Lessons from a leadership great – Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Dawn and Stephen Covey 2006
Stephen Covey and Dawn Frail – 2006

Stephen Covey taught many people many things. Some lessons he taught in person, and many more through his books. His passing won’t mark the end of his influence, and will hopefully spark a new generation to learn about this great man.

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Covey up close and in person when I worked as a Strategic Partner with FranklinCovey Canada. In 2006, FranklinCovey launched their new Leadership program based on Dr. Covey’s new book, Leadership. I was one of ten facilitators chosen to deliver the program at the official launch at the Snowbird Resort in Utah, USA. It was amid the majestic mountains that I came to learn that the man and the icon were one in the same. He had boundless energy, a magnetic personality, and a quick wit.

Stephen had been having trouble with his knees and I remember him climbing up the stairs to the stage. When he got settled, he hoisted up his pant leg and exclaimed, “Look what they did to me.” He revealed a knee brace and even though he was in his seventies, in his mind he was a spry 20-year old. When I heard he died this week from complications from a biking accident, I wasn’t surprised. There would have been no slowing him down no matter his age.

In his memory, I’ll share the most valuable lessons I learned from Dr. Stephen R. Covey. I dedicate this post to my friend and colleague Frank Teravich from Inspired Results, without whom I never would have had the opportunity to work with such a great man. (Thanks Frank!)

1. SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND. This is the first half of Habit 5 from the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This advice, while not always easy to live, has served me well over the years. When I’ve taken the time to understand the other person’s perspective, I’ve learned things that have helped me. Sometimes I learned things that changed my mind; other times I heard things that supported my opinion. In almost all cases, I gained insight into my own ideas, opinions and positions and I was a better person because of it.

2. THE POWER OF THE SPACE. In Habit 1, Be Proactive, there is a powerful lesson.  I may not have had this powerful concept sink so deeply into my heart had I not delivered this material what felt like hundreds of times. I can still hear Stephen’s voice on the training video we would play, that said in the most calm and assured voice, “Between the stimulus and the response, is a space.” When I was young, I was quite high strung. Some may call this an understatement, but I was about as reactive as any one person could be. I was quick to judge, quick to jump to conclusions, and quick to say what usually ended up being the wrong thing. My mother used to tell me to count to ten, but it was Dr. Covey who helped me understand that there is real POWER, in that space. And the secret to the power is that I had the power to choose.

3. URGENCY MASQUERADES ITSELF AS IMPORTANCE. If ever there was someone who was born to teach time management, it was me. As a facilitator, I earned the nickname ‘Time Tyrant.’ HABIT 3, Put First Things First, uses a four-quadrant model to analyze tasks based on both urgency and importance. As a reactive person, I realized I was letting urgency – or perhaps panic – drive many of my decisions. It wasn’t until I really understood what my core values were that I was able to get a handle on this destructive trend. (Visit my website to access a free values clarification activity)

4. WORLD’S BEST MARRIAGE ADVICE. I remember Stephen standing on the stage at Snowbird in 2006 while he expertly answered questions from the audience with insight, wisdom, and grace. The most powerful thing I heard him say that day, was the incredible answer he gave when someone asked about the secret for a happy marriage. Without skipping a beat, Stephen’s answer for having a great marriage was, “To make the other person happy, not better.” I sat silently as his simple advice went straight to my heart.

5. RAISE BOYS, NOT GRASS. Even though I had seen it many times, I loved watching the video we used to teach Habit 4, Think Win-Win. The video was a clip of Dr. Covey telling a story to a live audience about an agreement he had made with his son who was to cut the grass. When the son didn’t cut the grass, Stephen became angry with him. As he thought about how to handle the situation, he realized that he couldn’t be effective with the boy if he was angry. In the film he reenacts the conversation he had with himself to calm down. Stephen said, “Affirm purpose. Raise boys, not grass.” It never ceased to amaze me how Dr. Covey could deliver such wisdom in so few words. As a mother of four sons, my boys benefited time and again as I reminded myself to raise boys, not grass.

There is so much more that I could share when it comes to lessons learned from this leadership great. As much as his presence will be missed here on earth, I know the angels are dancing in Heaven. I’ve got a few more lessons I’d like to share, but I think I’ll put them in my next newsletter. Be sure to sign up right away because you won’t want to miss it.

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6 responses to “Lessons from a leadership great – Dr. Stephen R. Covey”

  1. Stephen Pearson Avatar
    Stephen Pearson

    Thank you, Dawn, for sharing about your experiences with, and impact from, Stephen R. Covey. Great to have a chance to read this piece.
    Wow! – how does a reactive person, as you describe yourself, raise 4 boys without going mental? As the saying goes, “As the need arises the teacher appears.” Seems it was true in this case. Nice.
    I hope you are doing well!

    1. eaglevision Avatar

      Stephen, you’re right about the teacher appearing when the need arises. You and I are the lucky ones to have phenomenal access to such a great teacher.
      Best. -Dawn

  2. My accomplice and I really loved reading this weblog post, I was just itching to know do you commerce featured posts? I’m always trying to find somebody to make trades with and merely thought I might ask.

    1. eaglevision Avatar

      Hi Penny.
      I’m always happy to share information from guest bloggers that can specifically help women leaders. Looking forward to sharing your wisdom.

  3. I’d like to point out that it’s good to sit back and reflect on what your ssceeuscs have been and what areas you need to focus on. I too have read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just like with working out, mastering these habits is not something you can pick up and put down, it’s an everlasting journey that you must be part of your lifestyle.Thanks!Joe

  4. Brilliant, thank you, I will subscribe to you RSS now!

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