A Personal Tribute to Lost Mentors

Steven Covey was “discovered” in the 80’s and encouraged to package the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in a way that could be broadly distributed to business leaders. I attended the course in 1987. The course I attended was taught by an early mentor named Doug Roberts.

Doug was retired from the US Army. He had been exposed to leaders such as Steven Covey, Edward Deming, and Kenneth Blanchard. I had only read about these people. But he had met them! I was a 24 year old kid and we were teaching a group of leaders who were in their 50’s. I had such passion for making a difference and we were working for a defense contractor who was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an attempt to give away the pension obligation to the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.)

Doug was a great leader and taught me that you come to work every day willing to be fired. When he made this statement, it shocked the Status Quo. Mainly the Status Quo consisted of spineless corporate types who were more concerned with preservation of kingdoms. Doug’s courageous style was exactly what this company needed. Sometimes our circle of influence was microscopic. Our executive education program consisted of designing the overhead transparencies (before PowerPoint) of senior management. Doug explained, “If they are forced to present something that they don’t quite believe, and are forced to defend it, their perspective moves more in this direction”. Wow! How purposeful! No longer was I designing transparencies, I was shaping leadership!

One day in 1989, Doug was late to a meeting. I remember opening up his office door. It opened slowly and the door hit him on the foot. Doug lay in the floor. His color was pale. I yelled for security. A security officer attempted CPR, but Doug (my beloved and respected mentor) had died. Doug had suffered from a massive heart attack. Doug was so driven by purpose, he didn’t go to the doctor when he wasn’t feeling well. I was asked if I knew where Doug lived. I said yes. I was asked if I could drive. I said, probably not. I was given a driver and they asked me to pick up Doug’s wife. The drive seemed to take forever.

When we arrived at Doug’s wife’s door, she said, “What is it Dale? Is he dead?” I said, “I don’t know Bessie, but it doesn’t look good”. (I had been instructed by my management not to tell her his condition. I was told, “you are not a doctor”.)

I remember at the hospital, hearing the screams of his daughter as she learned of her father’s death. That was my first loss of a mentor. Despite the pain, I took Doug’s rolodex and called his contacts.

I then was thrust into responsibility. I began teaching the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People because somebody had to do it. The first course I taught was in 1989.

I attended the train the trainer in 1990. By that time, Covey Leadership had grown and Steven Covey no longer taught all of the train the trainer sessions. I attended the training at Sundance Utah. I remember seeing Robert Redford at his restaurant. I was kind of his stalker since my favorite movie was Three Days of the Condor. I pretended not to see him and asked for seating near the fireplace, hoping to sit right next to him. It didn’t work, but at least we caught a glimpse of him.

Well I taught the 7 Habits as an employee of Arco Oil and Gas Company and then in 1994 as an independent contractor began teaching the program to Johnson & Johnson companies. Well it’s 2012 and the instruction has run it’s course for me since the J&J School of Personal and Professional Development decided not to offer this course.

It’s been a great trip.

Steven Covey

Steven Covey: You Will Be Missed

Yesterday, Steven Covey passed away. He had a bicycle accident in April. Despite wearing a helmet, he passed away from complications.

I only met Steven Covey on one occasion. I was considering Phd programs. I sought counsel from him after one of his keynote presentations. He told me that the activity that has most shaped his education and leadership was his daily time spent reading the bible and praying. Wow….did this great leader actually say that to me? I told him that I would like to talk to him further. He said, “Call me at home”. I never took him up on his offer. However, I was impressed with the down to earth nature. He really seemed to model everything that he talked about.

Steven Covey, you shared some great information with the world. Here is a great audio interview.

I take it upon myself to nominate you as the top leader of the past 25 years.

I’m 49 years old now and it’s been 25 years since I first learned about you. I’ll miss you and I’ll always remember the the impact you had on me and those who attended the thousands of programs that I have taught. Everything that I teach seems to be impacted by the 7 Habits material.