CHARACTER FIRST

(excerpts from an Interview with Stephen R. Covey)


Even the very best structure, system, style, and skills can't compensate completely for deficiencies in character. Why do you emphasize the importance of character in the lives of leaders?

Because I believe that character (what a person is) is ultimately more important than competence (what a person can do). Obviously both are important, but character is foundational. All else builds on this cornerstone. Also, I believe that courage and consideration are the key building blocks of emotional maturity, and that emotional maturity is foundational to all decisions and all relationships. It relates to all the great management themes of the past. That's why I place my Seven Habits along a maturity continuum to suggest that the aim of all these habits is to help us achieve character and competence, courage and consideration. We can then be highly effective with tasks and with people.

Why is the emotionally mature person also highly effective?

Mature people may have a lot of ego strength, but they also have high respect for other people. They balance their courage with consideration. So they communicate in the spirit of "I and thou," the expression philosopher Martin Buber used in his book, I and Thou. Immature people communicate in terms of "I and it" where they treat people like objects or things, or "it and it" where they manipulate and treat themselves in the same way. Or they may think in term of "it and thou," having respect for others, but not for themselves.

When did you first arrive at this notion of maturity being a balance between courage and consideration?

I first learned this concept from one of my professors at the Harvard Business School , Rhand Saxenian. At the time, Rhand was working on his own doctoral thesis on the subject. This is how he taught it: emotional maturity is the ability to express your feelings and convictions with courage, balanced with consideration for the feelings and convictions of others.

And that hit you like a lightning bolt?

Yes, the truth of that idea struck me powerfully. But even more powerful was the way he modeled it. For instance, when we entered the statistics portion of the course, he told the class that he didn't know much about statistics, and that he would be learning along with us. He also acknowledged what our feelings might be, as we were in competition with other students and sections and had to take a school-wide exam. In self-defense, we sent a delegation to the dean's office to ask for a new teacher of statistics. We told the dean that we liked Mr. Saxenian as a teacher but that his ignorance of statistics would put us at a disadvantage when we took the tests. To our amazement, the dean simply said, "Well, just do the best you can." So with the teacher's help, we got some technical notes and passed them around. In a sense, we taught each other statistics. And our section, out of eight, came out second in the exams. I'm convinced we did well because Rhand had the courage to confess his ignorance of the subject and the consideration to help us come up with a solution.

Did your professor show you that "courage balanced with consideration" was common to great leaders?

Yes, in fact, Rhand went back through history to show how the truly great leaders who built strong cultures behind a common shared vision were those who had these two characteristics of emotional maturity, who beautifully balanced courage and consideration.

In a different way, haven't you also tested this idea?

Yes, in many ways. First, I have gone back into the history of management thought, interpersonal relationships theory, and human psychology theory, and I have found the same two concepts. For instance, the transactional analysis area that Thomas Harris made popular in his book, I'm Okay, You're Okay, really had its theoretical roots in both Eric Berne's, Games People Play, and Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theories. Well, what is "I'm okay, you're okay" but courage balanced with consideration? "I'm okay, you're not okay" means I have courage, but little respect or consideration for you. "I'm not okay, you're okay" suggests no ego strength, no courage. And "I'm not okay, you're not okay" suggests a very negative outlook of life. These are the four dimensions of maturity.

Lina Patuwo

Choice Management Consultants

Email: cpatuwo@indo. net.id, lina@choice- mc.com

My blog: www.linapatuwo. wordpress. com

Mission "To help others to see the best in themselves"

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