Sometime in late 2008 I was asked to interview Stephen R Covey the author of the best-selling ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, which has sold over 20million copies till date. The interview was published on December 15, 2008, the day this newspaper launched its Bangalore edition.
I was skeptical of interviewing Covey primarily because I believe that self help books are a huge con job, telling people obvious things that they already know. But something that Covey said during the course of the interview that day changed my opinion of him.
“I would say for your body: assume you would have had a heart attack. Now eat and exercise accordingly. For your mind: assume that half life of your profession is only two years, so prepare accordingly. For your heart: assume that everything is shared by another person. They can overhear and now speak accordingly. For your spirit: assume that you are going to have a one on one visit with your creator every three months, now live accordingly. So you want to have total integrity in your life, otherwise you don’t build high trust cultures,” was Covey’s last answer on that day.
The profoundness of the statement still haunts me.
Covey, one of the biggest self help gurus the world has ever seen, died on July 16, 2012, due to complications arising out of a bicycle accident three months ago. Covey had lost control of the bike he was riding and crashed.
Sean Covey told the Salt Lake City Tribune that his father was surrounded by family at the end. “Our family, all nine kids and our spouses and my mom, were able to gather together again to be with him for the last few hours of his life, which is what he always wanted,” he said. Covey was married to Sandra Merrill Covey for 55 years. He is survived by 9 children, 52 grandchildren and six great grand children.
Family played a huge role in Covey’s life. And he firmly believed that personal success went hand in hand with professional achievement. An individual, who spent too many hours at work and excelled at it, while his personal life was in a mess, wasn’t actually succeeding, felt Covey.
Perhaps, ironically when I asked Covey who his personal hero was, he had answered “Gandhi”.
In 2002, the Forbes magazine named The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People one of the 10 most influential management books ever written. Covey was one of the first “gurus” to emphasize on the fact that people need to figure out what they really want to do, instead of just trudging along. “You have to ask the question: What is it that you love doing and that you do well, and that serves a human need and that you feel called to do almost by your conscience. When those four things overlap – talent, passion, conscience and need – then people would have found their voice. But most people are never asked those questions. They are more told (what to do). They are given a job description,” he said in the 2008 interview to this newspaper.
With the advent of email, mobile phones and other communication technology, Covey felt that there was a great need to distinguish between what is urgent and what is important. “There are so many distractions and so many things that are urgent, but they are not really important. Research shows that most executives spend half their time doing things that are urgent
but not important. And they end up neglecting their families, their personal life… (and) their organizations are not as productive,” he said.
Covey’s emphasis on the family came out very well in a 1997 spin off of his original book titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. In this book he explained that putting “first things first” basically meant putting the family before anything else. He explained this beautifully through a personal anecdote where he allowed his son to spread peanut butter and jelly on his “bald” head, while he was on a business call. If ever there was a win-win situation this was one. Covey took care of his business whereas his son had quality playtime.
The obituary originally appeared in the Daily News and Analysis dated July 17, 2012
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])