Begin with the end in mind. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. For more than two decades, politicians, athletes, CEOs and many other readers have taken these and other inspiring words from the late Stephen R. Covey's seminal self-help book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change." To celebrate the book's new 25th anniversary edition, one of Covey's sons, Stephen M. R. Covey, also an author, speaker and adviser at global performance improvement firm FranklinCovey, recently spoke with U.S. News about his father's lasting public and private lessons. Excerpts:
What do you think is the legacy of your father's work?
My father focused on the idea of leadership based upon universal principles. He didn't invent them, he didn't create them. He organized them and framed them, made them accessible, made them memorable. It's affected literally people throughout the world, from CEOs down to kids in school. And I think that because he focused on principles that were universal and that crossed cultures, crossed time, crossed countries, that is part of why the work that he's done remains enduring.
How relevant is the book today?
I think it's become even more relevant today. The world's become more connected, more interdependent, and technology aids all of that. "7 Habits" really moves a person from dependence to independence to interdependence. More than ever we need to be able to understand how to effectively work with people. The common approach today is not what "7 Habits" is teaching, which is a different way of saying, how can we work together to achieve and attain something better than either of us could do on our own?
The seventh habit is "sharpen the saw." What does that mean?
The whole idea is never be too busy sawing; take time to sharpen your saw. You've got to renew yourself. We're also in a world that's exhausted and where people are wrung out. "I don't have time for that," people say. My father's argument was that by doing that you'll have a sharper saw, you'll be able to do what you're doing better and faster, and it will create more energy. At the end of the day it will save time and you'll be more effective. He modeled this, by the way. He'd sharpen the saw every day. I remember people would ask him, "Do you live the seven habits?" and he'd say, "About 80 percent of the time. I try to 100 percent of the time, but I fall short, too. But what I do is I course-correct."
What's your favorite lesson from him?
I remember one time I was a teenager, I'd said something to him that provoked him. I remember him kind of getting upset. I took offense, and so I huffed off to my room. I would say to myself, I know Dad's going to come in here and try to apologize, but I'm not going to forgive him. Sure enough, an hour or so later my dad came into my room. Surprisingly he didn't come in and just apologize, rather he just came in and just wanted to listen and talk. He didn't have the time for this, by the way – that's kind of my point. He had an important thing the next day. But he just sat there and sat there and sat there. He was a great listener.
Over time I started to talk, and then I talked more and more. By the end of it, not only were we talking, but he said, "Son, I apologize for losing my temper." And I said, "Dad, I forgive you." I vowed I wasn't going to, but he had earned that by just building that relationship. He didn't have the time for that. Yet he just made the time. What I saw and felt that day was my father cared about me, he loved me, and because I saw it and because I felt it, I was far more willing and open to hearing it. That's a great source of influence. As good as my dad was in public as an author and as a teacher, he was even better in private as a husband and as a father. He was who you thought he was. He had real integrity.
Congress doesn't get high marks from the public for effectiveness. What could lawmakers learn from "7 Habits"?