Much of Stephen Covey’s advice was basic common sense. “Begin with the end in mind” was one of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that Covey urged upon aspiring business leaders in his best-selling 1989 book. Other “habits” included putting “first things first” and being “proactive.” Covey, who died this week at the age of 79, had said he was surprised by his success. Jaded office workers who roll their eyes at these now-familiar platitudes might feel the same way.
But that misses the point of business books, which are written less to inform readers than to give them easily remembered ideas about what good leadership is. The virtue of Covey’s advice is its simplicity; it can be applied almost universally. It’s no wonder 25 million copies of “Seven Habits” have been sold. Scores of business writers try to replicate Covey’s success each year, but none achieves the same kind of following — perhaps because none is as pithy.
Covey’s catchphrases have relevance today. If Barclays’ bankers were thinking “win-win,” they wouldn’t have rigged interest-rate data to benefit their bosses at the risk of cheating consumers. If lawmakers in Washington held true to his plea for “synergy” — Covey-speak for ditching competition in favor of finding alternatives better for both sides — perhaps the partisan divide wouldn’t be so deep and wide.