What can I say to capture a glimpse of the significance of the life of Stephen R. Covey? For me his influence came flooding back last summer when I realized the homework I was helping my 6-year-old grandson with was a worksheet to write his personal mission statement. Yes, I knew he was in a Leadership elementary school modeled after Stephen’s work, but this personal incident drove to my core that the magnitude of Stephen R. Covey’s legacy was in educating future generations.
You can get a hint of a person from their words, but those words are not the person. Actions speak so much louder than words. And Stephen’s actions and his words were congruent; he walked his talk. I had the privilege in the 25 plus years of working closely with Stephen to see him not just on the stage, but behind the scenes. The sincerity and passion that he communicated to a class or audience was the same respect he showed an individual. I repeatedly saw him treat not just the dignitaries he met with reverence but their staffs as well. Anyone who has spoken with him privately reports experiencing that the spark in his eye and his glowing smile and countenance verified his sincere concern and empathy for them at a visceral level. He affirmed them. He always sought to bless not to impress and admonished all to do the same. I echo what our friend Tom Peters just said about Stephen, “I just liked being around the guy.”
Stephen believed we are here to learn and to contribute. As Steve Jobs put it, “We are here to put a dent in the universe.” Stephen R. Covey was a visionary man. This was evidenced in his declaring to the executive team of his publisher, Simon & Schuster New York, that his new book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was destined to sell 10 million copies in its first decade. I watched the wave of skepticism wash across these seasoned publishers as they rolled their eyes at his naiveté. While their skepticism may have been justified, so was his vision, as his book, not yet published at the time, has gone on to sell over 20 million copies in 40 languages around the world. Although his pronouncement was bullish, he made it with deep humility, and he was always first to point out that his work was just common sense but would always add that it was also not common practice.
Stephen would not want us to aspire to be him, but many times suggested, as the old adage goes, to: “Follow not in the footsteps of the masters, but rather seek what they sought.” Stephen sought what they sought – in his words, “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.” And leave a legacy he did—in an extraordinary family and a body of work that includes numerous books and encompasses an enterprise that teaches his work in over 100 countries and, more importantly to him, thousands of schools around the world.
Stephen repeatedly encouraged me to read a book a week and reminded me that knowledge and experience were all that we take with us when we die. I am sure he is joyous that his passing is triggering a renewed reading of his works and hopes it may reach even one more person that will be inspired by it.
One of his favorite quotes was from Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” He inspired and changed my heart to that end.
I conclude with another favorite of his that is relevant at this tender time; the epitaph Benjamin Franklin wrote for himself:
The Body of
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stripped of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.
Stephen, I love you buddy, stay close.