Stephen Covey on Leadership -- Interview by Sharif Khan
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Stephen Covey on Leadership -- Interview by Sharif Khan
While making a rare public appearance in Toronto at the
Mississauga Living Arts Centre, world-respected leadership
authority Dr. Stephen R. Covey granted Sharif Khan a
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Distribution Date and Time: Wed Feb 08 12:10:14 EST 2006
Written By: Sharif Khan
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Stephen Covey on Leadership -- Interview by Sharif Khan
Copyright � 2006 Sharif Khan
Psychology of the Hero Soul
"The call and need of a new era is for greatness. It's for
fulfillment, passionate execution and significant contribution."
- Stephen R. Covey, from The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to
Making a rare public appearance in Toronto at the Mississauga
Living Arts Centre, world-respected leadership authority and
author of the international bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly
Effective People, named the #1 Most Influential Business Book of
the Twentieth Century, Dr. Stephen R. Covey spoke on his latest
book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness to a packed
Having taught principle-centered leadership for over four
decades, this living legend and world icon, with his quiet energy
and grace, epitomized a call to greatness and earned the respect
of the audience -- standing as a grandfather figure for
unleashing human potential in many generations.
A hero to millions, Dr. Covey is known the world over for his
landmark work around helping people take profound ideas,
philosophies, and principles and distilling them into easy-to-use
daily habits that anyone can apply. In his inspirational
presentation at the Living Arts Centre, he conveyed simple yet
very powerful gems of wisdom that I found practical and useful.
For example, if you want your children to develop a love of
learning and never have to rag on them again for not doing their
homework and not getting better grades, simply ask them when they
return from school, "Teach me what you've learned today." By
using this one simple habit, Covey claims he's never had a
problem encouraging his children to learn because teaching is the
best way to learn.
Another gem he talked about is the habit of seeking to understand
before being understood through empathic listening. In the
audience of over 800 people, he asked how many people had any
formal training on listening; only 13 hands went up revealing
just how ego-centric of a me-me-me culture we live in. Covey
related how many Native Indian tribes use what's called the
Talking Stick which is used in all meetings where the person
holding the Talking Stick is the only person allowed to speak
until he or she feels understood; when the possessor of the
Talking Stick feels completely understood, then, and only then,
is the Talking Stick passed on to the next person. This creates
an incredible understanding and synergy among the team. Every
business would do well to have a Talking Stick!
Covey then went on to the crux of his message which is the 8th
Habit of becoming an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity
by finding one's voice and helping others to find theirs.
According to Covey, the main problem is that businesses are still
trapped in the old paradigm of Industrial Age thinking even
though we're well into the Knowledge Worker Age. What's required
is a new paradigm he calls the "whole body paradigm" of
integrating body, mind, heart, and spirit which he respectively
equates to the principles of discipline, vision, passion, and
conscience. The Industrial Age is still very much focused on the
body (things, systems, structures, procedures, efficiency,
bottom-line). But Covey estimates that approximately 80 percent
of all the value added to goods and services now comes from
knowledge work versus things. Twenty years ago that number was
the inverse: only 20 percent.
So the key is not behavior � it's the map. The key is the
accuracy of the map. Once paradigm shifts the behavior will also
shift. Covey clearly illustrated this point by asking everyone to
close their eyes and point "North." When he asked us to open
our eyes and look around, I noticed everyone was pointing in
different directions! In a similar vein, the majority of
organizations have their people pointing in different directions;
sighting a recent Harris Poll, Covey states that "only 37 percent
of workers say they have a clear understanding of what their
organization is trying to achieve and why." No one knows where
true "North" is. There is no moral compass, no conscience, no
Part of the solution, according to Covey, is to have a
transcendent goal, what he calls a WIG or Wildly Important Goal,
that serves a greater purpose. Only once this goal is clearly
communicated to everyone in an organization can quantum
improvements begin to happen in the workplace.
Here is my interview with Dr. Covey revealing his latest insights
from his most recent book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to
What sacrifices have you made to be where you are today?
I have worked very hard to dedicate my personal and professional
life to principlecentered living. I am driven by a passion and
conscience to spread understanding for principles and how to
apply them to reach greatness. To that extent, there is no
sacrifice � only a passionate, relentless commitment to my work,
family, community and church to make a lasting difference.
