This month's questions were submitted by Dr. Donovan A. McFarlane, M.B.A., Msc.D., Ph.D., and adjunct instructor in business studies, City College, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Donovan McFarlane: How would you chart effective and strong leadership existing outside of your "7 Habits"?
Stephen Covey: I've studied leadership and management for more than 50 years. I've worked and consulted with thousands of organizations and their leaders. From this experience, I've concluded there are four common traits of all great leaders:
1) They are trustworthy. They inspire trust through high character and high competence. This one trait is by far the most significant. It is the key to moral authority, which is the basis for all enduring influence and formal authority. 2) They clarify purpose—uniting people in a shared vision. 3) They align systems to achieve that vision. 4) They unleash talent.
D.M.: What is your most profound leadership experience so far?
S.C.: When I was a young man, I had an experience with a leader that profoundly shaped the rest of my life. I had decided to take a break in my education to give some extended volunteer service. The invitation came to go to England. Just four-and-a-half months after my arrival, the president of the organization came to me and said, "I have a new assignment for you. I want you to travel around the country and train local leaders." I was shocked. Who was I to train leaders two and three times my age? Sensing my doubt, he simply looked me in the eye and said, "I have great confidence in you. You can do this. I will give you materials to help you prepare to teach these leaders and to facilitate their sharing best practices with one another."
His confidence, his ability to see more in me than I saw in myself, his willingness to entrust me with responsibility that would stretch me to my potential unlocked something inside me. I accepted the assignment and gave my best. It tapped me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I grew. I saw others grow. I saw patterns in basic leadership principles. By the time I returned home, I had begun to detect the work to which I wanted to devote my life: unleashing human potential. I found my "voice." And it was my leader who inspired me to find it.
I realized in time that I wasn't the only one he treated this way. His affirmation of others, his ability to unite us in vision toward our work that inspired and motivated us, his pattern of providing us with enabling resources and empowering us as true leaders with accountability and stewardship became the norm in our entire organization. We began to lead and serve others in the same way, and the results were remarkable.
As powerful as this, and many other professional experiences since have been, the most profound leadership experience I've had in my life has been the leadership opportunity my wife and I have shared in our family with our children and now grandchildren—by far the most stretching, the most challenging, the most joyful and most rewarding. I've also realized that the experience I had with this remarkable leader early in my life simply catalyzed the affirming leadership I had received my whole life from my parents. That legacy and devotion is being carried on, not only in the nuclear family, but in the extended and intergenerational family. Nowhere is there a greater need or opportunity to positively influence the lives of others for good than in the family.
D.M.: Is humanity in dire need of good and effective leadership?
S.C. Never has the need been greater. And remember, leadership is a choice, not a position. The call and need of the emerging era of human history is for what I call everyday greatness. It's the title of my latest book (see www.EverydayGreatness.net).
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