Covey: Jell-O for the Soul | Buzz Blog
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Covey: Jell-O for the Soul

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It's big news. From The New York Times and Huffington Post to the LA Times and Washington Post, each published respectful obituaries on Stephen R. Covey's passing. --- While driving to work on Monday, radio reports on the death of Utah-based motivational speaker and author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People were presented as breaking news.

The broad coverage speaks to Covey's imprint on the larger world. It's no surprise that flags are flying at half-mast at FranklinCovey corporate headquarters, the company he co-founded and directed. The man was highly regarded by legions of business folk in and outside of Utah.

Seven Habits was first published in 1989, when I was going through my "administrative assistant" phase. (I really do envy City Weekly's founder John Saltas' early blackjack-dealing career, by the way.)

Back then, I answered a classified ad for a company whose marketing director needed an "admin ass't" to help launch a new book. In my mind, I saw it as a Bridget Jones's Diary-type of assignment, arranging media appearances for the author and scheduling trips around the globe. Jet-setting might be involved, I hoped. I set out for an interview in Provo with some degree of excitement.

The marketing director came in from his office balcony where he'd been out bouncing on a pogo stick, he said, because it helped him think. He told me the author, Stephen R. Covey, whose book-publishing company encompassed a couple of floors in the building, had already made a name for himself writing devotional books for the LDS Church, of which Spiritual Roots of Human Relations and The Divine Center were two.

The marketing director (whose name I've long forgotten) said that Covey had taken his ideas from the LDS books he's authored and secularized them for a wider audience in The Seven Habits, and the venture was really taking off. "It's basically what Mormons believe," he told me of the book's premise, stressing how important it was to find a balance in life and making time for family.

That laid the groundwork for the rest of the interview -- a conversation that would be verboten nowadays but, back then, was probably the norm for many job interviews in Utah. "So why do you want to work for a company like ours?" he asked. "You'd be the only non-Mormon if we hired you."

I was naive and enough of a newcomer to think it would be no big deal. I'm sure I said something like: "I get along with most folks. I've worked with Muslims and Jews in San Francisco, why not Mormons in Provo? Plus, I will work hard to help you market the book."

As I left, he gave me a copy of Covey's Seven Habits on cassette tapes. "Listen to these," he said. "If we hire you, you need to know what the book is about." For the next few days, I drove around town listening to Stephen Covey's voice coming through my car's cassette player, urging me to "Be Proactive. Synergize. Sharpen the Saw."

Truthfully, it's good I didn't get the job. I'll get some flak from Covey devotees for saying this, but Seven Habits seemed Melba toast-boring to me. But I've seen well-coiffed executives on airplanes reading it. For some, it may have been the first time they were told that making time for fitness, spiritual growth and family life is part of what it means to be truly successful. Those were the late '80s and early '90s, a time when a workaholic level of dedication was de rigueur at many a corporation.

So, Seven Habits didn't bong my bells. But, then, I'm not very disciplined. And 20 million others in 38 languages felt differently (kudos to the marketing director!). Then there were the tapes, CDs, daytimers, seminars and more. Covey kicked off a touchy-feely "take back your life" movement where it seemed least likely to take root, in the heart of corporate America. For Mormons who knew that Seven Habits was based upon or greatly influenced by LDS principles, Covey's success has to be a source of pride and hope. Their message got through, even if it were cloaked in business jargon. And it's certainly plausible that the seeds of thought he planted two decades ago could have bloomed into "the Mormon moment" we're experiencing now, a paradigm shift if ever there were one.