Tuesday, November 09, 2004

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Covey takes a lesson from himself, releases '8th Habit'
Tue Nov 9, 6:42 AM ET

By Del Jones, USA TODAY

The greeter at Stephen Covey's house is 15-year-old mutt Sheldon S. Kornpett, 100 in dog years, who has had knee and cataract surgery and maintains a stiff upper lip in the face of kidney failure.

Covey, 72, the spry author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is in his home library, recording the audio version of The 8th Habit. The print sequel to 7 Habits is due out today, 15 years after the original seven.

Covey is timid around strangers. But an audience of strangers feeds him energy, and he has invited a half-dozen to his home to listen as he records. He's the kind of host who invites guests who need to leave early to help themselves to the refrigerator on the way out. He locks into a handshake and won't let go. "The eyes are the light of the soul," he says.

What is the eighth habit? "Find your voice, and inspire others to find theirs." That proves difficult to accomplish, and The 8th Habit is 50 pages longer than the original seven combined.

Covey had planned to crank out The 8th Habit in six months, in time for the 10th anniversary of 7 Habits. That was in 1999. But, just as the most helpful psychologists are often those with a loose grip on their own emotional lives, Covey and aides are often found operating in a manner that seems anything but highly effective. And so, Sheldon S. Kornpett aged past him from puppyhood, and an editor or two at Simon & Schuster went gray awaiting the windfall.

The windfall, at last, has arrived. The 8th Habit may be a challenge to absorb, but it is a shoo-in best seller even as the 15th-anniversary edition of 7 Habits will carve unprecedented ground in the business/self-help genre. The 7 Habits has sold 15 million copies and continues to sell 50,000 to 100,000 a month.

A survey by Chief Executive magazine chose 7 Habits as the most influential book of the 20th century. Time magazine in 1996 named Covey one of the 25 most influential Americans.

Covey doesn't like to be recognized and uses extreme down-dressing and a cap over his shaved head to travel incognito. But he's constantly on his cell phone to family and says his voice gives him away because, at 1.5 million copies, 7 Habits is the best-selling non-fiction audio book in history.

No. 8 is a half-ton habit that invites the merging of talent, passion and conscience that few mortals accomplish - otherwise we would be populated with Gandhis. Simply, Habit 8 asserts that everyone has an inner longing to seize the day and live a life of contribution. It requires heavy lifting, and Covey challenges readers to get there.

It's unlikely there will be a Habit 9, considering it took Covey 15 years to publish No. 8. But spend a day with Covey, and you discover that he lives by a few unpublished habits. Among them:

•Maintain boundless energy and stamina. Covey just returned from a trip to Europe and Canada; he was in seven countries in 12 days. This month, he heads out for 12 days and 15 presentations in Australia, Thailand, the Philippines and Japan. His son Sean schedules his international trips, and other family members don't seem to be joking when they worry he is being worked to death. Even when Covey gets off a plane and arrives home at 11 p.m., he'll spend 90 minutes in his generous home gym, where he swims with fins on both hands and feet, bikes and does yoga or Pilates. "He never mentions the 'R' word (retirement)," says his wife of 48 years, Sandra.

•Maintain a sense of humor. Readers of Covey's work who find the demands of the eight habits onerous can take comfort in a sign in his hallway to the bathroom: "What if the Hokey Pokey is really what it is all about?"

It may be. His nine grown children are remembered around the neighborhood for leaving surprises on front porches, such as detonated manure. Covey, however, required retribution. Those who pulled pranks on neighbors were required to do at least four good deeds for them. Covey once greeted the prom date of his youngest daughter, Jenny, in a mask with a rifle across his legs. "What are your intentions?" he demanded. Jenny remembers her father driving her to grade school and asking: "Do you want me to be crazy dad or boring dad?" Naturally, she preferred crazy dad, who would feign he was headed for a crash into the trees.

•Fast on the first Sunday of every month. That's what the Covey family does. Savings on the grocery bill are given to the poor. The family also fasts when anyone in the family is seriously ill or otherwise in need of their prayers. The Coveys are Mormons. The library is packed with books on religion. Bible verses are engraved on the walls: "... Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the son of God, that ye must build your foundation."

Covey was a guest of Bill Clinton (news - web sites) at Camp David, but last month he was driving a Range Rover with a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker. Sensitive to accusations that his books are little more than Mormon teachings repackaged as management training, Covey says he never introduces religion or politics into his books or worldwide seminars.

