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Voices on Leadership: Stephen R. Covey

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Stephen R. Covey
Author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Thursday, July 17, 2008; 11:00 AM

Stephen R. Covey, author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," was online Thursday, July 17 at 11 a.m. ET to provide business leadership advice.

Covey has authored three other books on leadership including: "First Things First," "Principle-Centered Leadership," "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families," and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which was named the "Most Influential Business Book of the Twentieth Century." In addition, Covey was honored with the International Man of Peace Award.

He also launched a Web community.

For more leadership content on washingtonpost.com, read our blog, The Intelligent Leader and watch a video interview with Kevin Plank, in our new weekly Voices on Leadership video series.

The transcript follows.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Dr. Covey -How do you see the relationship between emotional intelligence and Habit 1 (Be proactive)? What is the best way you have found to strengthen using the gap between stimulus and reaction, to avoid being overly reactive?

JMG

Stephen R. Covey: Develop all four intelligences. PQ (physical intelligence) which represents 70 trillion cells that fight disease and digest your breakfast. IQ (intellectual intelligence) EQ (emotional intelligence) the sensing and wisdom of the heart - - and SQ (spiritual intelligence) having to do with meaning, purpose and integrity around your selected value system and your believed source. Being proactive involves all four intelligences, which manifest themselves in vision, discipline, passion, governed by conscience. When combined, they change the world for good. They lift and they last. This will not happen when one of the intelligences is ignored. This is all found in the first part of The 8th Habit book.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hello,

Thank you for taking my question. I have been in the workforce for over 12 years in various industries. I have observed several people with mediocre leadership and organizational skills work in director or higher level positions. It almost seems as though they produced a "good talk" to get themselves into an organization. Do you have any thoughts about how mediocre leaders keep on progressing?

Thank you.

Stephen R. Covey: True leadership is moral authority, not formal authority. Leadership is a choice, not a position. The choice is to follow universal timeless principles, which will build trust and respect from the entire organization. Those with formal authority alone will lose this trust and respect and create a dichotomized culture (formal vs. informal).

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Washington Metro Area: I bought your book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," and was thoroughly impressed with your principle of interdependence. I work for a dysfunctional organization; how would you suggest I propose your training program to my director? Please help.

Stephen R. Covey: I would get someone trained in The 7 Habits that can facilitate it throughout your organization. Very few people have ever been trained in the mindset and skill set of interdependency. But, it's the only one that will give long term, sustainable advantage. Make sure that there is top level, visible support for this training program so that the entire culture will come to see the value of synergistic communication and the unleashing of the creative potential of complementary teams (where strengths are made productive and weaknesses are made irrelevant through the strengths of others).

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Mr. Covey: Thank you for taking our questions. I would like to advance in the workplace and am tired of being held back. I have been told by many that I am great at my job and have excellent judgment/creativity/subject expertise/work ethic but project a lack of confidence. I used to suffer from major social anxiety due to an embarassing medical condition, but I've improved so much and am ready to stop hiding in the background.

How can I learn to present myself with more confidence so I can play more of a leadership role? I don't necessarily want to manage people, but I would like to play a key role in setting strategy.

Stephen R. Covey: Start small, make a promise and keep it. Then, make larger promises and keep them. Eventually, your honor will become greater than your moods or your circumstances, which includes your medical condition and other people's stereotypic observations. Once you overcome this comparison based mentality, your confidence will soar. The great identity theft is the cultural DNA, not someone taking your wallet. By committing to live by timeless, universal principles, you will restore your true natural DNA and become the creative force of your own life. With every good wish!

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Washington, D.C.: How much does your SQ affect your writing? Please say something to those who believe that the 7 Habits are nothing more than the tenets of the Mormon Church.

Stephen R. Covey: There is not one thing in The 7 Habits that is uniquely Mormon. I have taught them all over the world from all six major world religions, as well as from classic, philosophical and psychological literature. Spiritual Intelligence is also universal and our conscience can be educated and followed toward transcendent purposes that can serve any personal, organizational or societal goals.

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Rexburg, Idaho: Dr. Covey, I am a big fan! I noticed that you announced the launch of an online learning community today. How do you see this website helping people achieve their goals?

Stephen R. Covey: Most learning is social, or what I call the cultural DNA. Everyone knows that word of mouth advertising is the best advertising. That's social learning. To have an interactive, social learning community where people can support, encourage, share, account, etc. with each other, we are tapping into the finest source of learning. This is particularly important when that learning is based upon universal, timeless, life changing principles. This will be the dominant theme of StephenCovey.com.

