’t invent our own mission, but detect it inside ourselves. He believed that we have a deep need “to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy”, and that we reach our maximum potential by finding and fulfilling our personal mission. Covey suggested an exercise that many people have found helpful in discovering this purpose. He suggested you imagine you are at your own 80th birthday party. Imagine that people are giving speeches to pay tribute to the role that you have played in their life. The things you would like to hear them say at that party can give you insight regarding the purpose of your life.

There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfilment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase ‘to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy’. The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution. Stephen R Covey

Stephen R Covey

Covey died just a few months before his own 80th. He has touched the lives of countless people from all walks of life, and has left an extraordinary legacy. For this reason, I join my voice with others who this week pay tribute Stephen R Covey.



There are many others posting about Covey’s legacy this week. For example:

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