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)

Rickety signature.

Seven Habits Class

My employer offered a course called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” with materials from Franklin Covey.¬†From several choices I signed up for the Signature Program, compressed into 2 1/2 days. The intent of this post is not to explain and illustrate every concept but to give an overview. In the comments let me know if you would like more detail on a specific topic or just tell me what you think.

Day One

In the Foundation of the course, the character versus the personality ethic, the maturity continuum, and paradigms were introduced. We spent some time learning about Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence, which is the highest maturity level. We discussed Habit 1 which is Be Proactive. This section includes our circle of influence and our circle of concern. We were told to spend most of our time in our circle of influence. We also started into Habit 2, Begin With the End in Mind. It was pointed out that mental creation precedes physical creation.

Day Two

We started by working on our roles and relationships. For example, my roles are husband, father, child of God, engineer, and citizen. We then wrote tribute statements about how we lived each role, which is what we want people to say about us on our 80th birthdays. Next was to identify long-term goals, a discovery of our human endowments of self-awareness, imagination, and conscience. I wrote about those who have inflenced me and then drafted my personal mission statement. It was a lot of writing but it was somewhat easier for me because I had already identified my roles and had written a mission statement when I first read Seven Habits fifteen years ago.

Put First Things First is Habit 3, which speaks of effectiveness requiring the integrity to act on your priorities. The Time Matrix was introduced outlining the four quadrants that map the important, not important, urgent, and not urgent. The point is to gain more time for the important by reducing the unimportant. We were shown how to first plan weekly, before the daily, to select roles and take on the big rocks first.

After lunch we were told the Private Victory (the first three habits) must precede the Public Victory (habits 4, 5, and 6). We learned about the Emotional Bank Account where it may take up to five deposits to make up for one withdrawal. Habit 4 is Think Win-Win and is the habit of mutual benefit. Courage with Consideration and the Abundance Mentality (the opposite of the Scarcity Mentality) play into this habit. It was pointed out that we are conditioned to Win-Lose.

Day Three

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood is Habit 5 which is listening with the intent to understand rather than to reply. We should not advise, probe, interpret (explaining another’s motives and behavior based on our own experiences), or evaluate. One should listen empathetically because it is the fastest form of human communication. It is simple to do, just reflect what they feel and say in your own words.

Habit 6 is Synergize meaning the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy is creative cooperation. Highly effective people value and celebrate differences. When you face a problem, start by asking the other party, “Would you be willing to search for a solution that is better than what either of us has in mind?” With this agreed, move to reflecting viewpoints by restating¬† views to the other party’s satisfaction. Now create new ideas by proposing and refining alternatives. Eventually you arrive at the Third Alternative, with an idea that is better than what either of you started with.

Sharpen the Saw is Habit 7. In order to maintain and increase effectiveness, we must renew ourselves in body, heart, mind, and soul. This can be thought of as overlapping dimensions called physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.


It worked very well to have four different instructors over the 2 1/2 days of class. The student materials were excellent and the supporting videos were fun and instructive to watch. The time went by quickly, there was much to learn, and the target of improvement (oneself) made it all very relevant. I was fortunate to be able to attend this training at my worksite with instructors that have taught the course for several years.

Further Reading