“Close your eyes,” Stephen Covey told a standing-room audience who came to the Anderson School to hear the man Time Magazine called one of the 25 most influential Americans. “Then,” he instructed them, “point your finger north.”
When Covey asked everyone in Korn Convocation Center to open their eyes, a chuckle arose from the audience whose fingers were pointing every which way. Covey’s point: Not everyone knows what direction they are going in. That simple exercise illustrated the focus of his talk Feb. 1 on why today’s “knowledge age” companies must focus on people and a corporate culture rooted in guiding principles that everyone understands and works towards.
A best-selling author and expert on principle-centered leadership and living, Covey shared many of the lessons outlined in his most famous works, including “The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective People,” “The 8th Habit,” “ The Leader In Me,” as well as elements taken from FranklinCovey’s management and leadership tools.
Speaking in a grandfatherly tone (he has 51 grandchildren with one more on the way), Covey described the habits – be proactive (the principles of personal choice); begin with the end in mind (the principles of personal vision); put first things first (the principles of integrity and execution); think win/win (the principles of mutual benefit); seek first to understand, then to be understood (the principles of mutual understanding); synergize (the principles of creative cooperation); and sharpen the saw (the principles of balanced self-renewal. Add to this the eighth habit — to find your voice and inspire others to find theirs. Taken together, Covey evangelizes a management style that focuses on people, not things, and one that values integrity and leadership that comes from moral authority, not simply one’s title.
Covey spoke of meeting such luminaries as the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, individuals whose authority comes from their humble roots. Following their lead, Covey said he too believes in a collective consciousness and universal principles to be used as guides for life and leadership. “The ultimate identity theft is when you sell out and become focused on comparing yourself to others,” Covey warned. “When man found a mirror, he lost his soul.”
A short film traced man’s evolution from hunter gatherers to farmers, then into the industrial age and to today’s “knowledge age.” At each stage, Covey said, man became 50 times as productive as he was during the prior age. But therein lies the rub.
“We live in the ‘knowledge age,’ but our management comes from the industrial age,” Covey said. “It used to be that people were considered an expense, but tools were considered an asset. … [In the “knowledge age”] we manage things, but lead people. Leadership is not about control, it’s about understanding the whole person.”
One way to do that, Covey said, is inspired by what he referred to as an “Indian talking stick” and the idea that one must listen to another’s frame of reference when meeting with people with disparate viewpoints. He described meetings where the rule was that no one could speak until they first described another speaker’s point of view satisfactorily.
“We’re entering an age of wisdom,” Covey told the audience, “based on principles and natural laws. We need to imbue information with knowledge and wisdom, with a goal to create greatness.”
A version of this story appears on the UCLA Anderson School’s website.