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30 of The Best Stephen Covey Quotes


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has sold over 20 million copies, making it not only one of the bestselling business books of all time, but one of the bestselling books of all time. Only How to Win Friends and Influence People and Who Moved My Cheese? are in the same league in terms of shear sales figures. However, we think it's pretty safe to say that The 7 Habits is easily the most popular business leadership book ever written.

Having conducted our own investigation of people’s favourite leadership books from 100 web lists using search terms like “Best,” “Greatest,” and “Most Popular,” we found that The 7 Habits appeared on 29/100 of those lists — nearly 1 in 3. That’s ahead of How to Win Friends (22/100) and quite a bit ahead of Who Moved My Cheese? (12/100).

In 1996, TIME Magazine named The 7 Habits one of the 25 most influential business management books of all time. In 2002, Forbes Magazine named it one of the top 10 most influential management books of all time. A survey by Chief Executive Magazine named The 7 Habits the most influential business book of the 20th century. The audio version is the bestselling nonfiction audio book in history.

Book trends and authors come and go, but very few have a lasting cultural impact, and Stephen Covey's legacy is one. Despite the book containing many business anecdotes, models and frameworks drawn from Covey’s life as a management consultant, it is as much a book for teachers, parents and couples as it is for executives and entrepreneurs. It is not just about how to be a manager or a CEO — it is about how to be an effective human being, and can therefore be applied to anyone in any situation.

Here are some of the best Stephen Covey quotes, drawn from two of his books: The 7 Habits and The 8th Habit.

30 Quotes for Business, Leadership & Life:

  1. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
  2. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
  3. “If you were to ask me what one subject, one theme, one point, seemed to have the greatest impact upon people – what one great idea resonated deeper in the soul than any other – if you were to ask what one ideal was most practical, most relevant, most timely, regardless of circumstances, I would answer quickly, without any reservation, and with the deepest conviction of my heart and soul, that we are free to choose. This power and freedom stand in stark contrast to the mind-set of victimise and culture of blame so prevalent in society today. Fundamentally, we are a product of choice, not nature (genes) or nurture (upbringing, environment). Certainly genes and culture often influence very powerfully, but they do not determine.”
  4. “The first choice we make each and every day is, ‘Will we act upon life, or will we merely be acted upon?”
  5. “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
  6. “Are we basically a product of nature or nurture? Neither. We are a product of choice. Are leaders born or made? Neither. They are self-made. Again it is a choice.”
  7. “Leadership is a choice, not a position."
  8. “There are three constants in life… change, choice and principles.”
  9. “Yet all of the enduring major religious traditions of the world are unified when it comes to basic underlying principles… principles like respect, honesty, kindness, integrity, service and fairness… To expand, a principle is a natural law like gravity. It’s different than a value. Values are subjective; principles are objective. Gravity… if you drop something, gravity controls it. If I don’t tell you the truth, you won’t trust me — that’s a natural law… even though values control behaviour, principles control the consequences of behaviour.”
  10. “It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another thing not to admit it. People will forgive mistakes, because mistakes are usually of the mind, mistakes of judgment. But people will not easily forgive the mistakes of the heart, the ill intention, the bad motives, the prideful justifying cover-up of the first mistake.”
  11. "At the most elemental level, an organisation is nothing more or less than a relationship with a purpose.”
  12. “If you want to make minor, incremental changes and improvements, work on practices, behaviour or attitude. But if you want to make significant, quantum improvement, work on paradigms. For instance, how did they attempt to heal people in the Middle Ages? Bloodletting. What was the paradigm? The bad stuff is in the blood; get it out. Now if you did not question this paradigm, what should you do? Do more. Do it faster. Do it more painlessly. Go into TQM or Six Sigma. Do statistical quality control, variance analysis… The new Knowledge Work Age is based on a new paradigm.”
  13. "In the great literature of all progressive societies, love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling… Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self."
  14. "My experience and teaching have also led me to conclude that the key to understanding organisational behaviour is not to study organisational behaviour, per se. It is to study and understand human nature.”
  15. “In a very real sense, there are only two roles in organisations: customers and suppliers. Everybody functions simultaneously in both roles, whether inside or outside the organisation… the essence of good business, therefore, is the quality of the relationship between customer and supplier.”
  16. “I teach people how to treat me by what I will allow.”
  17. “Remember, any time your emotional life is a function of someone else’s weakness, you disempower yourself and empower those weaknesses to continue to mess your life up.”
  18. “Trust is the highest form of human motivation.”
  19. “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
  20. "Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out."
  21. "Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall."
  22. “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
  23. “Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.”
  24. “When one does not have the passion that flows from finding and using one’s voice to serve great purposes, the void is filled with insecurity and the empty chatter of a thousand voices that drive the social mirror.”
  25. “A good definition of sacrifice is giving up something — even something good — for something better.”
  26. “As mentioned earlier, all organisations, even the best of them, are absolutely filled with problems. I’ve worked with thousands. Even the organisations I admire most struggle to some degree. And the interesting thing is that most of the problems are about the same. Certainly, there are unique personalities and circumstances connected to the problems. But when it comes right down to it, at the core, most problems have common roots.”
  27. “At the core, there is one simple, overarching reason why so many people remain unsatisfied in their work and why most organisations fail to draw out the greatest talent, ingenuity, and creativity of their people and never become truly great, enduring organisations. It stems from an incomplete paradigm of who we are — our fundamental view of human nature. The fundamental reality is, human beings are not things needing to be motivated and controlled; they are four-dimensional — body, mind, heart, and spirit.”
  28. “I believe that a life of integrity is the most fundamental source of personal worth. I do not agree with the popular success literature that says that self-esteem is primarily a matter of mind set, of attitude — that you can psych yourself into peace of mind. Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.”
  29. “The single most powerful investment we can ever make in life is investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and contribute.”
  30. “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.”
Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."

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