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AN ENCOUNTER WITH AUTHOR OF THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE

By NBF NEWS
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•Dr. Covey
I met with Dr. Stephen on Thursday, April 21, 2010. As he stepped into the auditorium within Zain headquarters in Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, he beamed a radiant smile at me and I returned it. We shook hands. There I was, face-to-face with the author of the popular international bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, described as the most influential business book of the 20th Century.

In peace and quiet we sat together and conversed.
Even though Zain had bombarded the media with adverts and commercials heralding the arrival of Dr. Covey, little did I know that I will get to have a personal encounter with this expert on habits of highly effective people. But a phone call from Chidi Ajah, a Manager with Blue Flower, one of the Public Relations Consulting firms of Zain Nigeria changed all that. He personally informed me of Dr. Covey's 4-day visit to Nigeria and invited me to have a one-on- one chat with him. Chidi followed up his call barely 24 hours later with two beautifully crafted invitation cards for a Press Conference and an Evening with Covey plus Zain Enterprises Solutions launch. Both events were to hold on Thursday and Friday consecutively.

Dr. Covey, father of nine children and grandfather of 52, visited Nigeria from April 19 to 24 for the formal launch of Zain Nigeria' Enterprise Solutions suite. And what a visit it was.

Expected to arrive Nigeria by 4.00 pm on April 19 aboard Delta Air, Covey flew into the country earlier in the day dressed casually in a jeans shirt and cap to match. Such was the simplicity of the man that many photojournalists at the airport who were expecting a business executive in suit and tie missed his arrival.

Words soon spread that the man of the moment was in town and would hold a press conference on April 21 at the corporate headquarters of Zain Nigeria, Banana Island.

With the amphitheatre venue of the press conference packed full, Covey gave a snippet of what was to come in the course of his visit, identifying trust as foundation to growing organizational culture and leadership.

Other basic imperatives, according to him, include clarifying purpose so that everyone from top to the bottom understands what the organization is about and where it is going; aligning all systems, structures and processes to accomplish those purposes; and unleashing power to what is called a complementing game.

Dr. Covey stated that organizations must institutionalize the four imperatives of leadership so that it becomes a culture and ensures that everyone is committed to the strategic goals. He underlined the importance of living by principles, stating, 'When we do not live by principles, we do not develop trust. When trust develops, speed goes up and cost goes down. If you have people who are deceitful, flaky, and dishonest or crooked in their behavior, what happens is that costs go up, speed goes down. So everything is affected by the essence of trust. Trust is foundational.'

True to type, the Nigerian media drilled him, wanting to know how long he had been associated with the Zain brand and how his teaching could transform the Nigerian society.

Answering every question diligently, Covey explained that his teaching is universal and timeless and can work in any society and religion. He invited the media to come later in the evening to another programme where he would expound more on The 7 Habits as well as personally autograph his books.

Such was the expectation that one could hardly wait for the time to come. The Auto Lounge venue of the book-signing event was filled to capacity with High Value customers of Zain, friends, the media and guests, who had come to listen to a man whose teaching has made profound changes in the lives of individuals, companies and countries. Testimonials including lifting a man from the lowest rung of the ladder in the corporate world to the exalted position of a marketing director in a leading telecommunications company ten years after coming in contact with The 7 Habits.

The cozy atmosphere and ambience of the Lounge spoke to the importance of the occasion and the man for whom all had gathered. With soft music wafting from gigantic speakers and smartly dressed waiters serving drinks from the bar, guests loosened up to enjoy the evening after the day's hard job.

Then came the long-awaited moment. Accompanied by Zain Nigeria officials, Dr Covey entered. His simplicity shone once again as he walked round shaking hands with almost over 100 guests who had taken up every available space in the Lounge. Those who are bald-headed, he not only shook but also playfully rubbed their heads as if saying; 'We are one of a kind'.

With greetings over, Covey took to the stage after a brief intro to talk about two ideas, paradigms and principles, which form the focal point of his teaching over the years as enunciated in The 7 Habits.

According to Covey, 'every breakthrough is a great wave. If you want to make minor improvements work on behaviour and attitudes. If you want to make quantum improvements, work on paradigms. A paradigm is like a map, so to have an accurate map is extremely important and that can be embodied in your mission statement.'

Covey also spoke about the power of principles, saying that principles are always the same. 'The idea is you grow your life on the great paradigm of maps and you grow it also on principles. They are universal and timeless. Principles are not values. Values are social laws, personal, emotional, subjective and arguable. Principles are natural laws, impersonal, factual, objective and self-governing.

'Living is governed by values but consequence is governed by principles. Therefore, the key is to value principles and these principles are universal and timeless.

The more you value principles and work by principles, the higher the trust becomes. The higher the trust, the lower the cost and speed is accelerating enormously. When you have low trust, speed really slows down and cost goes up, they go through the roofs. That's why it is important to have the correct maps or paradigm and also to live by principles.'

