Remembering a Man of Substance

A little over a week ago, the world lost one of the wisest men of our day.  Stephen R. Covey, beloved of many, an enigma to some, and an inspiration to millions, has moved on to the next phase of life.

As I heard the news, I found myself reflecting on how my life has been influenced by this man.  I came across his work first as a young man of eighteen, through a gift of the book The Divine Center and my life was profoundly impacted.  I was confronted by the idea that what happened in one facet of my life would not only affect the other facets of my life, but that some facets were more critical than others.  This early exposure drove me to explore the importance of values, priorities and the importance of recognizing  the difference between urgent and important.

Like much of the rest of our world, I have noticed that there are aspects of my life and my outlook that are directly traceable to Stephen’s work and his passion for helping people act on their highest priorities.  Through books, seminars, speeches, interviews and articles, his influence on the modern world of business has been nothing short of pervasive, and hopefully we are all better for it.

I decided last week that I wanted to honor the man by sharing with you some of the insights that I gained from his work that have been of particular value in my efforts to become a man of both style and substance, with emphasis on the substance.

Begin with the end in mind.  This phrase has become a major part of what I teach and how I live.  Rather than just setting goals, to me this phrase has always been about thinking through a course of action not just for the consequences we desire, but to minimize the unintended consequences as well.  It is about acting with purpose, not just acting out of panic or desperation.  It has also been about faith, about staying with a course of action that we know must come to fruition even when there is no significant immediate evidence to support that faith.

Seek first to understand.  Those of you who know Covey’s work well will know the rest of the phrase.  This is one that I am constantly working to improve on.  Whether I am functioning in my role as a teacher, a parent, a spouse, a trainer or a consultant, seeking first to understand has been one of my most valuable keys.  If I understand, truly understand, the person that I am speaking with, rapport comes easier, faster and more completely.  I am more helpful at those times, and I am also more honest about the times that I cannot help, when I am working to understand first.

Win win.  I don’t know if Stephen was the first to  coin the phrase, but in my world he was the first to introduce it.  So much of our world is zero sum, winning and losing, with nothing reserved for the loser but ignominy and scorn.  The idea of win/win liberates me from all that, and allows me to find new and creative ways to pursue the end I have in mind in a way that supports the other person I have been working to understand.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Instead, I commend to us all the legacy Mr. Covey left us, regardless of the baggage of its execution by individuals and companies along the way, and find ways to integrate his insights into our daily lives.  Mine has been much improved by it, as I’m sure yours will be.

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The First 15 Seconds

All of us have heard the adage, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”  Seems straightforward enough.  In fact, it almost goes without saying.  The words may begin to sound more like a cliché that might have been uttered by Polonius and less like good advice as we move from our teens into adulthood.

But, and here’s the rub, it’s true.

I once heard a gentleman say “Every impression after the first is a gradual adjustment to that first impression, but it never really makes the first impression go away.”  I’ve never forgotten that.  And with that in mind, I’ve tried to encourage employees, students, and even my own children to adopt some habits in meeting new people that can set the stage for a good first impression.

It’s all about the first 15 seconds, because, believe it or not, after 15 seconds, the person you are meeting has decided where to rank you among several categories.  What the specifics of those categories are is unique to the individual, but your ranking in the category, the degree to which you will be valued, can be directly impacted by how you handle the first 15 seconds.

Here are the things that I have tried to integrate into my process of meeting new people.

Smile  Few things create as much potential for a positive beginning than a genuine smile.  It need not be a toothy grin, but it must be genuine and gentle.

Eye contact Not the kind of death stare that is a challenge, but enough to notice the color of the eyes of the person you are talking to.  No need to remember it necessarily, just notice it.

Physical contact In most settings a handshake is sufficient, and if the handshake can be connected with the eye contact all the better.

Repeat the person’s name Dale Carnegie wrote, “A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest sound in all the world.”  Say it, clearly and correctly, in a way of ensuring that you heard it correctly when it was given to you.

Show of respect A simple phrase like, “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” may be too much for a casual situation and too little for a formal reception, but the idea is to let the person have a moment where he or she is more important than you.  In some situations, a slight nod of the head or a half bow may even be appropriate.

There you have it.  Simple as it is, these short tips can help set the stage for today’s gentlemen to make a more positive first impression.