Epic Excerpts: Stephen Covey on Management

Stephen R. Covey is the author of the best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Other books he has written include First Things First, Principle-Centered Leadership, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, The Divine Center and Spiritual Roots of Human Relations.

Dr. Covey, father of nine and a grandfather of fifty-two, lives with his wife Sandra in Provo, Utah. He is currently a professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University.

Covey is a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a two-year mission in England for his church. Covey served as the first president of the Irish Mission of the church starting in July 1962.

I have read several of Stephen Covey’s books and have noted some passages about leadership and management that I like.

Stephen Covey

Difference Between Leadership And Management

You can quickly grasp the important difference between leadership and management if you envision a group of producers cutting their way through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out.
The managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up working schedules and compensation programs for machete wielders.
The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!”
But how do the busy, efficient producers and managers often respond? “Shut up! We’re making progress.” (Seven Habits, p 101)

Management is Discipline

Effective management is putting first things first. While leadership decides what “first things” are, it is management that puts them first, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, Management is discipline, carrying it out. (Seven Habits, p 148)

Lead People, Manage Things

You can’t lead inventories and cash flow and costs. You have to manage them. Why? Because things don’t have the power and freedom to choose. Only people do. So you lead (empower) people. You manage and control things. (The 8th Habit, p 101)


Time management is really a misnomer, because we all have exactly the same amount of time, although some accomplish several times as much as others do with their time. Self-management is a better term, because it implies that we manage ourselves in the time alloted us. Most people manage their lives by crises; they are driven by external events, circumstances, and problems. They become problem-minded, and the only priority setting they do is between one problem and another. Effective time managers are opportunity-minded. They don’t deny or ignore problems, but they try to prevent them. They occasionally have to deal with acute problems or crises, but in the main they prevent them from reaching the level of concern through careful analysis into the nature of the problems and through long-range planning. (Principle-Centered Leadership, p 138)

The Bottom Line

Management deals more with control, logistics, and effiency. Leadership deals with the top line, management deals with the bottom line. The hand can’t say to the foot, “I have no need of thee.” Both leadership and management, effectiveness and efficiency, are necessary. (Principle-Centered Leadership, p 255-256)

No Feeling, No Heart

People who are excellent managers but poor leaders may be extremely well organized and run a tight ship with superior systems and procedures and detailed job descriptions. But unless they are internally motivated, little gets done because their is no feeling, no heart; everything is too mechanical, too formal, too tight, too protective. A looser organization may work much better even though it may appear to an outside observer to be disorganized and confused. Truly significant accomplishments may result simply because people share a common vision, purpose, or sense of mission. (Principle-Centered Leadership, p 248)

Weaknesses Become Irrelevent

Remember, in a complementary team, individual strengths (voices) become productive and their weaknesses become irrelevent because they are compensated for by the strengths of others. (The 8th Habit, p 113)

Positive Synergy

People spend their creativity on their own goals and dreams — and much of the energy is lost to the organization. Negative synergy is an enormous waste of human talent. The formula for positive synergy is involvement + patience = commitment. The employee behind the desk should be treated like the customer in front of the desk. There is nothing under heaven that can buy voluntary commitment. You can buy a man’s hands and back, but not his heart and mind. (Principle-Centered Leadership, p 179)

The Greatest Creation

Let us realize as executives or as workers in any endeavor in any organization that people are the most important thing in this world. They are the greatest creation of God. (Spiritual Roots of Human Relations, p 119)

The Whole Person

Now we work with fairness, kindness, efficiency, and effectiveness. We work with the whole person. We see that people are not just resources or assets, not just economic, social, and psychological beings. They are also spiritual beings; they want meaning, a sense of doing something that matters. People do not want to wotk for a cause with little meaning, even though it taps their mental capacities to the fullest. There must be purposes that lift them, ennoble them, and bring them to their highest selves. (Principle-Centered Leadership, p 179)


Management is the breaking down, the analysis, the sequencing, the specific application, the time-bound left brain aspect of effective self-government. (Seven Habits, p 147)

By The Rules

It seems that people tend to codify past successful practices into rules for the future and give energy to preserving and enforcing these rules even though they no longer apply. Indeed, traditional procedures and practices die hard! (Principle-Centered Leadership, p 245)

True Worth

The problem is, managers today are still applying the Industrial Age control model to knowledge workers. Because many in positions of authority do not see the true worth and potential of their people and do not possess a complete, accurate understanding of human nature, they manage people as they do things. This lack of understanding also prevents them from tapping into the highest motivations, talents and genius of people. (The 8th Habit, p 16)

More For Less

The capacity to produce more for less is based on unleashing the human potential throughout an entire organization, rather than again falling into the traditional trap of having people at the top make all the important decisions and having the rest wield the screwdrivers. This approach simply does not work in modern, tough times. (The 8th Habit, p 302)

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