Monday, July 16, 2012

Tribute to Stephen Covey

stephen covey tribute
As you may all know by now, Stephen R. Covey, the best selling author of the groundbreaking classic, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" passed away this week. Because of his enormous contributions to the entrepreneurship and personal development space, I feel we should all pause for a moment and thank God for gracing our world with such a wonderful and insightful individual. When the news flashed across my screen, I slumped back in my chair and breathed in a deep sigh of sadness. In a show of humble gratitude and respect, this will be the only post running on this website this week.

I remember when I first read "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" back in the 90s. The book is filled with what we would think is common sense and practical advice, but it takes a truly gifted individual to present information in such a way that makes it accessible to millions who otherwise would not have benefitted. This was the true gift of Stephen R. Covey. 

He spoke of personal experiences and life challenges that most of us would rather keep to ourselves for fear of embarrassment or criticism. Not Stephen Covey. His overwhelming desire to serve a higher purpose and help as many people as possible clearly outweighed any need to "put on a good face" for the public.

Take for example the following account. One of Stephen's son was having a tough time in school and in his social life. Stephen and his wife made an honest assessment of themselves and came to a startling realization. So moving is the story that I feel compelled to share at least part of it here.

"Sandra and I were consumed with a desire to help him. We felt that if 'success' were important in any area of life, it was supremely important in our role as parents. So we worked on our attitudes and behavior toward him and we tried to work on his. We attempted to psyche him up using positive mental atitude techniques. 'Come on, son! You can do it! We know you can...'" 

"When others laughed, we reprimanded them. 'Leave him alone. Get off his back. He's just learning.' And our son would cry and insist he'd never be any good...'" 

Stephen eventually realized this was nothing more than a quick fix bandaid that would not help their son at all. He continues...

"...As Sandra and I talked about the concepts I was teaching at IBM and about our own situation, we began to realize that what we were doing to help our son was not in harmony with the way we really saw him. When we honestly examined our deepest feelings, we realized that our perception was that he was basically inadequate. Somehow 'behind...'" 

"We began to realize that if we wanted to change the situation, we first had to change ourselves. And to change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions." 

"...I realized that Sandra and I had been getting social mileage out of our children's good behavior, and, in our eyes, this son simply didn't measure up. Our image of ourselves, and our role as good, caring parents was even deeper than our image of our son and perhaps influenced it. There was a lot more wrapped up in the way we were seeing and handling the problem than our concern for our son's welfare." 

Covey and his wife started on a journey to change themselves in an attempt to help (not change) their son.

"Through deep thought and the exercise of faith and prayer, we began to see our son in terms of his own uniqueness... We also conscientiously worked on our motives and cultivated internal sources of security so that our own feelings of worth were not dependent on our children's 'acceptable' behavior." 

Then, slowly but surely their son was transformed through faith, patience and love:

"As the weeks and months passed, he began to feel a quiet confidence and affirmed himself. He began to blossom at his own pace and speed... As the years passed, he was elected to several student body leadership positions, developed into an all-state athlete and started bringing home straight A report cards. He developed an engaging and guileless personality that has enabled him to relate in nonthreatening ways to all kinds of people..." 

How many people have the courage to share such a personal story in such a public way? Stephen Covey came across as a man of great wisdom, insight and a willingness to serve. I came away from "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" with more than advice for business or personal development. I came away with a clear example of leadership, courage and compassionate parenthood.

I do not know if the family of Stephen Covey will ever see this post but I want to share with them a few words I spoke at my grandfather's funeral a few months ago. He too was great man and I saw him as more than a grandfather. His passing was difficult for all of us. Then, I reminded myself and those in attendance of my grandfather's legacy. I concluded with the following words:

"The mark of a true believer is in the work they leave behind; that the place in which they leave is better because of their work. Understanding this, we have much to celebrate. The best way we can celebrate and honor his memory is by being the absolute best that we can be in all that we do."

Stephen R. Covey left an incredible body of work that will be celebrated and studied for generations to come. To his closest family and friends, you have much to be proud of and much to be thankful for. Thank you for continuing to share with us the gifts of this wonderful man. May he rest in peace and may God continue to bless you and your family.

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