Alumni Perspective – Stephen R. Covey (MBA '57)

Stephen R. Covey is the author of the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and has also written First Things First, Principle-Centered Leadership and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. Dr. Covey established the “Covey Leadership Center” which later merged with Franklin Quest to form FranklinCovey, a global professional-services firm and specialty-retailer selling both training and productivity tools to individuals and to organizations.

“Focus on what is important, not what is urgent.”

Those words from Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Harvard Business School class of 1957 Section B, form not only his own personal credo but also counsel he offers thousands of people world-wide, through books, seminars, and consulting services.

Covey, co-founder and vice chairman of FranklinCovey, has sold more than 20 million books in 38 different languages, including the best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey has been named one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential people in America, as well as International Entrepreneur of the Year.

As a successful businessman and the father of nine children and 49 grand children, Dr. Covey recognizes that life can pull you in many different directions, but he says you can use this as an advantage rather than a challenge.
A recipient of the National Fatherhood Award, Covey says, “I think there can be a synergy rather than a trade off if you really involve your family in what you’re doing and if you really get involved with them.”

“I know that there are day to day tradeoffs,” he explains. “But by focusing on the important and not the urgent, everyone benefits in a synergistic way where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So I look at minor tradeoffs as just that, minor.”

Covey describes his time at HBS as “profound” because he learned the whole power of synergies from the interactive case discussions. He is quick to acknowledge that he found great value in the time he spent with his professors and the relationships he developed with his classmates.

He also learned that we control our own destiny. “We are the creative force of our own lives,” Covey counsels. “We are not a victim of circumstances or our past. There’s always a space between what has happened to us and our response to it.”

In balancing his life, Covey has always felt that family is most important. “No success can compensate for failure in the home,” he remarks. “I would never sacrifice your family. There is a season of imbalance, I acknowledge that, but I would pay whatever price it takes to keep your family really close.”

Covey’s advice to current students is to make learning teams more efficient and effective by making strengths productive and weaknesses irrelevant. His advice to departing HBS students is to “not just rely on your Harvard degree, but rather strive to make significant contributions in your job and more importantly in your circle of influence.”

He strongly advocates using a compass to guide your life and not a watch.

“You should build your life on principles which always point north – that are universal and timeless,” Covey admonishes. “You should avoid anything that will in anyway compromise your integrity.”

“If you work on the basis of principles that are universal and timeless so that you have an internal integrity, you can find that the space [between what happens to us and our response to that] is getting larger and larger. And as it gets larger it gives you tremendous courage. It also gives you great peace of conscience. And you can begin to make great contributions.”

Covey holds a BS from the University of Utah, a doctorate degree from Brigham Young University, an MBA from HBS, and has been awarded 10 honorary doctorate degrees. His newest book, The 8th Habit of Highly Effective People, was released in 2004 and has risen to the top of numerous bestseller lists.

Through all his business and personal success, Covey has learned that no matter your circumstances, you can find happiness if you are optimistic and hopeful. “Live life in a crescendo and realize that the most important work you’ll ever do is always ahead of you.”

April 7, 2008
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