A tribute to Stephen Covey, from one leadership sage to another

July 16, 2012

Let’s forget the content of his books. Or the gazillions of copies The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, or any of his others books for that matter, have sold around the world. Let’s forget his memorable seminars—and his business success.

One simply cannot pay tribute to Stephen Covey without saying at the outset that he was a lovely human being.

Stephen and I have both been figures in the world of “business thinking,” or some such. And in our world, the response to his death seems rather parallel to Tim Russert’s. All in the news industry agreed that Mr. Russert was a remarkable journalist whose body of work had been highly influential. But the heart of the matter was Tim Russert the person. Every tribute oozed warmth for an extraordinary human being.

Professionally, the term “humanist” could have been invented to encapsulate Stephen’s work. He was a man of the world, and, though in my view an optimist, he was hardly naïve and knew humanity’s darker side.

Nelson Mandela’s greatest weakness, he has said, may be that he expects the best of all those with whom he comes in contact, including his most intransigent enemies. While I’m not quite drawing a parallel between Covey and Mandela, I will say unequivocally that Stephen expected the best of all of us—and he provided us with straightforward tools and advice to help us get from here to a better there.

As also in the case of Mr. Mandela, many with whom Stephen had direct or indirect contact surprised themselves as they marched forward with their own enhanced humanism, courtesy of his work and example.

Let me resort, finally, to the vernacular: I just liked being around the guy.

I am a pessimist by nature (some find that difficult to believe), and a little dose of Covey from time to time would boost my spirits enormously—and strengthen my commitment to one or another quixotic pursuits. Though we were hardly bosom buddies, I would occasionally get an absurdly generous note from Stephen recognizing this or that that I had done. I often joked with him that, with the passage of time, I was ripping him off more and more. That is, I increasingly underscored essential principals he had articulated clearly and to which I had often given short shrift. 

In short, I will miss Stephen. He stirred my better angels, as he did for millions of others in truly every corner of the world.

Tom Peters is the author of numerous bestselling management books, including In Search of Excellence.

Read more:

My story about Stephen Covey — fellow Mormon, teacher and friend

PHOTOS | The ‘seven habits’ in action

The best new leadership books

Why ‘work-life balance’ doesn’t work

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