We lost a management icon yesterday when Stephen R. Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” passed away. He was a hero of ours.
I saw Stephen R. present for the first time when I was in my early twenties. He had been asked to give a presentation to a magazine I worked at, and I sat with a pen and notebook as he masterfully took us through exercises and lecture. And yet what I remember most about the afternoon was that as the hours passed, most of us editors and writers started grumbling among ourselves that the magazine’s higher ups should there to listen to this leadership message. “The bosses are the ones who really need this,” we muttered to each other. As if reading our minds, Covey stopped at one point and gently said, “I know what you are thinking. You are wishing someone else was here to listen to this. Please stop it. This is about making you the best person you can be. You can’t control them, you can only influence yourself.”
It was a sobering lesson that I never forgot.
Years later when we began researching and writing, our work on culture and teamwork was influenced by Stephen R’s thoughts on “interdependence.” In a day of “me first” and “influencing others,” twenty years ago he introduced the then-revolutionary concept of “Thinking Win-Win.” The author explained that the most effective people in business look for the most mutually beneficial solutions—without a wish to dominate others.
It was an idea that some had a hard time grasping around the world.
His son David, a dear friend of ours, recounted that soon after the 7 Habits release, publishers around the world bought the rights and translated the book. Now understand that with most translations, you typically never know what’s really in the finished book unless you read French, German or Chinese. And that was Stephen R’s experience. He received copies of the book in 38 languages, but had no idea if they were true to his original.
Eventually Covey was asked to speak in Europe, where he introduced this concept of “Win-Win.” A confused audience member approached the author after the presentation and showed him the book in another language. The man explained that the publisher had changed “Think Win-Win” to “Think Win-Lose.”
Laughed David Covey to us, “’Win-Win’ obviously didn’t make any sense to the translator, so he must have thought it was a mistake and changed it.” Of course, in the reprint, the Coveys brought the breakthrough concept to this part of Europe (which shall remain nameless)—as well as to millions of other businesspeople around the world.
The importance of Stephen R. Covey’s work cannot be overstated. He set off a chain of communication, teamwork, and relationship-building around the world that has resulted in stronger organizations and more effective leaders. It’s an amazing legacy that will live on.
We have been honored to have Stephen R. endorse our books through the years, and we stand on his shoulders in so many ways.