Stephen R. Covey has developed a holistic, personal, principle-centered approach to dealing with people and organizations. His runaway bestseller, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" (Simon & Schuster, 1989), has sold more than 4 million copies and has been translated into 26 languages. Covey, founder of the Covey Leadership Center based in Provo, Utah, maintains an active speaking and consulting calendar. His most recent book is "First Things First" (Simon & Schuster, 1994). Management Review's Martha H. Peak caught up with Covey at the Governor's National Conference on Quality in Education held in Albuquerque, N.M., last spring.
MR: How do you define leadership?
COVEY: Leadership involves creating a culture behind a shared value system based on natural principles. That happens inside a family, inside a corporation, and inside a classroom.
The power of the American Constitution is that it is based on principles: "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." Try to imagine a world without these principles.
I feel that the economic bond has been broken between the generations because of government actions. I know that Social Security is part of the fabric of our society today; I'm not a political extremist. But when you have a feeling on the part of children that they're not responsible for their parents, and vice versa, it has a playout on emotional bonding as well.
The leadership of the next millennium will be the creation of a culture based on principles. In the last analysis, principles govern, not values; but in the first analysis, it's the opposite.
MR: Can you explain this?
COVEY: Social value systems essentially control the way most people live. Social values are the norms of our societies, but they may not be based upon natural laws at all. In education, the value system considers cooperation or collaborative learning, in many cases, to be a form of cheating. There's a scarcity mind-set that drives this. If I win, then you have to lose. What we need to do is to replace our current standards with individualized performance agreements. Today, society is demanding more accountability in education, and that is why education is going through reform right now. But reform should include aligning our principles with our social values.
Think of it this way. Most schools are silos. Society has put inordinate pressure on schools to solve the problems of the family. Yet no other institution but the family can do the work of the family. I believe that we are just beginning to see the avalanche of problems that falls out of the deterioration of the family. I have seen predictions of teen deaths doubling and quadrupling in the next few years. There is a real weakening as parents spend more and more time away from their children.
The schools can't compensate for the deterioration of the family, even though they must. But I think that through principles and the spirit that a constellation of principles creates, schools can compensate for what may be a failure in the home.
MR: How can today's secondary-school teachers create a nurturing, personalized atmosphere when their classrooms are overcrowded?
COVEY: I use the example of [Helen Keller and her teacher] Anne Sullivan because I am more interested in teachers as mentors, similar to parents, not just as educators. It has to start at home.
We need systemic approaches to nurture an Anne Sullivan/Helen Keller philosophy. When I was teaching at Brigham Young University, my class size grew, and I went from teaching 20 students to 8,000 per class. But quality went up, because I …