What I Learned From Stephen R. Covey

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn    

Learned from: Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Lesson: With people, slow is fast and fast is slow.

Envision the breakfast buffet at your favorite hotel. Generally next to the semi-warm danish is a loaf of uninspired sliced bread waiting to be toasted. For the larger hotels, a mere toaster won’t suffice; they need one of those toaster conveyors. You lay your bread on the metal wire and in about 45 seconds, it spits the bread onto the bottom tray, perfectly toasted.

Well, it has never once worked for me.

Because whenever I approach it, I instinctively spin the dial to the fastest setting. I don’t necessarily want light toast. I just can’t chemically, biologically, physically stand in front of this painfully slow machine while it mind-numbingly chugs along. I turn it to the maximum, try to rush it, and end up with—surprise!—slightly warm bread.

Welcome to my relationships with people. I put most of my encounters into a metaphorical toaster and dial it to fast. It’s been my impulsive, impetuous, efficient personality to treat people too much like toast. Guess how that’s worked out.

To be clear, I don’t inherently value my relationships less than anyone else. I just like to speed them along—faster! As fast as possible. Faster please, and usually to great anxiety. 

Disclaimer: I make no apologies for my productivity in life. Plainly said, I like to accomplish things. I enjoy working hard and pushing others to great accomplishments as well. I love deadlines and am known for getting things done with annoying urgency. I will likely never be asked to deliver a eulogy or a Thanksgiving prayer, but I’d be the first asked to evacuate a burning building. You might need therapy after my evacuation process, but I’d get you out alive!

I’m learning the hard way (which seems to be my preferred learning style) to slow down, way down, with people. 

I recall an invaluable lesson I learned from my first FranklinCovey leader and eventual mentor, Chuck Farnsworth. More than twenty years ago, I was a front line salesperson for our education division, selling leadership development solutions to colleges and universities, and Chuck was our founding vice president. We were meeting with an administrator at a top ten university over dinner.

No sooner had we been seated at our table did I brush aside the menu and start into the “business” conversation, hoping to push a close to our pending sale. I vividly remember Chuck placing his hand on my knee under the table and effortlessly redirecting the conversation to mutual interests, our families, and any areas where we could sincerely connect with our client, totally independent of the prospective deal. 

Chuck was, and still is, a master at this, not because he’s slick, sly, or even practiced, but because he genuinely cares about people, their successes, and their challenges. If in the process of learning more about them, he can help them, then great. Let’s do business. 

Chuck is slow. For me, sometimes toooooo sloooow. But he’s hands down the most effective person I’ve ever known when it comes to working with people, something we all have to do daily.

The next time you find yourself rushing colleagues or family members, remember the toaster. Dial it down. With people, slow is fast and fast is slow.

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About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as the executive vice president of thought leadership. Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest-growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Release, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. Previously, Scott worked for the Disney Development Company and grew up in Central Florida. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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