Legacy of Wisdom: One Christian’s Tribute to Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey changed my life. I never met him. Yet I know he changed a lot more lives than mine before his unexpected death this week.

But I suspect he would be the first to agree — it wasn’t really Stephen Covey who changed anything.

Photo via http://toddstocker.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/steven-covey-7-habits-live-on/

It was wisdom.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. (Prov. 4:7 ESV)

Where does wisdom come from?

I trust most readers in this evangelical Christian audience would agree with Scripture (wisdom literature, as Covey often called it). God is the giver of all wisdom. (James 1:5)  As best I can tell from quite a distance, Stephen Covey was not a Christian as evangelicals would define it. But if God is the source and giver of all wisdom, should it matter to us as evangelical Christians how wisdom comes as long as it lines up with the Word of God?

Stephen Covey’s collaborative effort First Things First is one of the top five books that have shaped my personal life. Ironically, I bought it for a quarter at a library book sale. It was the best investment I’ve ever made. In it Steven taught me the wisdom of fashioning a personal mission statement. It captured succinctly with practical words and examples so much of the wisdom that had swarmed around me for decades. Among other things, it showed me the power of using the right words to communicate essential life truths. I’ve returned to it often to find my “true north.”

Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families would also make my top five list as it has shaped my family with its practical wisdom. It inspired my wife and I to take a retreat to put our family mission into words. It equipped us to make family meetings part of our family culture and motivated us to cultivate family traditions — such as our frequent trips to Disney World and family nights. As an added bonus, his candid stories of his own failures and successes as a father gave me hope.

Stephen’s son Sean Covey followed up by putting the 7 Habits into the language of children with The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. Now our kids can and do recite them — even the five-year-old. Even this morning, he asked for clarification on Habit 1 (the kids version ): “You’re in charge of you.”

I’ve taught the Habits and associated life principles many times, often without using those words explicitly. Wisdom rubs off after you hang out with it long enough.  I’ve counseled countless families, parents, teens, and children applying these simple principles and more:

  • The freedom that comes Covey’s explanation of the circle of concern vs. the circle of influence
  • The clarification I get from his “big rocks” language that has become a shorthand tool for my life choices
  • The intelligent manner in which he spoke of the role of faith in life without apologizing or sounding as if he were preaching
  • The four-quadrants — my personal favorite:
Photo via http://www.thoughtscreate.net/tag/steven-covey/

Each time I’ve applied these lessons when counseling, listeners express gratitude for the keen insight.

But it’s not me. It’s not Stephen Covey. It’s wisdom.

Should Christian’s welcome wisdom from non-Christians?

So I return to my earlier question: does the source of wisdom matter? One time after applying these habits in a session with a group of Christian professionals, someone privately raised a concern. It was this: “Shouldn’t we be focusing more on Biblical teaching than the wisdom of men (such as Stephen Covey)?” Of course, there is wisdom at the core of that concern. God’s word should always be the standard we use to evaluate all alleged wisdom. Even our own. I believe I responded by saying essentially, “All truth is God’s truth.”

What concerned me was that it seemed to signal a disconnect between the secular and sacred, as if some wisdom was valid and some not based on who brought it to our attention. It troubled me for a while as I did some soul-searching after the criticism. Should the messenger matter?

As hew was, by all accounts, a practicing Mormon, I doubt that I agreed with Stephen Covey about the details of salvation or even on a bigger concern — the divine nature of Christ. I don’t know this for certain. I’ve found that upon talking to people who belong to different churches or denominations, we find we agree on more than our official groups do. Maybe that would have been the case with Stephen Covey. I hope so.

I found his teaching to be more insightful and consistent with Scripture than many evangelical pastors and teachers  I’ve known. Follow my series here about the Biblical foundations for the 7 Habits if you’re interested.

I concluded that if what Stephen Covey said was, in fact, consistent with biblical wisdom, I would be wise to listen.

So I did. And am grateful for it.

Paying my respects

My friend Hugh Hewitt reminds me to “know whom you owe.” I owe Stephen Covey a debt I can never fully repay except by living a life saturated with divine wisdom.

As his family and friends take time to celebrate his legacy in the coming days, I hope that through the tears and remembrances they will somehow know that Stephen Covey’s legacy of wisdom changed my life. And will continue to change more lives through me by the grace of God — the giver of all wisdom.

And that, when you think about it, is what leaving a legacy is all about.

If the feeble words of one Christian dad matter, “Well done, Stephen Covey!”

I’ll miss you.

