|Professor Stephen R. Covey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
In recent years I have found that I have come almost diametrically in opposition to the views I once held on a lot of self-help. It is not good enough to simply apply positive thinking and sometimes it can be outright dangerous to do so. A lot of self-help is over-marketed snake oil mysticism tangled up with a type of smiley faced bullying and it has seeped into many aspects of our culture. Having said that, I am not one to completely dismiss everything that has been said by all these self-appointed gurus. When I first started reading into the gaping flaws of psychoanalysis it did not lead me to consign my copy of Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" to the bonfire. Rather I looked more into his personal philosophy and certain observations on human nature that I feel do stand up to scrutiny. I was less drawn into his logotherapy, but that is a topic for another day. Likewise, I found myself looking back over the work of Stephen R. Covey, a giant in the motivational field who is often listed alongside the likes of Tony Robbins (a regular target of all self-help critics), and I have to say a lot of what Covey has to say is still pretty sound stuff.
He preached some great ideas regarding how an individual should make himself independent before becoming interdependent. He explained the difference between leading people and managing them. His basis for creating principles and how they relate to a workforce made sense too. You have universal rules that everyone agrees upon and then each individual writes up his own mission statement. Covey believed this type of idea could be carried over into any community, including the family. Although, despite his examples, I am always wary of one method for all approaches. Nevertheless, the collaborative ideas were pretty hard to knock. I was personally influenced by his objective centred approach. This became a part of my coaching methodology and enabled me to individualize training routines better. "Begin with the end in mind" might seem corny now, but I struggle to find another approach that will keep an individual focused on their task. I speak as a seasoned procrastinator and an individual that is very easily distracted.
The man was a devoted member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. I am not a religious person and am very sceptical about religious influence, even if I do have a libertarian sense of respect for most moderate belief systems and that an individual has the right to believe in whatever he or she wants. My fellow sceptical friends had trouble distancing Covey from his religious beliefs and somehow felt they filtered into and influenced his secular work. They might have a point. However, I don't think that is necessarily wrong. I have often held that one should separate the individual from their art. This is a common theme of mine and if I couldn't do that then my choice of entertainment would be a very sad and extremely limited range of material. Today when I see an individual I respect saying things that I am opposed to, I try my hardest to see their work as a separate commodity. Fundamentally I might not agree with the religious belief system of the Mormons. I might find their origin story totally unbelievable and their prejudices to be unacceptable, but the same points might apply to virtually all religions if they are taken in their literal sense. Nevertheless, certain principles they have might be universal principles we see across world society, so if those are what Covey preached in his secular work then I don't see a conflict of interest.
As it is, I don't believe in every single thing that Covey preached in the three books of his I have in my library, "Principle Centred Leadership", "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and "The Eighth Habit". However, there are some excellent pieces of information in there and one of them prefaced this post. The strength to adapt and the ability to change is still an under-rated quality. Yet humans climbed to the top of the food chain based on their evolved adaptive strengths. Our ability to admit when we are wrong and making a conscious effort to correct the error is what progress is all about. To make it relevant to my starting point, self-help, which came in via my involvement with the martial arts world, had an impact on me. I understood the importance of self-motivation and being a motivator for others. Being sceptical about the self-help mystique has helped me rectify a lot impractical beliefs I have had and to go further with my scientific learning. However, now I feel I can go back and revise the good material that was contained within the various texts and lectures I listened to over and over again, and filter it out from the nonsense. My proverbial gag reflex is now much tougher with words like "empowerment", proactive" and "alignment", although I promise to never over-use them again.
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