Stephen R. Covey writes in his blockbuster self-improvement tome, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, about the "social band-aid" effect of much recent success literature, the tendency to create personality-based solutions to problems that go deeper. "Success became more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques, that lubricate the processes of human interaction," he wrote. Covey acknowledges the importance of the "personality ethic," but he sought to go deeper and emphasize the "character ethic," something Covey saw as a fading concept. He went back further and found inspiration in figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Thoreau, and Emerson.
Indeed, everything old is new again in Covey's works. The author himself would admit that nothing he is saying is terribly new; but Covey's synthesis of years and years of thinking about effectiveness resulted in a smash personal growth title -- one that continues to be a top seller nearly 15 years after its first publication. The title, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, makes it sounds like a quick-fix path to power, but Covey's philosophy is rooted in exactly the opposite notion: There are no quick fixes, no shortcuts. He is writing about habits, after all, which can be as tough to institute as they can be to break. His list: Be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; sharpen the saw.
Covey's subsequent titles are based in some way or another on this seminal book. First Things First offers a time-management strategy and a new way of looking at priorities. Principle-Centered Leadership is an examination of character traits and an "inside-out" way of improving organizational leadership. Covey, a Mormon, also wrote two religious contemplations of human effectiveness and interaction, The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations and The Divine Center. These were Covey's first two titles; his esteem for spirituality is not absent from subsequent work but appears as just one more tool that can be applied in self-improvement.
Like Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese?, 7 Habits has been able to achieve astonishing sales success by espousing ideas applicable beyond an office setting. Covey's books are about self-improvement more than they are about corporate management, which has enabled him to create a successful version of the philosophy for families (entitled, of course, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families) in addition to attracting people who just want to be more efficient in their lives, or bolster that diet.
Most attractive about Covey is his versatility in conveying his ideas. His books are structured in appealing, number-oriented groupings ("Three Resolutions," "Thirty Methods of Influence," four quadrants of importance in time management) and big umbrellas of ideas, but within these pockets Covey draws from a wide range of resources: anecdotes, business school exercises, historical wisdom, and diverse metaphors. Sometimes, Covey uses himself as an example. He knows as well as anyone that practicing what he preaches is tough; but he keeps trying, which makes him an inspiring testimonial for his own books.
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Covey is married to Sandra Merrill Covey. They have nine children.
Covey is co-chair of FranklinCovey, a management resources firm based in Provo, Utah. He has also been a business professor at Brigham Young University, where he earned his doctorate.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 12 million copies in 33 languages and 75 countries throughout the world.
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