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New York, N.Y.: My boss is resigning and I will be taking over the position. I had quite a few issues with her work ethic, managerial style, organization and attitude, which is rather significant. I hope to change that when I take over. I was wondering if you had any suggestions or advice for when I do.

Stephen R. Covey: Listen, listen, listen. Involve, involve, involve. Synergize, synergize, synergize. If you do these three things, you will bury the old and create an entirely new winning culture which will unleash people's talents and create complementary teams where strengths are made productive and weakness are made irrelevant through the strengths of others.

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Antioch, Ca.: Dr. Covey,

I just checked out your new online learning community and am very excited. One question I did have for you was, are personal goals something that we should share with others?

Stephen R. Covey: Yes, with those you have trust and confidence in and who genuinely care for your growth and development. You can even set up mutual accountability support systems, which will powerfully motivate and reinforce your learning. On this community, you can choose to share only with those you wish to share it with, not with the entire population or you may keep it to yourself.

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Reston, Va.: Many people see schools as "businesses." Do your strategies also apply to leadership in the educational community?

Stephen R. Covey: Absolutely. In fact, we are bringing out publications dealing with the educational area. Watch the A.B. Coombs video at StephenCovey.com as an illustration. We now have hundreds of schools deeply involved with FranklinCovey all around the world in applying the underlying principles with stunning results.

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Baltimore, Md.: How could one obtain top level support to support an organizational wide 7 Habits training effort?

Stephen R. Covey: Nothing converts cynics like results. Get a facilitator trained and then invite those most interested and watch the results. This will get top level champions and visibility and you can then take it through the entire organization. We have done this with thousands of organizations. We have more than 20,000 facilitators.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I was curious what made you decide to incorporate social networking and online learning with your personal-growth philosophy?

Stephen R. Covey: My growing awareness of the power of this new technology and my disgust with a lot of the flimflam that is out there. Also, my awareness of what a powerful trend online learning is becoming. People are social beings and want interaction and social learning is the primary form of learning, just as word of mouth advertising is the highest form of advertising. I am also impressed by the power of mutual support and accountability.

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SW, D.C.: How can I stop being so frustrated with people who are not 7-Habits? I get really frustrated with co-workers who are not proactive, who never try to understand things from another perspective (like #5 says), who just basically "go with the flow" and are happy with the mediocre outcome.

Stephen R. Covey: Learn Habit 1, Be Proactive, so that your behavior isn't a function of other people's weaknesses but of your own values and principles. Be a light, not a judge, be a model not a critic. Little by little, your circle of influence will explode and you will avoid the emotional metastasizing cancers of complaining, criticizing, competing, comparing and cynicism, all which reflect victimization, all of which are the opposite of being proactive.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Dr. Covey: Thanks for answering my previous question about becoming a leader in the workplace...I found your response very helpful.

I don't quite understand you wrote: "The great identity theft is the cultural DNA, not someone taking your wallet." Can you elaborate a little more?

Stephen R. Covey: In one second, I can split a room in two by having each side look at a picture. Then I put up a third picture and 95 percent of the people will see as they are conditioned to see through a one second experience. They will interact differently, based upon the person they see and in a short period, you will see cliques, fighting and contention. Imagine the power of years and years of being socialized or enculturated with this DNA overlaying your true nature.

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Makati City, Philippines: If you were to boil down effective leadership through the ages to now and into the future what are the most elemental components and are they applicable across most industries and cultures?

Stephen R. Covey: Absolutely. The universal elements are integrity, vision, discipline, passion, governed by conscience. Conscience has been educated through studying and pondering the universal, timeless principles of all six major world religions. For instance, the Golden Rule (Do unto others ...) can be taught from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, as well as all enduring classic, philosophical and psychological literature.

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Fairfax, Va.: Mr. Covey,

You have been recognized with an International Man of Peace Award. What advice would you give the current administration, along with the presidential candidates on seeking Peace?

Regards, -Aiman

Stephen R. Covey: Synergistic communication where you create the third alternative solution with both friends and enemies. If you have an evil enemy, your very effort will get the moral support of the uncommitted and win them to your side.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Mr. Covey,Big fan of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." I always have a hard time "sharpening the saw." I try to do what you recommend for leaders in dealing with people but I'm not sure if I'm practicing enough when not interacting with employees. Do you have any hints?

Stephen R. Covey: That is because you are very emotionally involved in jugular issues and it is much more difficult to practice empathic listening and synergistic communication. Just keep at it and make your mind up to listen first and to go for third alternatives. Study the chapter titled, "Blending Voices" in The 8th Habit Book and it will help you develop and the mindset and skill set of doing this.

