Leadership Hall of Fame: Stephen R. Covey, Author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"

We continue our examination of the business book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in this interview with author Stephen R. Covey. Why was the book so successful, and what is he working on now?

Stephen R. CoveyWhat was the impetus for you to write The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?

It was over about a 20-year period. I got the concept of a public victory following a private victory. The first three habits represent the private victory and the next three represent the public victory. One of the most significant events that triggered this is coming across a statement in Hawaii, from a book. It read, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space, lies our power and our freedom to choose our response. In those choices, lie our growth and our happiness." That was tremendously significant to me, and developed the first habit, to be proactive.

Why do you think the book was so successful?

I think it's because it was based on universal and timeless principles. And teaches you how to become independent and interdependent. I think that's why it works well. They've sold 10 million copies in China. They don't respect intellectual property, but 10 million copies were sold. Millions in India.

How do you feel the world has changed since the book was released?

I think the biggest thing is true empowerment, where individuals are not just empowered to find their voice and achieve their potential. I can ask audiences what percentage of you have found our voice. And usually it's 10 or 20%. Most people are into victimism and into the Industrial Age model of top down command and control. They're not culturally empowered or individually empowered.

How has your process changed from 7 Habits to later books?

The way I write is to not to just sit down and write. It's to teach, and to constantly interact with the audience. So that you're constantly in the head of the reader or the listener, rather than in your own head. I am sent about 30 books a month for endorsement purposes. And I can tell you whether the book will work or not within 10 minutes—is it in the head of the writer or the head of the reader? Does it deal with the needs and challenges of the reader, or the writer? I think The 7 Habits is so immersed in the head of the reader, that's why it works.

I'm working on a book right now called The Third Alternative. I have ten other books that will follow it, that illustrate it in different fields of human behavior, such as education, government, international diplomacy, retirement—the one in retirement is called Live Life in Crescendo, meaning the most important work you'll ever do is ahead of you, never behind you, therefore, never retire from making meaningful contributions to society. The key to life is not accumulation. It's contribution.

Another book is one for attorneys. I'm working with a federal judge on that one. Another one is The End of Crime. It shows that up in the Richmond area of Vancouver, where the Olympics were, how by cultural empowerment and by police giving twice as many positive tickets—catching people doing good things—rather than just negative things, that crime goes down 85 to 90%. And recidivism goes down to less than 5%—normally it's 55%. People get deeply immersed and involved in crime. And they get trained further in prison. By working with little children and teens, police get very involved with business partners that redeem these positive tickets with entertainment packages, food packages, and so forth.

Your son wrote a book, The Speed of Trust. Did you give him any tips?

Lots. To get into the head of the reader, instead of the writer. He deals with organizational trust, and trust in relationship. Showing that when trust is high, speed goes up, and costs go down. When trust is low, speed goes down, and costs go up. And I have another son that wrote 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and he just wrote one for little children, illustrating a book that I wrote called The Leader Within, showing that if you treat children as leaders, they have so little to unlearn and so much to learn that they are developed and capacitated to perform their functions in life superbly well. In almost every case where this has been adopted by a school, academic scores go up, discipline problems go to almost nothing, teacher and parent and administrator enthusiasm goes through the roof.

You mentioned getting in the reader's head. Anything else that makes a good business book?

I think the insights have to be profound, so that it's not just the same old stuff. I think it should be based on principles that are universal and timeless.

What are your favorite business books, and why?

One of my favorites is Peter Drucker's book The Effective Executive, which I studied in my schooling. I've always been an admirer of Peter Drucker. The main one I like to study is the scriptures, because I believe them so deeply and I ponder them in depth almost every morning and night. And another one I really enjoy is Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. I used to tour with him. He's the one that wrote that book about his experiences in the death camps of Nazi Germany. He also had a sense of the importance of building a Statue of Responsibility, on the west coast—the equivalent of the Statue of Liberty on the east coast. That you have to use your liberty responsibly.

Stephen R. Covey is the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Read more about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or our Leadership Hall of Fame.

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