Stephen Covey's 'Habits' Spanned Business, Life

Stephen Covey speaks to students at the National Auditorium in Mexico City in September 2008. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Covey died Monday. He was 79. i i

hide captionStephen Covey speaks to students at the National Auditorium in Mexico City in September 2008. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Covey died Monday. He was 79.

Gregory Bull/AP
Stephen Covey speaks to students at the National Auditorium in Mexico City in September 2008. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Covey died Monday. He was 79.

Stephen Covey speaks to students at the National Auditorium in Mexico City in September 2008. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Covey died Monday. He was 79.

Gregory Bull/AP

Stephen Covey, the management and self-help guru who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has died. He was 79.

Covey's family said the writer and motivational speaker died at a hospital in Idaho Falls, Idaho, early Monday from complications caused by a bicycle accident in April.

Covey's 7 Habits, which was first published in 1989, was on The New York Times best-seller list for more than five years. According to his longtime publicist, Covey had examined the past two centuries of literature surrounding success and turned those ideas into catchy notions, ultimately a mega-hit and a publishing and consulting empire.

Covey was a motivational speaker known for boiling down life practices that lead to action in a way that made it easy for people to understand. i i

hide captionCovey was a motivational speaker known for boiling down life practices that lead to action in a way that made it easy for people to understand.

Ric Feld/AP
Covey was a motivational speaker known for boiling down life practices that lead to action in a way that made it easy for people to understand.

Covey was a motivational speaker known for boiling down life practices that lead to action in a way that made it easy for people to understand.

Ric Feld/AP

As a young man, Covey had planned to go into the family business, but as he told a convocation of students at Montana State University in 2008, his plans changed. The leader of a volunteer organization he'd been working with asked him to train other leaders.

At first he demurred as he felt it was outside his comfort zone.

"But he said to me, 'I see you have the ability to do this. I will help you. You don't have to be a great font of wisdom. You just bring people together to get them to share best practices, and to learn to collaborate, and to become creative with each other.'

"He helped me and I found my voice."

Covey's book begins by urging people to move from dependence to independence or self-mastery.

The habits: be proactive, take initiative and accept the consequences; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw, or a focus on self-rejuvenation.

"His impact has been enormous and has spanned not just the business world but how to live your life," says Jennifer Chatman, a management expert at the University of California, Berkeley. "His brilliance was in boiling down some life practices that lead to action in a way that people could get their arms around and digest."

None of it, Chatman says, was complex or very sophisticated. Many Fortune 100 companies embraced his methods; Covey became a management consultant to a lot of them. Some still rely on Covey's seven basic principles.

Covey's ideas have also been embraced by more than 800 schools worldwide. The first was A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C. Following the Columbine shootings, the school was looking for a way to improve its environment and performance.

"Our children are making better decisions [and] we're seeing a huge decline in discipline [problems]," says Muriel Summers, the school's principal.

Summers says the school also saw an increase in test scores and more engaged families, since it also taught Covey's 7 Habits to the students' parents.

"It's pretty amazing what is happening," she says.

Her words would most likely be music to Covey's ears. He loved inspiring and working with young children and had more than 50 grandchildren of his own. His publicist said Monday that she thinks Covey would most want to be remembered for being a good family man.

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