Tribute to Dr. Stephen R. Covey

As Presented by Bob OConnell

Member of Legacy Leadership Academy Board of Trustees

Stephen CoveyI first met Stephen Covey in the Belfast, Northern Ireland airport on a cold winter day in November 1963. He was 31-years old and had been the President of the Irish Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a little over one year.  I was a newly arrived 19-year-old with two years of service ahead of me.

My fellow missionaries and I got to know President Covey and his family on many levels: he was an example, a teacher, a thought provoker and a motivator to us all. We knew a few things about him, but as 19-years old we had little real world experience.  We probably didnt realize how much we would be changed by exposure to his influence. In retrospect, I can unequivocally state that he was the most influential person in my life to that point and has continued to be an inspiration and a beacon through the present. I had many opportunities to work closely with him in several locations and assignments throughout Ireland.  I was able to see him act and react in various circumstances and under different pressures. He helped me to formulate a sense of who I am and how I can relate to my environment and all other humans with whom I meet and interact. His consistently positive and supportive manner set a tone that motivated me to look forward to the future with confidence and anticipation.

My next exposure to Dr. Covey was in the MBA program at Brigham Young University in 1968-69. He was my professor in an Organizational Behavior course. I recognized that many of the principles taught had been refined from the Irish Mission experiences.  He had a comprehensive vision that integrated many different ideas into a coherent way of thinking and acting to achieve worthwhile results.

In 1970, his book, Spiritual Roots of Human Relations, Stephen Covey summarizes many of the principles and examples that evolved from his Irish experiences as well as the distilled understanding brought to him from teaching bright, questioning students. When my wife read the book years later, she commented that I used similar ideas and situations. I explained that many of the pages came from Ireland and MBA classes, so its understandable that it was very familiar to me.

Time moved on and in the 90s I was exposed to 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I had the opportunity to attend a lecture series taught by Dr. Covey (I still referred to him as President Covey) and resonated with the approach and principles that flowed through the lectures and examples.

When Rick Walker exposed me to Dr. Coveys 2008 book, The Leader in Me, I was instantly engaged.  Rick and I discussed the possibility of combining two great Leadership Models.  It would bring a cohesive approach that integrates Strengths and 7 Habits to a school, the Community of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and all who interacted with the school from the local businesses and civic personnel. It is not easy to create and maintain a new culture. (Culture being how a group of people responds to normal and abnormal challenges of growth and change as they face an uncertain and perilous future.) We believe, and now have empirical evidence, that these two powerful Leadership models can change minds, hearts and outcomes in a very positive way.

Stephen Covey stated early in life that he wanted to unleash human potential and that focus was unrelenting in his life. He defines leadership as: conveying to another person their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.  I teach that his leadership model is a lift model because it focuses on the individual and allows each person to recognize that they can be successful and have value. Such a perspective, when internalized, propels a person forward in surprising and wonderful ways. It changes their life and the life of those around them truly the mark of a Leader.

I consider it a rare privilege to have known and associated with Dr. Covey over such a long timeframe and in such a personal way. There are many very wise and helpful people in each persons life, but rarely do we get to read their books and listen to thousands of others learn and appreciate the lessons as we have come to understand and believe.

I also have appreciated my exposure and experiences since 2008 with Don Cliftons concepts and Gallups expertise in letting a person identify their individual talents with a simple online assessment. I have validated that my Learner talent is alive and well and I consider it a great privilege to share my experiences and conclusions with new generations who will have the potential to be great Leaders in the next decades.