Stephen R. Covey – The trees and the forest
Then during the last weekend after I started reading again “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, I was intrigued and searched the Internet and I came across an article on Deseret News about his funeral.
I wanted to share some passages of the article with you so we understand a bit more from his closest family who and how Stephen R. Covey was. Once we understand better who and how Stephen was, we will connect the trees with the forest. So keep reading.
Homage to a highly effective father
One of the first exercises of the “The 7 habits of highly effective people” training I took back in March 2010 is to write your personal mission statement. A very difficult task that will make you think and express yourself in writing about the fundamental things of your life. Stephen encourages you while you think about your personal mission statement to think about what you would like your beloved ones to say at your funeral.So here is what was said by Stephens children at his funeral:
” As good as he was in public … he was even better in private as a husband and father,” said his son Stephen M.R. Covey.
“Dad was so good at making each of us feel special,” added son Sean Covey.
” He came to watch the movie because he knew how much it meant to me,” Catherine Covey said.
The siblings remembered “Honda rides,” or the times they would get one-on-one time with their father by taking ATV rides in the mountains with him.
” Dad’s greatest joy was his family,” said daughter Colleen Covey Brown.
After his children grew up and moved out of the house, he would write them long letters or send them audio tapes, reminding them that they were part of a “marvelous generational family” and he wanted to preserve that. A big priority for Covey was keeping his family together.
On Covey’s final day, at the hospital in Idaho Falls where he was being cared for, his five daughters and four sons talked about how one of their prayers was answered when he opened his eyes and was alert for his final hour of life as each took turns personally saying goodbye.
Joshua Covey recalled how his last words to his father were telling him how he wanted to be just like him, full of initiative, character and love, and to live a life full of service and contribution.
Many said the reason for Stephen Covey’s success was his unwavering faith in his LDS beliefs and how he “unashamedly” would bear his testimony to anyone, anytime, any place. Colleen Covey Brown remembered how her father would tell her that if she put the Savior as the center of her life, everything else would fall into place.
Covey influenced tens of millions of people and thousands of organizations, his family said. But he was both “surprised and embarrassed” at times by his professional accomplishments.
It wasn’t just his own family that he made feel special, but it was seemingly anyone he came in contact with.
” He reached the many and the few,” Stephen M.R. Covey said.
Not only was he a great talker, but family members said he was a great listener — and a person who was willing to apologize, repent and make restitution when possible.
His family also recalled the less serious side of their father, noting how he loved practical jokes and often times doing things he knew would embarrass them. Joshua Covey recalled how his dad would walk by rough looking people on the street while with his family and say, “How’s it going girls?”
Stephen Covey also relished sleep whenever he could get it during his busy schedule. David Covey said his father only like to be awakened one minute before it was time for him to give a presentation. He said when that time came, he would whisper “Showtime!” in his dad’s ear and his father would immediately sit up and be ready to go.
One time, on a crowded train in Ireland, his family recalled that getting rest meant lying down in the middle of the train aisle and taking a nap, with other passengers being forced to step over him to get by.
His family talked about some of the funnier incidents of their dad’s life, like the time he was using a public restroom and someone slid a copy of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” under the stall door and asked him to sign it.
Or the time he was driving back to Utah from Montana with his wife and after stopping to switch drivers in Idaho, he accidentally left her on the side of the road believing she had already crawled in the back of the car and gone to sleep. Covey didn’t realize his mistake until he received a call from the Idaho Highway Patrol on his cell phone saying they had his wife with them.
Covey was a man who loved the outdoors, mountain bikes, chocolate malts and Chinese food.
His family recalled some of his most used expressions were,
” I want results not excuses”
and when they would walk into a restaurant or before meals, ” To the tables everyone and stuff yourselves.“
John Covey recalled asking his brother after he graduated from Harvard Business School what he wanted to do with his life.
” I want to release human potential,” Stephen Covey told his brother.
“Millions have been changed for the better because of his passion” to bring out the potential in people, John Covey said.
” He loved people. He believed in people, and always built on their strengths“.
Why we should focus on the forests and not on the trees
Stephen dedicated 25 years of his life to understand and figure out what makes people successful and happy before writing his bestselling book “The 7 habits of highly effective people”.
Another thing his family stated was the fact that Stephen never taught anything he would not have studied, understood, tested and experienced himself before. That is true for every single habit of the 7.
So why am I using the expression “You can’t see the forest for the trees“?
