Stephen Covey: Best Quotes and Leadership Inspiration

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Stephen Covey was an esteemed author, respected professor, and founder of the Covey Leadership Center (now FranklinCovey) most well known for his international bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Recognized as Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans, Covey remains one the world’s authorities on leadership, organizations, and families. Born to Mormon parents in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1932, Covey started his life as a locally acclaimed athlete until a severe leg injury forced him to look to more scholarly pursuits.

After graduating from high school two years early, Covey entered the University of Utah at just 16, where he would graduate four years later with a degree in Business Administration. His initial intention was to take over the family business, “Covey’s Little America,” but instead decided to spend his required 2 year stint as a Mormon missionary in Britain. Upon his return, he worked to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School, and then a doctorate in religious education from Brigham Young University.

It was at Brigham Young, while working as an assistant to the University’s President, that his ideas for The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (and the subsequent books on a similar theme) began to take shape. Since its publication in 1989, more than 25 million copies have sold worldwide.

Here are some of his best ideas concerning leadership:

1. Habit 1: Be Proactive

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

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

Habit 6: Synergize

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

2. Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.

3. If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control – myself.

4. The way we see the problem is the problem.

5. Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).

6. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

7. Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and

he will become as he can and should be.

8. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

9. To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.

10. I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

11. When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.

12. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.

13. We are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.

14. You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”

15. It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another thing not to admit it. People will forgive mistakes, because mistakes are usually of the mind, mistakes of judgment. But people will not easily forgive the mistakes of the heart, the ill intention, the bad motives, the prideful justifying cover-up of the first mistake.

16. Happiness, like unhappiness, is a proactive choice.

17. Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.

18. There are three constants in life… Change, Choice and Principles.

19. Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential.

20. How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.

Since his passing in 2012, Stephen Covey has only increased in popularity as a recognized international thought leader. His 7 Habits essentially changed the game concerning how the world views leadership, and have become the tenets by which every successful entrepreneur lives and operates.

About the Author Bill Ringle

Bill Ringle is a CEO, former Apple exec, published author, and angel investor. Through Grow Business Now, he offers strategies and tools to elevate growth for executives and entrepreneurs from more than 46 industries. Bill has conducted nearly 200 podcast interviews on My Quest for the Best, where industry and business leaders share their secrets to success.

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