Stephen Covey 1932 - 2012

Lately, a number of CIBs and F1Ys have been asking me about what books I read.

One of the very first business / success books I read was in 1990. (And yes, I realize this is before some of my readers were born…) At the time, it was a brand new book titled: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was written by an author named Stephen Covey. Covey's book would eventually become one of the best selling books of all time (25 million copies sold) and influence people decades later.

As you might have heard today, Stephen Covey passed away earlier today.

Upon hearing the news of his passing, I realized that much of what has made me successful has come in part from adopting (and working to adopt those 7 habits).

It has taken my 20+ years, and I still have not mastered them all. I find the last habit -- Sharpen the Saw (renewal, balance) -- an on-going struggle to live by. Back in 1990, I just KNEW that would be the toughest habit for me. It continues to be true.

For life effectiveness, I found habits 1 - 3 timelessly useful.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Much of what I teach all of you is very much in alignment with these habits. Habits 1 - 2 focus on figuring out what you want and working backwards -- as opposed to observing what everyone else is doing and just trying to beat them. Habit 3 focuses on doing what is important, not necessarily what is urgent. The two are definitely not the same.

Upon further reflection, I realized that my adoption of habits 4 - 6 have in large part contributed to why I developed such strong client skills at such a young age at McKinsey (relative to my same aged peer group at the time). I'll summarize these habits here and hopefully you'll be able to see why this has been the case for me and how you might be able to do the same:

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

In working with clients (as well as other people from your life), its very useful to find a solution to a problem where everybody wins. While this is simple in concept, it takes extra effort to implement in practice.

One of my long-held business philosophies is that everybody I do business with, must win. Even the people that don't actually transact financially with me, they too must win. When people realize that you're always helping the try to win, and trust that this is you intent, they want to engage with you more and more often. This is very habit 4: Think Win/Win.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

In working with clients, especially ones that distrust you or your firm, an incredibly disarming way to build trust is to just show up, shut your mouth, and listen. Don't try to convince these new clients they are wrong, or that they need to listen to you and help you. Just show up, listen, take notes, and ask clarifying questions to confirm you UNDERSTOOD what they're saying.

It is very, very hard to sustain inherited anger or resentment towards someone who listens to, and confirms understanding of your every word.

I have done this both with consulting clients and also when working in industry. One of the beautiful outcomes of this approach is once someone knows you've heard and UNDERSTOOD them, even if you make a decision or make a recommendation that is NOT what they were hoping for, they are 10 times more likely to accept the decision.

I remember one colleague of mine who explained this to me. I made a decision that would cause him and his team to do a lot more work. But he said to me:

"Victor I understand that there are other factors that go into the final decision. I figure that since you (meaning me, Victor) know and UNDERSTAND what's important to us, if the decision doesn't go our way, then it must be because there are other factors that are even more important. Because we trust that you understand us, we trust your final decision will balance all factors -- even the ones we are not personally familiar with."

By the way that last paragraph embodies a PRICELESS lesson in managing client relationships and very much embodies habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

Habit 6: Synergize

The principle of habit 6 is in any situation where you're deciding between two seemingly opposing options, come up with a THIRD option. Often in client situations, you have one group of clients that wants X and the other wants Y.

This might occur in a post merger situation, where former employees of Company 1 are arguing for one approach, but former employees of Company 2 are arguing for a different one. Or it might be a rivalry between two divisions of the same company… or a disagreement between two departments of the same division.

In these situations, both groups tend to just FIGHT. I want this. No I want that, etc…

But when you come in, understand what both are trying to accomplish (Habit 5), and come with a win/win attitude (Habit 4), then it moves you to consider creating a previously unmentioned "third option" that gets everyone more of what they want.

It is the equivalent of rather than fighting over what % of the pie (of resources) each side gets, it's about finding a way to grow the size of the pie.

Though I have briefly summarized the 7 Habits book, I know that I have not done them justice. It is still worth reading 7 Habits as the explanations and examples really help one to internalize the key ideas.

In Covey's 79 years he made amazing contributions that have benefited me and countless others. He will be missed. While he has passed away, his body of work, his legacy, has and will continue to stand the test of time.

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15 comments… add one
  • Inspiring Quotes Jul 17, 2012, 12:21 pm

    Sad that he’s no longer with us. Would really have liked to meet him while he was still alive. His 7 habit books made a major impact on my life many years ago, and I know it did so too for millions of others. May his soul rest in peace.

