Coveted Wisdom

UPDATED: December 2, 2008
PUBLISHED: December 2, 2008

Over the past six months, the world has witnessed the financial consequences
of what happens when the basic principles of honesty, thrift,
living within your means and saving for a rainy day are substituted for a
me-first, win-at-all-cost, grab-all-the-money-you-can kind of culture.
What is needed more now than ever is a dose of common sense, back-to-basics
thinking—a commitment to tried-and-true principles that best-selling author,
entrepreneur and leadership icon Stephen Covey has taught throughout his distinguished

“Financial success—prestige, wealth, recognition, accomplishment—will always
be secondary in greatness,” Covey says. “Primary greatness is about character and
contribution. Primary greatness asks, What are you doing to make a difference in
the world? Do you live truly by your values? Do you have total integrity in all of
your relationships? And when correct principles are not followed or ignored, the
result can be catastrophic as we have witnessed
the past year in the financial markets.”

Money, whether in government or on Wall
Street, can change one’s motivation and integrity
if money is the No. 1 objective, Covey says. “At
this crucial time in our history, we need leaders
who can affirm other people’s worth and potential
to help them find their voice,” he says.

Sound advice like this has made Covey one of
the most sought-after voices in business, education
and government. To date, Covey has personally
taught 36 heads of state, and his company,
FranklinCovey, has worked with 800 of the
Fortune 1,000 companies.


All-Star Resume

Covey has seen and done it all when
it comes to helping people from all
walks of life realize the greatness that
lies within them. His first book, The 7
Habits of Highly Effective People
, which has sold
more than 20 million copies worldwide, was
named the most influential business book of
the 20th century by Forbes magazine. (The
audio version became the first nonfiction
audio-book in U.S. publishing history to
sell more than 1 million copies.) In 1996,
TIME magazine named Covey one of the
25 most influential Americans. Tens of
millions of people in business, government,
schools and families have greatly
benefited by applying the principles of
Covey’s classic book.

Born in 1932 in Salt Lake City, Covey benefited from strong family influences. His mother
and father constantly confirmed his worth and
potential even as a young child. His business acumen
was fostered by his Grandfather Covey, an entrepreneur
who set up businesses all over the western United States.
The spiritual side that is so prevalent in Covey’s books
results in part from many days at the knee of his Grandpa
Richards, who was a great spiritual leader in his church.

Being the eldest sibling, Stephen Covey was the heir
apparent destined to take over the family business, which
owned several hotels, motels and lots of land. But he found
his calling elsewhere. While serving his church as a young
missionary in Great Britain, he had a mentor who taught him
the art of training leaders. Although he felt inadequate for the
job at first, his mentor saw in him a rare and natural
talent. Covey says he had never experienced such
satisfaction than training those leaders and soon
developed a passion for teaching. After he finished
his academic work at Harvard Business School,
he made it known to his father that he would not
be taking over the family business, but instead
wanted to teach principles that had universal and
timeless applications.

Bringing Back the Character Ethic

The genesis of Covey’s work started when he
was working on his doctorate. He immersed
himself in an in-depth study of many authors
of success literature over the past 200 years.
He pored over thousands of articles and essays
from popular psychology, personal development
and self-help. It wasn’t long before he
noticed a pattern in the content.

Almost all of the literature in the first 150
years focused on what Covey calls “character
ethic” attributes such as integrity, humility,
courage, patience and the Golden Rule.
“These basic principles of effective living and
true success depended on integrating these
principles into one’s character,” Covey says.
One of his favorite authors was Ben Franklin,
whose autobiography was representative of
this kind of literature.

Conversely, Covey noticed a distinct shift
in the success philosophy published after
World War II. “I became enamored with how we had moved away
from the character ethic toward what I call the personality ethic,
where success was more based on personality, technique, appearance
and having a positive mental attitude,” Covey says. While
beneficial, personality ethic attributes are secondary to character
ethic traits, he says. “We have become so focused on building
ourselves up we have forgotten the foundation that holds it up is
that of character and integrity. Many are focused on reaping the
goods without the need to sow the fields.”

Covey says people can get by using the personality ethic to help
make favorable first impressions, but these secondary traits have
no long-term worth in long-term relationships. “Eventually, if there
is no integrity, the challenges of life will reveal one’s true character,”
Covey says. “As Emerson once said, ‘What you are shouts so
loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.’ ” Out of these findings
Covey went on to write The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
which received critical acclaim when it debuted in 1990, and today
remains one of the best-selling business books.

Finding Your Voice and Inspiring
Others to Do the Same

The world has changed drastically since Covey’s 7 Habits book
was published. Being effective as individuals, entrepreneurs and
business organizations is no longer an option, he says. This topic
is the main voice of The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.
During research for this book he was amazed at how alienated
people are in their job environments. “We came to realize the need
to affirm people’s worth and potential so clearly that they come to
see it in themselves,” he says. “We need to help people gain access
to those higher levels of genius and motivation. We need to help
find their voice and have them help others to do the same.”

The central theme of the book is that if individual business
owners would see their roles of leadership as being based on
helping other people and inspiring them to find their voices, they
would not only keep their own integrity, but would develop such
a reputation for trustworthiness that it would be like a magnet,
drawing other people to them. One of those magnets Covey points
out in his book is Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen
Bank in Bangledesh. His story beautifully illustrates the path to
finding one’s voice and helping others find theirs.

Yunus saw a need to help his impoverished fellow citizens in
Bangladesh. He met a woman who made bamboo stools for pennies
a day. In discussing the business with her he learned she didn’t have
the money to buy the necessary bamboo and was forced to get it
from a local trader who would buy her product at an unfair price. In
fact, the entire village worked under these unfair restrictions. After
some research, Yunus found it would only take US$27 to help them
out. After giving each the same amount, he told them it was a loan
and they could repay him when they were able. Yunus even asked
the local bank to participate, saying he would guarantee each loan
the villagers were not able to pay back. Yet each villager who was
loaned money repaid every penny. This led Yunus to establish his
own microcredit lending institution called the Grameen Bank in
which he duplicated this
same program with other

Grameen Bank now
works with more than
46,000 villages, giving
microloans totaling $500 a
year to empower the poor,
most of whom are women.
The microcredit movement
has now spread the world
over, helping millions escape
the grips of poverty. “Survival
today requires new skills, new
mindsets,” Covey says. “People
will be required to build on
and reach beyond effectiveness
to greatness, just as Muhammad
Yunus did. People are longing
for fulfillment, to experience
passion and to contribute to
society. The 8th Habit is about
finding your voice while inspiring
others to do the same.”

Principles are Timeless

Covey believes being principle centered
lies at the heart of leadership—
principles that are universal
and timeless that provide a foundation
and compass to guide every
decision and every act. “?I’ve based
my life’s work on promoting principle-
centered leadership,” he says.
“The principles I teach—integrity,
honesty, trust, compassion, accountability—
are found throughout the
world, including many religions and
philosophies. If you deal with principles honestly, they apply
everywhere and in every situation.”

Covey is quick to clarify that leadership is not defined by one’s
position, title, status or rank. “Working with people, including
50-plus heads of state, from all over the world and from all walks
of life, I can’t tell you how important it is to communicate effectively
to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come
to see it in themselves,” he says. “We need to help more people to
find their own purpose and unique contribution.”

With so many accolades and skins on the wall, you would
think Covey is ready to ride off into the sunset. “I still have a lot
of work to do and am currently working on several books,” he
says. “I’m turning more and more toward the social goals of crime,
education and poverty. My work will always consist of trying to
get people focused upon good principles, especially character
and contribution.”