Stephen Covey

February 02, 2010

By Paul Feinberg

After an introduction by UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian, in which she described him as someone who has "changed lives" and noted he was one of Time Magazine's most influential Americans, Dr. Stephen Covey took the stage. Straight away he asked the standing room only audience  in Anderson's Korn Convocation Center to participate in a simple exercise.

"Close your eyes," he asked. "Then point your finger north."

Covey then asked everyone to open their eyes, only to find fingers pointed every which way. The confusion elicited a chuckle, but Covey's point was made: Not everyone knows what direction they are going. This notion informed the 40 minute talk (which was followed by a short question and answer period), as Covey elucidated the notion that today's "knowledge age" companies must focus on their people and a corporate culture rooted in guiding principles that everyone understands and works towards.

During his lecture, Covey touched upon many of the lessons from his most famous works, including The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective People, The 8th Habit, The Leader In Me, as well as elements from the FranklinCovey management and leadership tools (including the seemingly ubiquitous planners and calendars). Speaking in a grandfatherly tone (he has 51 grandchildren with number 52 on the way), Covey described the habits - be proactive (the principles of personal choice), begin with the end in mind (the principles of personal vision), put first things first (the principles of integrity & execution), think win/win (the principles of mutual benefit), seek first to understand, then to be understood (the principles of mutual understanding), synergize (the principles of creative cooperation) and sharpen the saw (the principles of balanced self-renewal - as well as the eighth habit, which is to find your voice and inspire others to find theirs. Taken together, Covey evangelizes a management style that focuses on people, not things, and one that values integrity and leadership that comes from moral authority, not simply one's title.

Emphasizing this last point, he spoke of his meetings with such luminaries as the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, individuals whose authority is rooted in their humble roots. Similar to such individuals, Covey believes in a collective consciousness and universal principles to be used as guides for life and leadership. "The ultimate identity theft is when you sell out and become focused on comparing yourself to others," Covey said. "When man found a mirror, he lost his soul."

A short film demonstrated man's evolution from hunter gatherers to farmers, then into the "industrial age" and to today's "knowledge age." Each stage, Covey said, made man fifty times as productive as he was during the prior age. But therein lies the rub. "We live in the ‘knowledge age,' but our management comes from the ‘industrial age.' It used to be that people were considered an expense, but tools were considered an asset," Covey said, focusing on the flaw in such an equation. "[In the "knowledge age"] we manage things, but lead people. Leadership is not about control, it's about understanding the whole person."

As the evening drew towards its end, Covey spoke of the concept of "the third alternative." The notion was inspired by what he referred to as an "Indian talking stick" and the idea was that when bringing together disparate viewpoints (such as a group of Christians, Jews and Moslems with whom Covey has been working), one must listen with the other person's frame of reference. He described meetings where no one could speak until they satisfactorily described the other person's point of view and how the result of such an approach was often that aforementioned "third alternative," not to be confused with compromise.

"We're entering an ‘age of wisdom,'" Covey said. "based on principles and natural laws. We need to imbue information with knowledge and wisdom, with a goal to create greatness."

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