So first to get to understand this, here you have some trees – The multiple challenges and problems we face every day:
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Tree number 1: I’ve set and met my career goals and I’m having tremendous professional success. But it’s cost me my personal and family life. I don’t know my wife and children any more. I’m not even sure I know myself and what’s really important to me. I’ve had to ask myself—is it worth it?Tree number 2: I’ve started a new diet—for the fifth time this year. I know I’m overweight, and I really want to change. I read all the new information, I set goals, I get myself all psyched up with a positive mental attitude and tell myself I can do it. But I don’t. After a few weeks, I fizzle. I just can’t seem to keep a promise I make to myself.
Tree number 3: I’ve taken course after course on effective management training. I expect a lot out of my employees and I work hard to be friendly toward them and to treat them right. But I don’t feel any loyalty from them. I think if I were home sick for a day, they’d spend most of their time gabbing at the water fountain. Why can’t I train them to be independent and responsible—or find employees who can be?
Tree number 4: My teenage son is rebellious and on drugs. No matter what I try, he won’t listen to me. What can I do?
Tree number 5: There’s so much to do. And there’s never enough time. I feel pressured and hassled all day, every day, seven days a week. I’ve attended time management seminars and I’ve tried half a dozen different planning systems. They’ve helped some, but I still don’t feel I’m living the happy, productive, peaceful life I want to live.
Tree number 6: I want to teach my children the value of work. But to get them to do anything, I have to supervise every move … and put up with complaining every step of the way. It’s so much easier to do it myself. Why can’t children do their work cheerfully and without being reminded?
Tree number 7: I’m busy—really busy. But sometimes I wonder if what I’m doing will make any difference in the long run. I’d really like to think there was meaning in my life, that somehow things were different because I was here.
Tree number 8: I see my friends or relatives achieve some degree of success or receive some recognition, and I smile and congratulate them enthusiastically. But inside, I’m eating my heart out. Why do I feel this way?
Tree number 9:I have a forceful personality. I know, in almost any interaction, I can control the outcome. Most of the time, I can even do it by influencing others to come up with the solution I want. I think through each situation and I really feel the ideas I come up with are usually the best for everyone. But I feel uneasy. I always wonder what other people really think of me and my ideas.
Tree number 10: My marriage has gone flat. We don’t fight or anything; we just don’t love each other anymore. We’ve gone to counseling; we’ve tried a number of things, but we just can’t seem to rekindle the feeling we used to have.[/message]
These are deep problems, painful problems—problems that quick fix approaches can’t solve.Source: “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, 2004 Edition
So if these are the trees, can you see the forest?
If we focus on the trees – the problems – there are always three things every tree has in common: Every problem or tree has a trunk. Lets assume the trunk is the individual – the person that has the problem.
The crown with all the growing branches, leafs, flowers and fruits are our actions, the things we do, the decisions we make, the social relationships and links we create. All trunk, branches, leafs, flowers and fruits are visible. All this makes how we look like and others sees us: This is our personality.
Then, there are the roots, the roots are for the tree what for us are the values, principles, thoughts, habits and the character. Those are not visible. But it is in the roots where the solutions to all the problems we mentioned above are found for sure and with no exception.
As the roots are responsible to nourish the tree seeking for minerals and water that are necessarily for the tree to grow and to flourish, so are values, principles, thoughts, habits and character for us to become truly successful and happy, to form our personality and to reach our destiny.
Our personal growth is equal to happiness and success in the social groups and the society we are part of.
What the forest is for the trees, are social groups and the society for us. The family in the first place, our friends, colleagues, teammates and any other group we participate in.
Different from a tree, we can move into other groups and we can make decisions but we always carry our roots with us – values and principles, thoughts, habits and our character. And that is what determines how we succeed in any of the new groups we join.
A tree cannot decide to move to join another forest but what a tree does is making the best out of his situation adapted to the place where it stands, relying on its deeply deployed roots in the ground, trying to grow as much as possible pumping water and minerals through the trunk up to the last leaf in the crown. But think about the beauty of a big forest of millions of trees becoming a wonderful ecosystem for millions of species of plants and animals where every single tree contributes to the greater good of the forest and his own. This is true synergy. A win-win.
So should every single one of us contribute to the greater good of all social groups and the society we are part of and finally to the greater good of humanity on earth.
So getting back to the initial question:
What do you see: The trees or the forest?
Answer: It’s not about what you can see what matters, it is about what you can’t see!
About Andreas Jaffke: Andreas is a recognized coach, entrepreneur, executive and an expert in Organizational Digital Transformation. He believes in a combination of open and best-of-breed information technology and a Top Management driven organizational change management approach through transparent and continuous stakeholder communication and engagement, planning, discipline, hard work and an inspired, highly motivated team.