Stephen Covey Got Us Talking About Leadership

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A giant tree fell in the forest of leadership thinkers last week, with the death of Stephen Covey.

I happened to be attending the annual convention of the National Speakers Association when I heard the news. I was seated at lunch, with 7 other professional speakers, collectively representing a wide variety of topics, and each of us reflected on how much Stephen Covey had influenced the business in which we all make our respective livings, and to an even greater extent, the world of business itself.

Time Magazine named Covey to its 1996 list of 25 Most Influential Americans, and the same publication, along with Forbes, named his flagship book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleone of the most influential management books of the current era.

His son, Stephen M.R. Covey carried on his father’s legacy, with his 2008 book, The Speed of Trust. We were honored by the shout-out to our book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk, on page 79.

Perhaps the elder Covey’s most important contribution was the voice he gave to the early conversations about leadership, in the late 1980’s. Along with others, like Tom Peters, Warren Bennis, and Peter Drucker, Covey got us talking about leadership. He raised its profile, and caused many to see the immeasurable value of learning not only to manage a business, but to lead people to powerful performance.

In the last few economically tumultuous years, leadership development has, in most organizations, taken a backseat to maximizing short-term profit (or minimizing losses), and businesses are already paying a price. But that price will be dwarfed by the cost of the leadership dearth to come in the next few years, if leaders don’t take steps now to reverse the trend and revitalize their commitment to leader development.

Perhaps our most lasting tribute to Stephen Covey would be to restart the leadership conversation in our own organizations.

Godspeed, Stephen Covey.

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