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Quotes on ‘starry heavens’ and the ‘moral law within’

12:35 AM March 08, 2015
“The Wisdom and Teachings of Stephen R. Covey,” Franklin Covey Free Press, 2012.

“The Wisdom and Teachings of Stephen R. Covey,” Franklin Covey Free Press, 2012.

Those who have been students and mentors, or leaders and practitioners of management might have heard of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” authored by world-renowned Stephen R. Covey.

Launched in 1989, the book of the same title has since included the “8th Habit.”

I began thinking of Covey, as I read the book featured in this issue’s Executive Read—and I recalled vintage “Coveyisms” like: “Begin with the end in mind.” Or, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood ….” Still another, “Sharpen the saw.” And the 8th habit? Read on.


“The Wisdom and Teachings of Stephen R. Covey” is a collection of aphorisms and sayings of the renowned leadership coach and mentor.

Expectedly, some are truly brilliant, and other quotes are simply restatements of familiar principles. It is a book, though, that makes it easy for busy executives to pick favorite “thoughts” for any occasion.

The Covey Family calls the book “crystallized wisdom,” as the editors cite the “power of enduring principles.”

Viewed as a tribute too to Covey, who passed away a few years back, the book articulates “his passion … to articulate and teach the unchanging, immutable and ageless truths of life.”

Speaking of overstating the obvious, this is it.

And yet, we must forgive the authors, simply because they have given us “on a silver platter gems of thoughts that guide us … not to waste our life in mediocrity but to “invest in greatness.”

The book cites 14 principles: Accountability, balance, choice, contribution, courage, effectiveness, empathy, integrity, leadership, learning, love, potential, self-discipline and synergy.

Every principle is illustrated by a story or a brief anecdote, followed by gems of thoughts.


On accountability, for example, the book dishes this out: “Without involvement, there is no commitment … No involvement, no commitment.”

How true. Many simply “pay lip service” to joining causes.

For those who say they have no time for training or retraining, the principle of balance has this to offer: “We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.”

Sharpening the saw corresponds with the quote: “Iron sharpens iron,” as said by someone else.

On the principle of choice, there is also a quote on “gatekeepers”: “Each of us guards a gate of change that can be opened only from the inside.”

Simply put, no one can force his or her view on you without your consent.

One quote tells us to guard our non-negotiable stance: “I teach people how to treat me by what I will allow.”

Stand your ground even against a bully. This is a timely reminder to our government not to be bullied by China.

The book devotes a lot of space for the power of choice. Try this: “Light a match, and it can destroy a building or give light to a dark place—it’s your choice.”

Don’t ever say, “it can’t be done.” Covey considers that “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” After all, he adds, setbacks are inevitable, and misery is a choice.

Quotes on the principle of contribution are eye-openers.

The thing about “ambition” is valuable: “Many people argue about ambition. Is it a good or a bad thing? I believe it depends on the object of the ambition … If you’re ambitious to make a real difference—a meaningful contribution—you will experience the deep satisfaction of a job well done and a life well lived.”

The acquisitive impulse gets a beating in this book. It says, “The key to life is not accumulation. It’s contribution.”

On the principle of empathy, quotes abound. “Most arguments are not really disagreements, but are rather little ego battles and misunderstandings.”

Take note of this truth in meetings where there are many prima donnas and objections.

This one is amusingly illuminating, as you recall folks who hold their breath as you talk: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Still on empathy, this time for Dads who ignore the little things a child demands from them: “One person’s mission is another person’s minutia.”

Integrity, as defined by author Bill Hybels, is “being yourself even when nobody is looking.”

Covey has this quote: “We do not have a successful public victory—that is, an accomplished worthy task—unless we have a successful private victory.”

You should be true inside and out.

On leadership, Covey tackles doing the right things and doing things right: “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.”

He adds: “Management works in the system; leadership works on the system.”

Heard about “mushroom management?” Covey’s statement amuses us: “Keep people in the dark, pile lots of manure on them, and, when they are fully ripe, cut off their heads and can them.”

On learning, Covey stresses “learning by doing.”

His quote is as terse as it is precise: “To know and not to do is really not to know.”

On love, Covey again emphasizes that there is nothing “minor” in a love relationship: “The little things are the big things.”

You wonder what the 8th Habit is? “Find your voice and and inspire others to find theirs.”

He elaborates: Your voice lies at the nexus of talent, passion, need and conscience. When you engage in work that taps your talent and fuels your passion—that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to meet—therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.

Speaking of synergy, Covey hates conformity. He is unforgiving: “If two people have the same opinion, one is unnecessary.”

Trust and credibility is a quality much needed nowadays. So this quote is timely: “If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy.”

And the book has something to say about back-biters: “To retain the trust of those who are present, be loyal to those who are absent.”

For executives and managers reading this, think of job security. “There is no future in a job. The only future is inside yourself.”

Covey’s sayings soar to things lofty, and that’s good. His favorite quote is that from Immanuel Kant: “I am constantly amazed by two things—the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”

This book is a treasure trove of thoughts, not only of Covey’s but also of wise men down the ages. These thoughts allow you to soar to new heights, while your feet are firmly planted on the ground.

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