Steven Covey, business leader, speaker and author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and several other books, died yesterday at 79, surrounded by his family, which I’m sure is how he hoped to go.
Personally my family owes a debt of gratitude to this man. Covey came into our lives at a critical juncture and transformed our family culture. Tim and I actually spent a lot of time this past week, praising this man’s ideas, and sharing the impact he had on our lives, with no idea that this week would be his last.
When Tim and I had two children in quick succession in the late 1990s, we were in a world of hurt. We had gone from being two people deeply in love to a family of four in less than two years. After six years of romantic hand-holding, we were thrust into an endless game of ring-around-the-rosy, where we both fell down at the end of the day, feeling exhausted and underappreciated. Though we were still in love and had the family we always wanted, our way of relating to each other was unsustainable. Something had to change.
Enter Steven Covey and his Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. After finding it, we declared Tuesday ‘book club’ night. We would take a week to read 10 or 20 pages and after the kids went to bed, we would discuss what we learned. We learned A LOT, from the “Emotional Bank Account” to “thinking win-win.” What we most appreciated was Covey’s focus on “the who you want to be,” from which all real change flows.
Tim and I didn’t need the quick-fix parenting tips we found in Parenting magazine, or god-forbid, the Growing Kids God’s Way that was popular at the time. Those publications told us how to deal with a toddler’s temper tantrums, or a lack of sleep, but they left us essentially unchanged as humans, as adults responsible for these youngsters, as a couple in a life-long relationship. Covey shook us up right away with his trademark admonishment to “put first things first.” We learned quickly that the first thing any of us have to deal with is ourselves. Only when we begin there can we actually make changes, which become habits which last a lifetime.
Over the last few days, at a family retreat in the hills of Montecito, CA, Tim and I had the opportunity to share many stories of how our Tuesday nights with Steven Covey altered the course of our family life. Tim learned how to not be the “fixer” in the family, forever thinking of new and improved ways to “improve” the children and me. I learned that hogging the role of the “fun” parent robbed Tim of the ability to make deposits in his kids’ emotional bank accounts. How could he spoil them with a trip to the ice cream store after dinner if I had already taken them after breakfast? (That is not a joke. I did things like that. Still do sometimes, but I’ve learned to cut waaay back.)
Tim spoke about the power of Covey’s proverbial “pause button,” which was inspired by this quote
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.
When he first heard about the space between stimulus and response, I think he laughed out loud, or maybe wanted to set the book on fire. The “freedom to choose” sounded like something out of a science fiction novel to my young husband. But with Covey’s mix of humor, humility, and real life stories, Tim began to believe in the power of our “unique human gifts of self-awareness, conscience, imagination and independent will.”
While I spoke about the importance and power of loyalty and love within our families and world beyond, I had to keep my comments brief. We weren’t the only ones there to share our stories, but if given the chance, I could have told story after story of how Covey’s work has altered me and the way I choose to be in the world.
Today, I honor Steven Covey, the man, with my thoughts and words and prayers, but every day for the past 13 years, we’ve tried to honor his work and mission with the way live our lives. By “putting first things first,” and “beginning with the end in mind,” we’ve managed to stay on course. By remembering that our kids “won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care,” we’ve been able to put Love before the Law.
It may not sound like much, but Tim and I want to have a “highly effective family.” It isn’t glamorous, like the Kardashians, or even sweet like The Waltons. It’s real and messy and we fail in a dozen ways each and every day, but we believe what Covey taught us – that “the hope lies in the vision and in the plan and in the courage to keep coming back time and time again.”
If you’ve never had the pleasure, or privilege of reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, you can pick up a copy here.
If you have read it, please take the time to share a story of your experience with his wisdom, humor, and grace in the comments section below.