Meet Stephen M. R. Covey

Meet Stephen M. R. Covey

Meet Stephen M.R. Covey, Global authority on trust, leadership, and culture. New York Times best selling author

Stephen M.R. Covey lives and breathes leadership. As the son of leadership author Dr. Stephen R. Covey, his career choice is no surprise, but his work differs in that it’s focused on creating high-trust work culture. 

In this episode, Stephen explains his “trust and inspire” leadership model in depth, citing specific studies that explain why it’s the approach modern workplaces need in the digital age. 

“You can’t ‘command and control’ your way to innovation, you’ve got to do it through ‘trust and inspire,’” he says. 

Get Stephen's latest book Trust & Inspire, click here

Meet your host Jan Griffiths, click here

Episode Summary 

Stephen M.R. Covey wants you to trust your employees. And he wants you to do so by putting in the time to truly connect with them — while resisting the urge to micromanage.

“You’re truly empowering people around an agreement with clear expectations and with accountability,” he says of his “trust and inspire” leadership model. “And with that, you can do so much more. People will actually judge themselves against the agreement and report back to you, instead of you having to hover.”

Stephen’s leadership career began in 1989 when, after graduating from Harvard Business School with an MBA, and with nearly two years of experience as a leasing agent with Trammell Crow Company under his belt, he was at a crossroad.


“I was really debating going back to [Trammell Crow] after getting my MBA when my father said, ‘why don’t you join with me?’” Stephen recalls. And when your father is the author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” joining him is decidedly the correct choice. 


So, they worked together to create the Covey Leadership Center, and Stephen climbed the ranks from Client Partner to CEO over the course of the next five years. But eventually, Stephen realized he had more to offer the world, leading him to write three books around the concept of trust and inspire leadership.

In this episode, he explains the ins and outs of this concept and why it’s the necessary replacement for the “command and control” model. 


“You win in the workplace when you build and inspire a high-trust culture, and you win in the marketplace when you collaborate and innovate. That’s how you stay relevant in a changing world,” he says. 


Themes discussed on this episode: 


  • How his father’s success influenced Stephen’s childhood and eventual career 
  • The difference between the command and control leadership model and the trust and inspire model
  • Why Stephen believes trust and inspiration go hand-in-hand with innovation and winning 
  • Why gaining trust is a slow but worthwhile process
  • Why today’s digital-first and ever-evolving work environment deserves a new leadership model
  • How believing people are innately good will lead you down a path of connection and collaboration
  • The difference between position authority and moral authority


Featured Guest: Stephen M.R. Covey


📽️ What he does: Stephen M.R. Covey is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which maintains a mission to “develop principle centered-leaders of character and competence who elevate society.” Currently, he’s the Global Practice Leader of Global Speed of Trust Practice, the result of the merger between consulting practice CoveyLink and leadership training company FranklinCovey. He’s also the author of three leadership books, including his most recent, “Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others.”


💡 On Gravitas: “The Greek philosophy of influence was expressed in three words: ethos, pathos, logos,” says Stephen. “What gravitas means to me— it’s ethos, pathos, and logos in that order, in that sequence. And so in my trust and inspire model is modeling, trusting, inspiring. … That’s gravitas. It’s who you are. It’s your credibility, it’s your moral authority that precedes you.”

Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show


[2:54] Where it all started: Stephen discusses his childhood as the son of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and why, after receiving his MBA, he chose the path of the family business rather than going out on his own. 


[7:45] ‘Something to say’: After scaling FranklinCovey, Stephen witnessed firsthand the weaknesses of the command and control leadership model. That’s what led him to become an author focused on a new, opposing leadership model: trust and inspire, which he explains here.


[12:20] Sharing his knowledge: The most important lesson Stephen learned in the last few years, which has only been further proven by the pandemic, is that the best leaders know the difference between management and leadership. Here, he explains why “You manage things, but you lead people.” 


[17:06] Innovation is the key ingredient: Stephen believes if you don’t build a high-trust work culture, you won’t be able to collaborate or innovate. In this section, he discusses why trust leads to innovation, and innovation leads to “winning in the workplace, which is what will enable you … to win in the marketplace.”


[23:29] Most people are good: All of Stephen’s actions as a leader stem from the basic belief that most people are good and worth being trusted. He explains why that’s a great starting point for a growth mindset.  


[27:50] Slow and steady wins the race: Stephen recognizes that speed doesn’t always equal success. Here, he demonstrates why it’s worth taking the extra time needed to build trust among your employees so that in the long run, that high-trust work culture allows you to tap into their creativity and commitment. 


[33:31] Report back: Stephen says one of the most effective ways to gain and maintain trust is to empower people. He details one way of doing that: encouraging them to report back with details rather than micromanaging. 


[38:12] Trust = leverage: A discussion of his favorite of Jan’s 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership evolves into a point about why connecting with people increases execution, ability and other important elements of a successful business. He then elaborates by explaining why “trust is … highly leveraged in our world today.”


[42:06] The proof is in the pudding: Stephen discusses his most recent book and why it was important to include specific data to back up his arguments about the power of trust. 


[45:18] ‘One person’s strengths compensate for another’s weaknesses’: It’s easy to get competitive in the workplace. But what if you could transform that competitive spirit to a collaborative one? Stephen explains why his mindset is to “compete externally in the marketplace,but internally let's complete each other, let's be complementary”


[46:29On gravitas: Stephen’s definition borrows from the Greek philosophy of influence, which he explained through ethos, pathos and logos: “That’s gravitas. It’s who you are. It’s your credibility, it’s your moral authority that precedes you.” 



Top quotes


[5:57] “It is trust that makes our world go round. It is trust that makes our organizations thrive. And it certainly is trust that makes our relationships happy and joyful. If you can get good at building trust on purpose, what an advantage that is.”


[8:50] “Now people are working from home, working from anywhere … [there are] so many choices and options for people. And it just really has made clear that command and control is not going to work in this new world of work.”


[12:19] “You can keep a command and control mindset in the management of things. That can work. But as you work with people … trust and inspire is a far better approach … to bring out the best in them and, ultimately, the best in their oversight of the things and processes that they manage.”


[28:35] “Be efficient with things and be effective with people. Taking the time to listen, to understand, to demonstrate respect and to involve people — while it takes time up front, you’ll move faster in the long run.”


[44:22] “My job as a leader is to go first … I’m a steward. I have a responsibility, a job with a trust for those that I lead. It’s not just a position of authority, it’s a moral authority that I need to lead with. It’s a different approach.”


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