Covey: the need
for principle-centred leadership
Steve Covey is a writer and teacher who has had a tremendous
effect on the psyche of UK and US managers. His book Principle-Centred
Leadership (1992) was a New York Times bestseller for 220 weeks. His
characteristics of principle-centred leaders (see box) and his seven habits (see
below) are much quoted in management and leadership training courses. Again, his focus is on inner leadership, that
is, on how to be rather than on what to do.
Covey’s organization runs workshops and programmes underpinned by
a humanistic self-development approach. Unlike Bennis, he does not advocate
revisiting your childhood to overcome difficulties, but encourages us to focus
on visualizing a positive outcome and working with energy and enthusiasm towards
Covey’s seven habits (Covey, 1989) connect the leader’s outer
habits with the inner capability, which he labels endowments:
Habit 1: Be proactive. Know what needs to be done, and
decide to do it. Do not be driven by circumstances. (Needs self-awareness and
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. Have a clear sense of
what you are trying to achieve in each year, month, day, moment. (Needs
imagination and conscience.)
Habit 3: Put first things first. This is about organizing
how you spend your time in line with Habit 2. He talks about looking at level of
urgency and level of importance of activities, and comments that we spend too
much time responding to urgent issues. (Needs willpower.)
Habit 4: Think win–win. Manage all interactions with the
assumption that mutually beneficial solutions are possible. (Needs an abundance
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Be prepared to clarify what other people are getting at before you put your
point across. (Needs courage balanced with consideration.)
Habit 6: Synergize. Value differences in people and work
with others to create a sum that is greater than the parts. (Needs
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw. Avoid the futility of endless
‘busyness’. Make time to renew. Covey says, ‘Without this discipline, the body
becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and
the person selfish.’ (Needs continuous improvement or
STOP AND THINK!
Identify the top five inner leadership strengths that you
believe the headmaster or headmistress of an underperforming school needs to
have. Use the ideas of Bennis and Covey in the section above, and consider also
Goleman’s emotional competencies. Justify your choices. How could these areas be
developed if they were lacking?
Reflect on your own leadership using Covey’s seven habits.
What are your strengths and weak areas?
Imagine you have just been asked to lead a cultural change
programme in a 10,000 strong organization based throughout Europe and the United
States. The organization is a microelectronics company which has grown through
acquisition and now wants to strengthen its unique culture as one organization
emphasizing commercial applications, customer service and innovation. Using the
ideas presented in this chapter, describe the approach you would take to leading
this initiative and explain why.