The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People | Study Guide

Stephen Covey

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Stephen Covey | Biography


Childhood and Education

Stephen Richards Covey was born on October 24, 1932, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to parents Irene and Stephen G. Covey. Young Covey, who grew up in a devoutly Mormon family, showed promise as an athlete. However, a degenerative leg condition confined the teenage Covey to crutches for three years, effectively ending his days as an athlete. With his parents' unwavering support he turned his attention instead to academics and the school's speech and debate activities. Covey entered the University of Utah at 16 with plans to join his parents in the family hotel business.

Upon graduating with a degree in business administration, he spent two years as a Mormon missionary in Great Britain. The experience changed the course of his life. In addition to preaching on street corners, an activity that quickly honed his public speaking skills, Covey was responsible for training leaders of local Mormon churches. From then on Covey made it his "life's mission" to train leaders. He returned to the United States to attend Harvard Business School, where he earned a master of business administration in 1957 before starting his teaching career at Brigham Young University in Utah.

Covey briefly left Utah for Ireland, where he served as the Mormon Church's first mission president in the predominantly Catholic and Protestant country. He returned to Utah and Brigham Young University in the 1970s and earned a PhD in religious education in 1976. At Brigham Young, Covey also served as a professor of business management. Inspired by his doctoral thesis on "success literature" in American history, Covey began developing his own ideas about leadership and management. He taught self-help classes that were widely popular with the student body, with some attracting more than 1,000 students.

Leader of Leaders

Covey took his ideas about principle-centered leadership out of the classroom and into the business world with the Covey Leadership Center, which opened in 1983. Having established himself as an expert in management and leadership techniques, Covey and his team consulted for business leaders and heads of state around the world. His reach expanded immeasurably in 1989 with the publication of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Based on Covey's extensive knowledge of success literature and his firsthand experiences with business executives, family members, and everyone in between, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was an immediate hit, spending more than five years on the New York Times Best-Seller list.

"Baffled" by his success, Covey often insisted the seven habits described in his book were common-sense practices people already knew but weren't willing to face on their own. Nevertheless he capitalized on his popularity and the public's desire for guidance, following his hit book with a host of other titles, including, Principle-Centered Leadership (1990), First Things First (1994), and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (2004), as well as several riffs on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People theme.

Death and Legacy

In 1996 Covey was named one of Time magazine's most influential Americans, and in 2002 Forbes listed The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as one of the most influential management books of all time. The book that started the empire has sold more than 25 million copies in at least 40 languages around the world.

Covey died July 16, 2012, following complications from a bicycle accident. With no interest in retirement, the 79-year-old was working on a series of ten books showing how the seven habits can be effectively implemented across a variety of life stages and occupations. Some of that work, including Primary Greatness (2015), has been published posthumously and remains influential in professional settings and personal life.

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