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Augusta, Ga.: I went to your online community and was very interested. When will the content be available for your various Groups? What can you tell me about the 7 Habits of Healthy People?

Stephen R. Covey: New content will be added on a regular basis, however, there is currently content available within the 7 Habits of Healthy People group. Click on the learning tab to access this. Within these groups, you can benefit from learning and sharing with each other, starting conversations.

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Burke, Va.: Is it possible for an individual who is not religious to acheive the apex of spiritual intelligence?

Stephen R. Covey: I don't believe so, because I believe that God is the source of all the universal, timeless principles. And to Him, I give all the credit and the glory. However, to a person who is not religious, I believe they can live to the highest level of their conscience and develop spiritual intelligence that surpasses most people, including many religious people, who profess but do not practice.

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Leadership vs. Power: How do you separate the two? I work with some leaders who seem to be more concerned about showing they have power than leading us in the mission.

Stephen R. Covey: Again, this is the difference between moral authority and formal authority. Management is formal authority given from above. Leadership is moral authority given from below and all around. I had a recent visit with Nelson Mandela, who is turning 90 now, and learned first hand, from a person with enormous moral authority, who learned to forgive and reconcile and unite under the most difficult of circumstances while in prison and after his release, in becoming the first President of the new South Africa.

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Raleigh, N.C.: What are aspects of ourselves that we should focus on when setting our goals at stephencovey.com?

Stephen R. Covey: The four dimension of life represented by the metaphors of body, heart, mind and spirit. Exercise, rest and feed the body wisely. Systematically, in disciplined ways, keep your learning going and turn the TV way down. Build strong emotional bank accounts with your loved ones and the key people in your life. And, live life in crescendo, meaning the most important work you will ever do is always ahead of you. You may retire from a job, but not from extremely meaningful service. In other words, fail your retirement. Let total integrity be your watchword.

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Washington, D.C.: I dare you to take one negative question

I was hired at a company to do a specific task. I do this task and do it fairly well. Why should I be proactive and do more? I wasn't hired to do these other things I'm not being paid to do these other things. All I want is to be left alone work 9-5 and I'm happy. Should I move to the midwest?

Stephen R. Covey: Stay contented in your small circle of influence, but you will find over time that it won't be as satisfying as you think now and it won't be an example for your children and grandchildren and your work associates. I would encourage going the second mile and enlarging your circle of influence and I will promise you a whole new level of satisfaction and contribution and example will result. You will be much happier.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Why is it important to point out that principles are "universal and timeless" and not simply say that they work well for you and may work well for someone else too?

Stephen R. Covey: Simply because they are indeed universal and timeless. I have found this from my experience in teaching them all over the world, not just from trying to live them. And, I have abundant, hard evidence from science, observation and experience that they are not my principles, that they truly belong to the entire human race.

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Berlin, Md.: What is the role of leadership in facing environmental and social responsibility in the future? Do you see opportunity for win-win outcomes?

Stephen R. Covey: I definitely see a possible win-win outcome, but it will require deep, sustained empathy and synergistic communication, which most greeners find hard to do because they are convinced of their rightness. Remember this, what air is the body, to feel understood is to the heart. I have practiced these skills in front of large audiences with pure environmentalists and pure nature exploiters and have seen them produce, in front of surprised, but thrilled audiences, win-win solutions.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: How quantifiable are your observations? For instance, are people able to identify the characteristics you describe as existing within successful organizational leadership teams and then are able to calculate that more successful organizations have these traits than those that do not?

Stephen R. Covey: Yes. Our observations are quantifiable. We have tested them in many, many environments so we are confident that our findings can be institutionalized, enculturated and transferrable to any organization, public or private. We look at four basic criteria to define greatness. First, sustainable superior performance from an economic angle. Second, a winning culture of unleashed people measured by xQ (execution quotient). This can be found on the Web under FranklinCovey.com/8thhabit. Third, high next promoting score from customers and all business partners done by scientific research. Fourth, distinctive contribution using tailored information based on the nature of that contribution.

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Stephen R. Covey: Thank you for your meaningful questions and the opportunity to respond to them. I only wish it were more face to face and that I could empathize more with the full dimension of your question so that my answer would evidence this understanding and respect and deserve your respect, as well, even though we may not be on the same page on all these matters. Thank you so much for the privilege of this short interaction.

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Stephen R. Covey: Live Life in Crescendo!!! Best Wishes, Stephen Covey.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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