  • Ela Jul 17, 2012, 6:31 am

    Hi Victor,
    First of all, thank you for your insights and good advice. I would like to ask about your habbit no. 4 – “Think win-win”. Have you ever come across people who do not deserve to be dealt with with a “win-win” approach? My impression is that sometimes (!) we meet people who would simply exploit any attempt to make the solution beneficial to everyone including them. They don’t care about the size of the pie, they do not seem to be rational and just want their demands to be met and any compromise will just make it easier for them to demand more than they deserve.
    Have you ever been in such situation and what would you recommend?
    Have a nice day!

    • Victor Cheng Jul 17, 2012, 10:59 am


      In my experience, some people are just flat out dishonest, and I avoid them at all times.

      However, I have found the majority of people to be honest but often focused only on what they want. This isn’t a problem. In fact, such a person is almost always predictable. When presented with an opportunity that benefits them a lot, they will choose it over an opportunity that benefits them only a little.

      The key is to elicit from the other side not just WHAT they want (they’re usually very vocal about this), but also WHY they want it. Then I always pose the question, as follows (not literally). If what you want is X, and why you want it is Y. If I got you more of Y, but it didnt involve X would you be okay with that?

      Often this question is unexpected because in their mind they have implicitly conclude that X = Y, but they quickly realize Y is what they want and seem oddly curious that you seem to be implying there is another means to the the end.

      So if someone one is in it for themselves, that I can work with. If someone is simply out to make you suffer for no other reason than to make you suffer, that’s an unworkable situation – and one I avoid.


  • Ratish Ch. Roy Jul 17, 2012, 5:55 am

    The world has missed a very strong personality. In fact he will be with us as always. We pray for peace of his soul.

  • Jork Jul 17, 2012, 4:51 am

    I dearly cherish Steve Coveys book.
    I read the one on 7 habits of highly effective families, shows gives the 7 habits in a family environment and how to implement these life principles into raising children and helping them finding their own purpose.
    Even though my children are still you and my family growing, I started to implement the 7 habits not only in my professional life, but also into our family, with a family motto (mission statement) etc. It’s fun to see the kids participate and engage in activities to shape their family environement and family culture, that most employees disregard or accept with boredom.
    May his family be comforted over the loss of a caring husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather and may they live up to the promises to be reunited one day as an eternal family.
    May the LORD bless them.

  • Rawshan Jahan Soshi Jul 17, 2012, 3:22 am

    Great people’s death makes us mourn
    Makes the time to be sworn
    To follow the right way
    To leave the dark with the light of new day

  • Rehan Ahmed Jul 17, 2012, 1:50 am

    I am truly shocked to receive the news of Cove’s decease. The world has lost such a personality who will be missed by million of people.

    Rehan Ahmed

  • Satyajit Jul 17, 2012, 1:32 am

    A great man always does a lot of great jobs. We are very shocked and his contribution will be remembered for long.

  • Raman Jul 17, 2012, 12:13 am

    A fitting tribute to the legendary Covey. Great summarization of his thoughts

  • Subrata Kumar Das Jul 17, 2012, 12:00 am

    The news on Stephen Covey’s death is a great shock for the professional world. His contribution to this world will be remembered for long.

  • Joe Jul 16, 2012, 11:58 pm

    Covey’s 7 Habits are timeless. Take just one habit and implement; you will escalate to top percent.

    It is interest how Covey choose the term, “habits”. Oh boy, it does take practice and attention to develop a new habit. Those are not a overnight transformation. But, developing the habit and we will see a lifetime transformation.

    That is why Covey ended with Habit #7 Sharpen the Saw.

    • Victor Cheng Jul 17, 2012, 1:30 am


      I couldn’t agree more. It’s fitting that he did not call his book 7 Ideas for being an Effective Person.


  • Samdani Fakir Jul 16, 2012, 11:48 pm

    It is a great loss for the world. Covey made remarkable contribtutions through his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He will remain alive with us. May Allah allow him eternal peace.

  • Sadaaf Jul 16, 2012, 11:38 pm

    I really like getting your emails. It motivates me and encourages me to keep trying. Also, really looking forward to the reading list you will be sending!

    • Golam Sarwar Jul 17, 2012, 7:43 am

      We are very sorry to know that Mr. S.Covy is no more . It`s a greet lost for the world. May Allah keep him peace.

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