Primary Greatness: A book review by Bob Morris

PrimaryGreatnessPrimary Greatness: The 12 Levers of Success
Stephen R. Covey
Simon & Schuster (November 2015)

Here are decades of experience-driven wisdom from Stephen Covey’s mostly unpublished reflections

Stephen Covey is without doubt one of the most prolific business thinkers and writers in recent decades. As Sean Covey explains in the Foreword to this volume, the material in Primary Greatness was selected by his father’s colleagues from mostly unpublished essays. He died in 2012 after having produced thirteen books and hundreds of articles. He is probably best known for The 7 Habits of Highly effective People. I think the title of Primary Greatness could also have been “The Essential Covey” and the material can serve as an excellent introduction to his seminal thinking about major business subjects, especially leadership and organizational development.

As Sean Covey explains, “This book is an excellent collection of several of my father’ best essays that have never appeared in book form and aren’t well known. But they are vintage Stephen Covey and contain some of his best thinking.” I agree.

With regard to this book’s title, Cover continued to emphasize to his son that there are two ways to live: “Primary greatness is who you really are – your character, integrity, your deepest motives and desires. Secondary greatness is popularity, title, position, fame, fortune, and honors. He taught me not to worry about secondary greatness and focus on primary greatness.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of coverage in Primary Greatness:

o Examining motives and the inner life ((Pages 5-7)
o Achieving success with maturity as a sign of greatness (13-22)
o Relationships (15-17 and 82-83)
o Discipline and habits (20-22)
o Magnetic forces and culture (35-37)
o Accountability mindset (41-43 and 91-93)
o Gandhi and proper behavior (43-44)
o Business ethics (53-54 and 60-62)
o Gossiping (56-57 and 120-123)
o Identifying gifts and talents (76-78)
o Priorities and Primary Greatness (74-87)
o Creating an essence of leadership (81-87)
o Sacrifice and and Primary Greatness (88-96)
o Responsibility and Primary Greatness (106-114)
o Steadfast loyalty (116-123)
o Security and diversity (136-139)
o Knowledge and continuous learning (145-146 and 150154)
o Mental health/Social skills/Wellness (150-154)
o Teaching to learn and culture (158-160)
o Wisdom (161-169)
o Change (171-172 and 175-177)

This is an anthology of eighteen essays, each about nine pages in length. To varying degree, they reveal the nature and extent of the potential impact of twelve “levers of success” – Integrity, Contribution, Priority, Sacrifice, Service, Responsibility, Loyalty, Reciprocity, Diversity, Learning, Renewal, and Teaching — when attempting to achieve personal growth and professional development. A separate chapter is devoted to each of the eight.

As I read and then re-read the material in this book, I felt as if Stephen Covey had written it for me. His insights and counsel helped me to reflect on my life thus far, to examine (in fact, re-examine) my current circumstances, and then begin to formulate a path to follow during whatever time remains for me. My guess (only a guess) is that many others who read this book will feel the same way.

One final point: Primary greatness is not an ultimate destination; rather, it is a never-ending process, a journey during which there will be an abundance of perils as well as opportunities. How to respond? Presumably Stephen Covey agrees with Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

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  1. […] Words by Bob Morris […]

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