What in your opinion is the most important attribute of a leader
I believe the most important attribute for a leader is being
principle-centered. Centering on principles that are universal
and timeless provides a foundation and compass to guide every
decision and every act. I've based my life's work on promoting
principles and teaching the power that resides in principle-
centered leadership. Principles are not my invention; they are
self-evident and are found throughout the world. If you look at
all enduring philosophies, religions and thoughts, you will find
principles such as integrity, compassion, trust, honesty,
accountability and others at their core. I simply translated
these principles into a framework of habits, which when followed
with consistency and frequency transforms one's character and
allows one to earn the moral authority necessary for enduring
I must also clarify the definition of leadership, which is sadly
and narrowly defined as position, title, status or rank. This is
formal authority and not necessarily leadership. Through years of
study, teaching and working with people all over the world,
from all walks of life, I have determined that leadership is:
Communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that
they come to see it in themselves. It is the influence we have
with others to help them discover their own voice, to find their
own purpose, to make their unique contribution, and to release
their potential, that truly defines leadership. Thus, leadership
extends to the many personal and professional roles we play � as
workers, parents, children, teachers, students, swamis, you name
it � and the choice we make to live by principles to help others
find their voice.
In your book, 8th Habit, you talk about finding one's voice and
developing one's "unique personal significance." How does one
begin doing that?
To achieve greater heights each person must be challenged to find
their voice � their unique personal significance and purposeful
meaning � and help others to find theirs. Voice lies at the nexus
of talent, passion, need and conscience. When anyone engages in
work that taps into their talent and fuels their passion � that
rises out of a great need in the world that they feel drawn by
conscience to meet � therein lies their voice in life. The 8th
Habit is all about how to find your voice and help others to
What leader do you really admire and why?
One immediate leader who comes to mind is Muhammad Yunus, founder
of the Grameen Bank. His story is one that illustrates the path
to finding one's voice and helping others find theirs. Muhammad
saw a need, felt his conscience move him to try and fill that
need and applied his talents and passion to fill it. In the
process, he found his voice and helped others to find theirs.
Muhammad wanted to help his impoverished fellow citizens in
Bangladesh. He met a woman who made bamboo stools only to make
two U.S. pennies each day. He inquired about her work and found
that the woman had no money to buy the necessary bamboo, so she
was forced to borrow money from a trader on condition that she
sell him her finished product at a price he dictated. This poor
woman in essence was held hostage by this trader.
This woman was not alone, there was an entire village of 42 hard
working people working in unbearable circumstances and Muhammad
calculated that it only required $27 U.S. dollars to help them
out. He immediately gave the money to the people and told them
it was a loan to be re-paid when they were able.
Muhammad even went further to ask the local bank to loan these
villagers additional money and offered himself as a guarantor.
Much to the skepticism and surprise of the bankers, the villagers
paid every penny back on several loans.
Muhammad eventually expanded this loan program by creating his
own microcredit lending institution called the Grameen Bank, so
he could help numerous villages.
Grameen Bank now works with more than 46,000 villages giving
micro-loans, lending approximately half a billion dollars a year
to empower the poor (96% of whom are women) to produce and sell
their goods and build housing. So far, the bank has assisted 3.7
million people. The micro-credit movement has now spread
throughout the world.
What advice would you give youth who will become future leaders
In my 8th Habit book I share the idea that everyone chooses one
of two roads in life, whether you're older or younger, man or
woman, rich or poor. The most traveled road is the one that takes
us to mediocrity and the other less traveled road takes us to
greatness and meaning. The first road limits us and prevents us
from realizing our full potential. This road is often the quick-
fix or short-cut approach to life. It often lures us to it when
we don't take accountability for ourselves or see ourselves
as victims. My advice to the youth is to avoid the road of
mediocrity. It's probably hard for them to see into the longterm,
but if they will try to see themselves as human beings with vast
potential, and see that next to life itself their greatest gift
is choice � they can choose their responses to whatever comes to
them in life, and take responsibility for their choices, their
behaviors, their feelings and choose to create their future.
My son, Sean, wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens
to help [young people] become their best selves. He speaks
wonderfully to the youth (much better than I), and I would
recommend his book to anyone wanting to start good habits
at a young age.
Sharif Khan (http://www.herosoul.com; sharif@...) is
a freelance writer, motivational speaker, coach, and author of
Psychology of the Hero Soul, an inspirational book on awakening
the hero within and developing people�s leadership potential.
He provides inspirational keynotes and leadership seminars and
also helps companies develop empowering content through his
copywriting services. To contact Sharif directly, call
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