Blond meets flirt

He honed his speaking style in the 1950s, proselytizing on a soapbox in London's Hyde Park while on a Mormon mission. But he says religion would turn off too many people and severely narrow his audience. The eight habits, he says, stem from universal principles, such as fairness, trustworthiness, discipline and integrity, that are universal to all religions.

It was when Covey was a young man on the first of two Mormon missions that he met Sandra, the youngest member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on its first European tour. Covey says he was attracted to her because she was a flirt, a recollection Sandra objects to because the church does not allow flirting. She, too, has memories that Stephen calls exaggerations. For example, she says he once had wavy, blond hair.

"It was never wavy and blond," says Covey, who today tells his audiences: "While you guys are blow-drying, I'm working."

Pop management has its skeptics, and Covey became the target of ridicule after he merged his Covey Leadership Center with Franklin Quest to form FranklinCovey in 1997. Franklin Quest employees joked that they would have to shave their heads to look like Covey. Earnings plummeted on flat revenue, and the merger went sour.

"It was a rough period, not unlike a blended family. But we have found our voice now," Covey says. FranklinCovey earnings have yet to reflect it, though, and FranklinCovey stock has fallen to $1.80 a share from its 1997 peak of more than $28. Covey says he's not concerned about "short-term" stock performance, even as the stock's famine enters year No. 8. Covey's title has been vice chairman of the board since 1999, and he has little involvement in company operations. He receives 80% of the proceeds from his speaking engagements, and his take in 2003 was $800,000.

The size of his family has gone the opposite direction of FranklinCovey stock. Seven years ago, Covey had 27 grandchildren. They're expecting No. 43 on Christmas Day. His nine children, ages 25 to 47, seem well-adjusted. All but one of the nine have been on a mission for the church. Six of the nine have had political internships in Washington.

Ask the Coveys to confess the most rebellious thing any of their kids did, and they come up with the time youngest son, Josh, dyed his hair blond. Did he get permission? Of course.

Lest you think them perfect parents, at least two Covey children remember being forgotten at a gas station and left for hours.

Rich in family

Covey has made a fortune on books and speaking engagements since he turned 50, but the evidence is difficult to find. He owns a vacation cabin in Montana, and his home is the most elevated overlooking Provo on the bench of the Wasatch mountain range, the venue of the 2002 Winter Olympics (news - web sites). But his property and his remaining 1.1 million FranklinCovey shares are in a charitable trust he controls, and he says it's all been donated largely to the Mormon Church and church-affiliated Brigham Young University.

Stephen Covey IV, Covey's eldest son and executor of the estate, says none of his brothers and sisters is bothered about being cut out of the fortune. Each has been given what they need to succeed, and heirs of the rich often "squander away their life and lose their responsibility muscles," Covey IV says.

Covey III taught organizational behavior for 24 years at BYU until he was 50, when he struck out on his own to find success relatively late in life. Compliment Covey on his home, and he fidgets in embarrassment. The house includes an indoor basketball court with an electronic scoreboard and a large, indoor pool. Friend Robert Daines, a retired BYU professor, remembers seeing plans of the house for the first time and saying, half-jokingly: "Stephen, how can you justify this kind of home?"

Without a smile, Covey replied: "I don't need to justify it. The Lord knows my heart," Daines recalls. Today, Covey says he built the home as a family magnet. Playhouses for small children have been built under each stairwell, including one with a Noah's Ark theme. All nine children live in Provo or a few miles north in Salt Lake City. On any given night, there's likely to be a pizza party by the pool.

Covey's Habit No. 3 is to "put first things first," and he says his only hobby is his family. For 40 years, he and Sandra have taken a daily ride on a Honda scooter, which is quiet enough to carry on a conversation. His goal has been to attend 80% of his children's major activities, and he was usually in the stands when Sean was quarterback for BYU.

On a sunny October afternoon, grandson Stephen Covey V passed for five second-half touchdowns to defeat Provo High 35-3 after Timpview High trailed 3-0 at halftime. Covey III was in the Timpview bleachers, watching the game and reading The Itsy Bitsy Spider to 3-year-old granddaughter Madison Pitt.

Fifteen years after the publication of 7 Habits, are there any habits Covey would change? Not really, he says. When Colombian President Alvaro Uribe asked how Habit 4 - "Think win/win" - might apply to terrorists, Covey told him: "You have to hunt them down and kill them. It's win-win or no deal. In this case, it's no deal."

Habit No. 2 is to "begin with the end in mind," and Covey asks readers to imagine their funeral before composing a personal mission statement based on what they would like family, friends and business associates to remember in a eulogy.

Covey has inspired millions of such mission statements worldwide. But it's hard to beat the one on a pillow in Covey's living room: "My goal in life is to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am."


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