Follow my series on the Biblical foundation for the 7 Habits here.

How did Stephen Covey’s legacy of wisdom touch your own life? Share a story or your favorite wisdom from his teaching with a comment here to celebrate his legacy.

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  • Lisa Brady

    I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) like Steven Covey. We are Christians and believe that only through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ may we repent, be forgiven of our sins and return to live with our Father in Heaven someday. We strive to live our lives by following Christ’s perfect example. This is our most sacred and important belief. We are a family oriented church and believe strongly in living lives of service to others. Steven Covey’s beliefs closely reflect the principles of the gospel that we live as church members and his wise counsel is effective because the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. It’s not an accident that he speaks wisdom: It is a result of his core beliefs put into practice to achieve success and happiness in this life and beyond.

    • Thank you for the comment, Lisa. I hope you did not find my remarks disparaging of Stephen Covey. They were not intedned to be. And I do acknowledge that his impact was closely tied to his faith. It’s not my intent to spark a controversy here but I think we would likely disagree on the nature of the second person of the Trinity.

      Thanks for dropping a comment. How were you affected by his work?

  • Lisa Brady

    Sorry for the misspelling of Stephen! My brother spells it with a “v”. Oops!

    • Lisa, True confession: My first draft did the same thing. Somehow I don’t think he would have minded either way.


  • Lisa Brady

    As a wife, mother of four, and teacher, I have had many opportunities to practice organizational skills and moral ways of parenting and doing business. When I first began teaching, it was difficult for me to separate my personal success from the successes of my children and my students. I wanted them to achieve and reach their highest potential. Not a bad thing…except I needed to take a look at the motivation behind that drive. This was not always easy in a school culture that published test results in PowerPoint presentations during faculty meetings, comparing and evaluating the results with other teachers in the grade level, with little attention to the number of special needs and ESL children in certain classes. I went in to work early every morning and worked late almost every evening to do all I could to avoid bad results (social condemnation), rather than primarily to achieve successes that foster life-long learning skills and character building.
    The administration frequently used what Stephen Covey called “Personality Ethics” in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to manipulate and control situations and to perform “quick fixes” to problems. I realized that I needed to disengage as much as possible from this type of leadership and teach my students to value their individual learning styles, pace, and interests. I was consistently assigned the special needs and ESL students year after year because (I believe) the school was pleased with the high test scores and lack of office referrals for discipline problems. I learned that as I used what Stephen Covey called the “Character Ethic” as the foundation of teaching success,practicing and encouraging traits such as “integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule” that everyone involved in the learning process – teacher, parents, students — could achieve longer-lasting results than a standardized test score. Mr. Covey wrote, “The Character Ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.”
    I have also lived my life with a “mission statement.” One year after I achieved my Master”s in Education, I discovered at the age of 43 that I was expecting a baby. I am currently staying home to raise my son. This decision was easy in the sense that I already had formed my priorities in my life’s mission. Although job security, tenure, and financial stability are things of the past, my happiness and sense of peace and love is right on track in my life’s journey.
    Thank you for your tribute to a wise man.

  • Karl Heitman

    Bill, I’m confused & quite discouraged. 1) Where does the Bible teach “You’re in charge of you.” 2) You said that Covey (an unbeliever) was “more insightful and consistent with Scripture than many evangelical pastors and teachers.” Where have you been going to church and what books have you been reading? 3) I’m honestly wondering, considering all of the good, biblical resources out there on practical Christian living (i.e., John MacArthur, Ted Tripp, Wayne Mack), why in the world you’d be so concerned with man’s ideas? What you’ve said here and what you said about bad music in church doesn’t seem to line up in my mind. Perhaps I’m not getting it…? Please explain.

    • Will do. Posts coming on the Biblical support for each habit.

      And “many” evangelical pastors would not include John MacArthur and the others you named.

  • Tom Jensen

    I have heard and understood that Stephen Covey based his 7 Habit on scripture. In his obituary this morning, it refers to him arising early on most mornings, finding a quiet, private place and then spending time in prayer, scriptural study and meditation. He called this a daily private victory and he says that is was the source of much of his security, guidance, wisdom and power.

    Does anyone have more information on this. I’d like to know references to scriptures if possible.

    I have read most of Covey’s books, many times and find great wisdom in them. I feel that they are consistent with my spiritual understanding and with the scriptures. Using his principles as guide I founded a successful business, became a community advocate and youth leader and have tried to be a good husband and parent. His principles work….. which makes me believe they have roots is scripture also.