By Stephen R. Covey
Since the publication
of my book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective
People, I have worked with many wonderful individuals
who are seeking to improve the quality of their communications,
relationships, products, services, organizations,
I see many people using a variety of ill-advised approaches.
In effect, they try to apply short-cut, manipulative
practices learned in academic and social systems to
natural systems, the "farms" of their lives.
Let me share
with you some examples of the problem. Then I will
suggest the principle-centered solution.
- Some executives
justify heavy-handed means in the name of virtuous
ends. They say that "business is business"
and that "ethics" and "principles"
sometimes have to take a back seat to profits. Many
see no correlation between the quality of their
personal lives at home and the quality of their
communications at work. Because of the social and
political environment inside their organizations
and the fragmented markets outside, they think they
can abuse relationships at will and still get results.
- The head
coach of a professional football team once told
me that some players don't pay the price in the
off-season. "They come to camp out of shape,"
he said. "Somehow they think they can fool
me, make the team, and play great in the games."
- When I ask
in my seminars, "How many of you would agree
that the vast majority of the work force possess
far more capability, creativity, talent, initiative,
and resourcefulness than their present jobs allow
or require them to use?" The affirmative response
is about 99 percent. We all admit that our greatest
resources are being wasted.
- Our heroes
are often people who make a lot of money. And when
some hero an actor, entertainer, athlete, or other
professional suggests that we can get what we want
by practicing hardball negotiation, closing win-lose
deals, and playing by our own rules, we believe
them, especially if social norms reinforce what
- Some parents
don't pay the price with their kids, thinking they
can fake it for the public image and then shout
and slam the door. They are then shocked to see
that their teenage kids experiment with drugs, alcohol,
and sex to fill the void in their lives.
- When I invited
one executive to involve all his people and take
six months to write a corporate mission statement,
he said, "You don't understand, Stephen. We
will whip this baby out this weekend." I see
people trying to do it all over a weekend trying
to rebuild their marriage on a weekend, trying to
change a company culture on a weekend, trying to
pump out a major new business proposal. Some things
just can't be done over a weekend.
- Many executives
take criticism personally because they are emotionally
dependent on their employees' acceptance of them.
A state of collusion is established where executives
and employees need each other's weaknesses to validate
their perceptions of each other and to justify their
own lack of production.
- In management,
everything goes to measurement. July belongs to
the operators, but December belongs to the controllers.
And the figures are manipulated at the end of the
year to make them look good. The numbers are supposed
to be precise and objective, but everyone knows
they are based on subjective assumptions.
- Most people
are turned off by "motivational" speakers
who have nothing more to share than entertaining
stories mingled with "motherhood and apple
pie" platitudes; they want substance; they
want process; they want more than aspirin and band-aids
for acute pain. They want to solve their chronic
problems and achieve long-term results.
- I once spoke
to a group of executives at a training conference
and discovered that they were bitter because the
CEO had "forced" them to "come and
sit for four days to listen to a bunch of abstract
thoughts." They were part of a paternalistic
culture that saw training as an expense, not an
investment. Their organization managed people as
- In school,
we ask students to tell us what we told them; we
test them on our lectures. They figure out the system,
and then they party, procrastinate, and cram to
get the grades. They think all of life operates
on the same short-cut system.
Center on Principles
These are problems
that common approaches can't solve. Quick, easy, free,
and fun approaches won't work on the "farms"
of our lives because there we're subject to natural
laws and governing principles. Natural laws, based
upon principles, operate regardless of our awareness
of them or our obedience to them.
of ineffectiveness are rooted in our social conditioning
toward quick-fix, short-term thinking. In school,
many of us procrastinate and then successfully cram
for tests. But does cramming work on a farm? Can you
go two weeks without milking the cow, and then get
out there and milk like crazy? Can you "forget"
to plant in the spring, goof off all summer, and then
hit the ground real hard in the fall to bring in the
harvest? We might laugh at such ludicrous approaches
in agriculture, but then in academic environments,
we might cram to get grades and degrees.
The only thing
that endures over time is the law of the farm: I must
prepare the ground, put in the seed, cultivate, weed,
water, and nurture growth. So also in a business or
a marriage there is no quick fix where you can just
move in and magically make everything right with a
positive mental attitude and a package of success
are like compasses: they are always pointing the way.
And if we know how to read them, we won't get lost,
confused, or fooled by conflicting voices and values.
Principles such as fairness, equity, justice, integrity,
honesty, and trust are not invented by us: they are
the laws of the universe that pertain to human relationships
and organizations. They are part of the human condition,
consciousness, and conscience.
trust those whose personalities are founded upon correct
principles. We have evidence of this in our long-term
relationships. We learn that technique is relatively
unimportant compared to trust, which is the result
of our trustworthiness over time. When trust is high,
we communicate easily, effortlessly, instantaneously.
We can make mistakes, and others will still capture
our meaning. But when trust is low, communication
is exhausting, time-consuming, ineffective, and inordinately
would rather work on their personality than on their
character. The former may involve learning a new skill,
style, or image, but the latter involves changing
habits, developing virtues, disciplining appetites
and passions, keeping promises, and being considerate
of the feelings and convictions of others. Character
development is the best manifestation of our maturity.
To value oneself and, at the same time, subordinate
oneself to higher purposes and principles is the paradoxical
essence of highest humanity and the foundation of
leaders are men and women of character who work with
competence "on farms" with "seed and
soil" and who work in harmony with natural, "true
north" principles and with the law of the harvest.
They build those principles into the center of their
lives, into the center of their relationships, into
the center of their communications and contracts,
into their management processes, and into their mission
R. Covey is an internationally respected leadership
authority, family expert, teacher, organizational
consultant, and co-chairman of Franklin Covey Co.
He is also the author of several acclaimed books,
including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
© 1992, 2001 by Franklin
Covey Co. All rights reserved. For personal use