Stephen R. Covey 

Highly Effective author on gravity, universality

His book sat on my bookshelf for years but I never read it, and now I can't find it, which violates three or four of Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. But after speaking with Covey, I'm not sure I'd be able to glean from the book what countless business executives the world over have gleaned, which is a path to spiritual leadership and secrets of a balanced and successful life. I just wanted to talk to him about his iPhone, but I ended up googling "celestialized."

It's Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. What have you accomplished this morning?

I've been "sharpening the saw." I've been swimming and biking and briefly pondering the scriptures ... I'm working on getting a book out called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Parents.

What will you recommend to parents?

It's more of a to-do book. To know and not to do is not to know. That's the idea. So that parents need to come up with a description of what kind of parent they want to be and live by it so they have integrity. We have nine kids and 51 ... 52 grandkids.

Were you a highly effective parent?

Oh, I don't know. It's measured more by how they turn out. And all of ours turned out great. They've all got degrees, they've all been on missions and we're trying to raise a mission-focused family so that all of our grandkids go on [LDS] missions--boys and girls. They learn selflessness, they learn self-discipline, they learn teamwork. And they also make a great contribution to other people's lives.

In what way?

They show how God is no respecter of persons. He loves all his children and therefore he has a provision to teach about the redemptive power of Jesus Christ to every person whether they learn it here in mortality, or whether they learn it in the spirit world or whether they learn it during the millennium when the savior will be here.

I taught this to President Bush just before he left [office]. He shook his head as I walked in the Oval Office, saying, "I don't know how the other faiths and nations are going to hear about the redemptive power of Christ," and he didn't know about Peter's teachings about the spirit world and how everyone will be able to, even though they are dead, their spirits go into a place where they can receive instruction. He didn't know anything about the Millennium, how the savior will be here for a 1,000 years it will be a terrestrial state--it won't be celestialized until after the Millennium.

I'm not following all of this. What exactly did Bush not know that you taught him?

He didn't know about the spirit world and how everyone will have an opportunity to hear about the redemptive power of Christ. And he didn't know about the terrestrial 1,000 year period ...

I guess I'm a little surprised to hear you delve into so many religious topics. In my research for this interview I'd read that you teach "universal" principles. Is this lecturing on Mormon doctrine something new for you?

Yeah, they are universal and they are also timeless. I can teach it in Buddhism. I can teach it in Hinduism. I can teach it anywhere in the world. I usually focus on universal and timeless principles and also how to marshal them in order to be more effective as a leader. Showing that leadership is moral authority, like Gandhi, father and founder of the largest democracy in the world and never held a position. Also, had a great personal visit with Nelson Mandela and he got his moral authority in prison. Have you seen the movie Invictus?

Yeah I did. How did your talks with Mandela and Bush compare?

I didn't go deeply into the plan of life and salvation with Nelson Mandela. I did with George Bush because he was interested in that, that's the first question he asked. But Nelson Mandela, he was more interested in forgiveness and compassion and making reconciliation.

I wanted to ask you about technology and being more effective at work, but since you brought up your religious beliefs, how do you separate your specific religion from what you call "universal principles" in your books?

I focus almost entirely on universal and timeless principles like gravity. I try to show that values drive behavior but principles drive the consequences of behavior. I basically, focus more on universal and timeless principles of any culture, any religion, any faith, all around the world. I'm not going to be getting into Mormon doctrine [at Boise State].

What's happened with large American companies in recent years?

We teach the four imperatives of leadership. The first one is to inspire trust, which has been undermined ... the second one is to execute with excellence, the third one is to accomplish more with less and the fourth one is to turn all this fear and anxiety into commitment and engagement. I think that trust is very low and trust is the key to speed and low cost and accomplishing more with less, particularly if you are thoroughly transparent and authentic ...

Accomplishing more with less ... is that tied to some principle?

Yeah, it's finding out what your customers really want and focusing there rather than trying to cover the waterfront with all kinds of other things.

What about with employees?

It's the same thing with the employees. If they are empowered and you create an empowered culture, then they all become very, very creative.

So basically what I'm going to teach up there is how we have moved from the industrial age to the knowledge worker age where there is a much higher level of empowerment and engagement and where you, what I call "build the seven habits" into every person so that the culture is embodying the seven habits and also the four imperatives of leadership and it gets institutionalized in the structure and the systems so that you can produce so much more with so much less.

They tell us here to do more with less, too.

Well, doesn't that challenge your creativity, though? Do you feel empowered or do you feel like you're still a kiss up culture?

What about doing more with more? America used to be a land of plenty.

Well, you don't have more because resources are getting limited and more jobs are getting eliminated so it causes people to be fearful and anxious. If they don't feel empowered and deeply engaged to be creative and to work on strategic issues, then you have a low-trust culture and then everything slows down and costs go up.

What technology have you adopted?

I have an iPhone, but I don't use computers and I don't get e-mail. I have my office handle my e-mail.


Just so that I can focus upon the essential purposes of my work, which is not urgent, but important. We have data showing how the great organizations in the world focus on that which is important, but not urgent ... Technology is a good servant but a bad master. A lot of people spend their life in front of screens.

How do you master your technology?

I have a complementary team in my office that do that for me.

How does the average person do that?

They have to become part of a complementary team where strengths are productive and weaknesses are made irrelevant through the strengths of other people, kind of like a chorale group, you know ... I'm not high on technology myself but I have people around me that are.

Can you be a highly effective person and also relax and chill out?

You can lead a balanced life and have peace of mind and chill out and have fun and still focus your primary energies on that which is important and that which really contributes to your community and to your business and to your family. I don't think any other kind of success can compensate for failure in the home.

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