Lessons in Management from Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey’s 1989 bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” has become one of the most influential business and self-help books of all time. The late author was known for his principles-centered approach to personal effectiveness. What timeless lessons can managers take away from Covey’s seminal work?

Be Proactive

Covey advocated the importance of being proactive and taking the initiative rather than simply reacting to events and circumstances. Effective managers similarly need to avoid falling into reactive mode. By focusing on goals and planning ahead, managers can retain control over outcomes.

Begin with the End in Mind

Covey stressed the importance of working backwards from a desired vision or goal. Managers should define their ideal objectives and outcomes first before moving forward with execution. Having the end in mind drives more targeted and purposeful action.

Put First Things First

With so many competing priorities, it’s easy for managers to lose focus on activities with the highest value and impact. Covey pushed prioritizing around importance rather than urgency. Managers need to spend time on the priorities that align with their key goals.

Think Win-Win

Covey believed the best relationships are mutually beneficial. Similarly, excellent managers create an environment where employees, teams, and stakeholders all benefit. It should not be about trade-offs but about shared success.

Seek First to Understand

Communication breakdowns often stem from failing to understand others first. Covey advocated deep listening and empathy. Skilled managers connect better by fully understanding employees’ needs and motivations.


When teams collaborate effectively, they can achieve more than the sum of each individual’s contributions. As Covey wrote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Savvy managers foster this spirit of teamwork and creativity.

Sharpen the Saw

Covey emphasized continuous improvement and renewal. No matter how good managers get, they need to keep evolving their talents. Regularly “sharpening the saw” helps managers tackle new challenges.

While many concepts have emerged since Covey’s time, his insights on taking initiative, prioritizing effectively, collaborating with others, and continuous growth remain highly relevant for managers looking to maximize their impact.

If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy the others in this series:

Simon Sinek
Peter Senge
Frederick Taylor
Jim Collins
Clayton Christensen
Liz Wiseman
Adam Grant
Daniel Goleman
Henry Mintzberg
Tom Peters
Ray Dalio

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