Like a pastor speaking from the pulpit, Covey held his audience spellbound as he expounded on life and organizational principles.

If the evening was magical, then Zain like the Biblical bridegroom of Galilee probably saved the best wine for the unveiling of the Corporate Advantage aptly tagged 'An Evening with Covey' at the prestigious Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, the next day.

It was an evening that shone of class, artistic fervour, pure brilliance and intelligence yet very formal that at the end of the day one could not have wished for a better place to be.

The guest list read like who is who in the corporate world. Some of the guests that graced the occasion included Stella Okoli, CEO, Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Susan Iroeche, GMD/CE, Finbank; Atedo Peterside, Chairman, Cadbury Nigeria; Dapo Olumide, who was until recently MD, Nigeria Eagle, formerly Virgin Nigeria; and many others.

On hand to herald the unveiling of the new product offering was Dr. Stephen Covey. His presentation was a mix of straight talk condensed from years of experience speaking to business leaders complemented with videos that provided visual support and adumbration of the theme. There was plenty of wisdom.

Dr. Stephen Covey is a highly sought-after motivational speaker. His best-known book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide since publication in 1989. Not long ago, the audio version became the first non-fiction audio book in U.S. publishing history to sell more than one million copies.

He published The 8th Habit in 2004, showing how individuals and businesses can move from Effectiveness to Greatness. The book functions as the sequel to The 7 Habits and Covey claims in the book that effectiveness does not suffice in what he calls 'The Knowledge Worker Age'. He asserts that the challenges and complexities we face today are of a different order of magnitude.

Covey was born in Salt Lake City of Utah, US on October 24, 1932. Covey bagged a BS from the University of Utah, an MBA in Business Administration from Harvard University, a DRE in Church History and a Doctorate from Brigham Young University. He is also the founder of the Covey Leadership Center in Salt Lake City. Dr. Covey is the co-founder and Vice Chairman of the Franklin-Covey Corporation.

Covey is also a well-known lecturer and consultant. His work is focused on giving people the capacity to achieve effectiveness and success in their professional, family, and personal lives.

Here is my one-on-one interview with Dr. Covey revealing insights from his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What actually inspired your writing the book on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?

It was basically my study on a doctorate programme at Brigham Young University where I learned little by little how we pulled away from the character ethic to the personality ethic which means you focus more on appearances, and on image and on techniques rather than on integrity.

What do you mean by character ethic and personality ethic?

Character ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learnt and integrate these principles into their basic character. Series of literatures focused on what could be called character ethic as the foundation of success- things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the golden rule. It is basically about integrating certain principles and habits deep within one's nature.

Personality ethics is more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviours, skills and techniques, which lubricate the processes of human interaction. Personality ethic essentially took two paths, one is human and public relations techniques and the other is positive mental attitude. Some of this philosophy was expressed in inspiring and sometimes valid maxims such as 'your attitude determines your altitude,' 'smiling wins more friends than frowning', and 'whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve'.

You tend to prefer character ethic to personality ethic.

I'm not suggesting those elements' of personality ethic - personality grown, communication skill training and education in the field of influence strategies and positive thinking – are not beneficial. They are in fact, sometimes essential for success.

In most one - short or short-lived human interactions, you can use the personality ethic to get by and make favourable impressions through charm and skill, and pretending to be interested in other people's hobbies. These can only work in short terms situations. Eventually if there isn't deep integrity and fundamental character strength, the challenges of life will spark up to the surface and human relationship failure will replace short-term success.

It is character that communicates most eloquently. There are of course situations where people have character strength but lack communication skills and that undoubtedly affect the quality of relationship as well.

Dr. Covey, what's the main message you tried to convey in the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?

The main message is live by principles that are universal and timeless and that come from God, through the sacred literature of your tradition and also through your conscience that becomes gradually educated.

For a lot of people, your books are so full of mind-blowing and life-changing ideas that they get overwhelmed. They want to start, but don't know how to. What would be the best first step they can take to make a positive change?

Listen to your conscience regarding something that you simply know you should do, then start small on it—make a promise and keep it. Then move forward and make a little larger promise and keep it. Eventually you'll discover that your sense of honour will become greater than your moods, and that will give you a level of confidence and excitement that you can move to other areas where you feel you need to make improvements or give service.

You said you have been to several countries on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, how has this book impacted on people and their organizations in your country and elsewhere around the world?

You know it's a bit mixed. Some people really pick it up and are inspired by it, sufficiently enough to live it. Some people see it as just another of such books and part of the motivational package.

Who is a highly effective person?
My wife. I also run into them all the time in business; men and women everywhere.

Who do you consider a highly effective person?
Someone with a holistic, integrated and principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems. One that is principle centered in terms of personal vision, personal leadership, personal management, empathetic communication skills and team-spirit.

What has habits got to do with effectiveness?
Habits have paradigms that are deeply embedded in your own nature that you live by and it takes time and patience to develop these paradigms, those habits. And it takes you 21days, three weeks to develop a good habit.