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Passages: Stephen Covey's '7 Habits' changed behavior

8:56 AM, Dec 28, 2012   |    comments
Stephen Covey in 1997.(Photo: AP)
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The ideas, all seven of them, still sound so simple.

Be proactive. Think win-win. Begin with the end in mind, to name a few.

Yet they made Stephen Covey a force of human nature, his "7 Habits" woven into the emotional well-being of millions in almost any walk of life, from self-help to the corner offices of Corporate America.

Covey died at age 79 on July 16 from complications after a bicycle accident in April.

At a workplace of the future conference during his presidency, Bill Clinton cited The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as one of three books every worker should read to "dramatically" boost the nation's productivity.

Chief Executive magazine chose 7 Habits as the most influential book of the 20th century, and leading companies of the 1990s - FedEx, Hewlett-Packard, Conoco and Saturn, for example - trumpeted Covey's principles.

When Molly Howard was named School Principal of the Year in 2008, she said her reward in life was finding "win-win solutions ... I believe in Covey's 'seek first to understand, then to be understood.'"

When Hurricane Katrina blasted into Mississippi, a local utility got the power back on in 12 days, a feat described as a case study in crisis management. Those responsible at Mississippi Power told USA TODAY they had steeped their culture in the 7 Habits and that "Covey-speak" - "be proactive" and "think win-win" - served as a basis for quick action and on-the-spot innovation.

Interesting, too, was the unusual crossover that Covey had into personal lives. The book bought by the company often made its way home, often at the kitchen table, fodder for dinner conversation in guiding or reconstructing everyday lives.

The Covey concepts, such as "Begin with the End in Mind," forced people to think about what friends or family members or co-workers would say about them at their funerals, all of which had a way of sparking a change in mind-set, even in the way people tended to behave.

George Francis, a senior vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield, said the Covey principles began to guide his life as a corporate officer as well as "Dad."

"If I owned this company, every employee would live by the seven habits," Francis said in an interview after Covey's 1989 blockbuster launched and he began to command up to $25,000 per speech.

Covey died following a biking accident that had knocked him unconscious. He was wearing a helmet and riding downhill at the time.

Not entirely comfortable with all the attention he began to receive, Covey traveled widely but often surreptitiously to remain incognito. Covey and his family opened up to USA TODAY reporter Del Jones, during a rare visit to Covey's home, about his personal lifestyle - and wacky sense of humor.

Covey once greeted the prom date of his youngest daughter, Jenny, in a mask with a rifle across his legs. "What are your intentions?" Covey demanded. Jenny remembers her father driving her to grade school and asking: "Do you want me to be crazy dad or boring dad?" Naturally, she preferred crazy dad, who would feign he was headed for a crash into the trees, Jones wrote.

Covey said he developed the 7 Habits after studying hundreds of books and essays on success written since 1776. He noticed that the literature of the 20th century was dominated by gimmicks or "social Band-Aids" to improve the personality.

In contrast, the writings of Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin, for example, were based on character and principles such as integrity, courage and patience.

His approach was straightforward. Habit 1: Be proactive, meant simply: Take responsibility for your life. Quit blaming your spouse, your boss or the kids, and take action.

"(Live by) your own set of principles, your sense of vision of what your life is about," Covey said. "Maybe in a few months or year and a half, two years, you'll be in an altogether different world."

OTHER NOTABLE PASSAGES IN BUSINESS, 2012

Barry Becher, 71, marketing mastermind and infomercial pioneer known for introducing U.S. TV viewers to Ginsu knives, the Miracle Slicer, Armourcote Cookware and a bevy of other products. Complications from surgery related to kidney cancer, June 22.

Barton Biggs, 79, former chief global strategist for Morgan Stanley who warned three years before the crash in dot-com companies that stocks were too expensive. Biggs co-founded one of the first hedge funds, Fairfield Partners, in 1965. Biggs joined Morgan Stanley in 1973 and founded Morgan Stanley Investment Management in 1975. In a speech in Tokyo on Jan. 21, 1999, Biggs predicted that a spectacular rally in Internet stocks would "come to a very bad end." Short illness, July 14.

James Burke, 87, former Johnson & Johnson CEO who steered the health care giant through the Tylenol poisonings in the 1980s that resulted in the first tamper-resistant product packaging. Later, as chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Burke persuaded TV stations and newspapers to run free ads warning of the dangers of illicit drugs. In one of the most memorable ads, an announcer intoned, "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs," as an egg sizzled in a frying pan. In 2000, President Clinton awarded Burke the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Unspecified illness, Sept. 28.

Robert Cohen, 86, built the Hudson News chain of newsstands from one store at New York's LaGuardia Airport. There are now more than 600 stores across the nation. Complications from progressive supranuclear palsy, Feb. 1.

James Herr, 87, founder of the company that makes Herr's potato chips and other snack foods. Herr began his career with a $1,750 investment in a small potato chip company, the Herr Foods website says Respiratory illness, April 5.

Sanford McDonnell, 89, former CEO of McDonnell Douglas who turned his family's troubled aerospace company into one of the country's leading defense contractors. Under "Sandy" McDonnell's stewardship, the company built the Air Force's F-15 Eagle fighter jet. Pancreatic cancer, March 19.

Elinor Ostrom, 78, Indiana University political scientist and only woman to have been awarded a Nobel Memorial Prize in economics. Ostrom won a share of the 2009 prize for analyzing the rules by which people exercise authority in companies and economic systems. Pancreatic cancer, June 12.

John Phelan, 81, who led the New York Stock Exchange into the modern era and provided calm when stock prices crashed in October 1987. During his tenure as vice chairman, president and then chairman from 1975 through 1990, the NYSE spent millions on technology to make trading swifter and less prone to error. Complications of prostate cancer, Aug. 4.

Harold "Red" Poling, 86, former Ford Motor chairman and chief executive officer from 1990 to 1994 who helped lead the automaker through two recessions. He also approved spending $3 billion to engineer an aerodynamic sedan named Taurus that became the top-selling car in the United States after it was introduced in 1985. Cause not given, May 12.

Bernard Rapoport, 94, founder of an insurance company who became a linchpin of the beleaguered community of Texas liberals. He was a major donor to Democratic candidates, progressive causes, Israel and the University of Texas. In 1951, he borrowed $25,000 and founded American Income Life Insurance. Cause not given, April 5.

Jerome Rubin, 86, who helped bring to market the commercial online research database known today as LexisNexis and the display technology behind Amazon Kindles and other e-readers. Stroke, Jan. 9.

Jack Tramiel, 83, whose Commodore computers helped establish a mass consumer market for personal computers in the 1970s and 1980s. Tramiel, a concentration-camp survivor, transformed the computer market by building dependable home computers at a price that regular people could afford. In 1977, he introduced the Commodore PET, the first PC to cost less than $1,000. In 1982, he made his most lasting mark with the Commodore 64, with 64 kilobytes of internal memory. By 1984, Tramiel's company had sales of $1 billion a year and commanded 42% of the U.S. home-computer market. Heart failure, April 8.

Chaleo Yoovidhya, in his 80s, self-made Thai billionaire who co-founded the Red Bull brand. He started T.C. Pharmaceuticals in the 1960s and made an energy-drink prototype a decade later called Krathing Daeng, or Red Bull in English. Natural causes, March 17.

USA Today

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