Stephen Covey is author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and “First Things First.” He is a leading business consultant and founder of the Covey Leadership Center.
DiCarlo: The term “empowerment”, like “quality” and “transformation” has achieved buzzword status. To some, it means pushing down authority and responsibility from the boardroom executive to the front-line employee. What is your definition of empowerment?
Covey: Well, you’re right, empowerment has become a buzzword. It’s kind of a bastardized term, in that, to most people, it basically means a superficial form of delegation, but it’s far beyond that. It involves the 4 levels-the personal, the interpersonal, the managerial, and the organizational. At the personal level, the whole conviction of the value of other people and the creative potential of other people has not yet been touched. It takes an abundance mindset. People with scarcity mindset believe that if they give power away that means they have less power. If they share knowledge, that means they will have less knowledge or they will have less control. That’s why there has to be some personal transformation before people will really want to empower other people.
Also, those being empowered have sometimes become so acclimated to the benevolent, paternalistic way of being managed so common in the past, that they find most of their satisfaction off the job.
And so it takes a process at the interpersonal level, at the managerial level, and at the organizational level to make sure that the systems and structures of an organization, which are the areas where Deming focused, are aligned to reinforce empowerment. So empowerment really involves creating conditions as the personal, interpersonal, managerial and organizational levels that will enable the fullness of people’s capacities to be tapped into. And not only the individual, but also the synergy between individuals because the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts, and the relationship between the parts becomes the biggest part of all.
DiCarlo: What would you say is the essence of empowerment?
Covey: The essence of empowerment is the awareness that the power is already in people. What we need to do is to create the conditions which unleash it.
DiCarlo: Are there any particular reasons why people become disempowered, both personally and organizationally?
Covey: Sure. They start blaming other people instead of taking responsibility. The moment you build your emotional life on the weaknesses of others, or on the weaknesses of institutions, you have just disempowered yourself. You have given your own unique, human endowment away to the source of that criticism.
So in this way, individuals literally disempower themselves. They also disempower others by structuring the organization in such a way that people really can’t use their powers. They can’t use their imagination. They can’t use their creativity. Their ingenuity. Their motivation.
DiCarlo: Isn’t it true that some people are not ready to be empowered?
Covey: Maybe they are not ready at the level at which some people think of empowerment. But they are ready at some level. The key is to discern that level at which they are ready, and create the opportunity for people to utilize their powers. Eventually, they will reach higher and higher levels of utilizing their powers and they will show enormous accountability.
DiCarlo: It seems like it would take an awful lot of time to create an empowering organization…why do it?
Covey: Simple, we won’t survive if we don’t. The global marketplace has changed everything. You cannot produce quality without having people who are empowered to be, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter puts it, customer-focused, fast, friendly and flexible. You cannot compete. So your organization will not make it. This is going to happen in government, it’s going to happen in hospitals and it’s going to happen in schools as well as businesses. This wouldn’t be the case if we didn’t have the global marketplace, because if you are in a local marketplace you are about as good as your competitor is dumb. So if your competitor is not empowering its employees, you can do really well with the business.
Another reason to empower is to produce a responsible citizenry. If families for example, don’t empower their kids they won’t be contributing members of our society. They will be consumers rather than producers and if we have a society of consumers and not producers, there will be nothing left to consume.
DiCarlo: What are the conditions that enable empowerment to take place?
Covey: The first condition is trustworthiness, which consists of both character and competence. Character refers to a person’s integrity, maturity, and what I call the abundance mentality. By competency I mean, I mean one’s technical skills and conceptual skills, which allows one to see the “Big Picture”-how all the pieces fit together. They also need to develop the skills of interdependency, which means that you think ecologically and you act in terms of “complimentary teams” and synergy rather than isolated individuals and compromise.
The second condition is the trust that flows out of the first condition. When people can be trusted that means they are able to come through and deliver. They have the integrity. They are dependable. They keep their commitments. They think win-win or no deal. They apologize when they make mistakes. They always seek first to understand other people or to understand the situation before seeking to be understood. They learn how to give and receive feedback with magnanimity and appreciation and not be offended by it. They make these kinds of what I call “deposits” into the emotional bank account that each of us has with others.
DiCarlo: And the third condition….?
Covey: Well, if you have the kind of trust I’ve described, it enables people to develop the third condition of empowerment, which I call win-win performance agreements. This basically means that there is a mutual understanding and commitment between the people involved-between team and company or a supplier and a company or a customer and a company-surrounding five basic things: desired results, guidelines, resources, accountability and consequences. Purposely left off is method, the “how-to-do-it.” That becomes the fourth condition. The how is answered by the people or the team involved so they accomplish the desired results within the guidelines-in any way they want to. That taps into their creativity and resourcefulness. As long as they act within the guidelines, which include ethical principles and laws and mission statement-and any absolutely necessary but as few as possible procedures-then they are empowered.
The fifth condition is to set up structures and systems that reinforce this empowered individual or team. This is the area that is called re-engineering the corporation. This is the main area that people like Deming, and Crosby and Juran focus upon, that is, improving the operational processes. They think the primary problem is not with the people, it’s with the programs that people write. I believe that the problem always starts with the programmer, and the people with the scarcity mentality will always implement so-called “win-win” systems in “win-lose” ways. So while I put a lot of value upon structures and systems, for me, the deeper root is the programmer-the one who writes the programs.
The 6th condition is accountability where people can evaluate themselves using 360 degree data, meaning, financial accounting plus information from all stakeholders-customers, suppliers, employees, their families, the community and so forth. The sixth condition feeds back into the “win-win performance agreement” and nurtures it, maintains it, and gives us abundant evidence of the trust and trustworthiness that lie at the very core.
DiCarlo: But business is so “bottom-line” oriented…
Covey: Well, financial accounting is only 90 degrees. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and financial accounting is dangerous without a full understanding of the human sources of all that data. It only tells you about the effects of the programs. It doesn’t tell you anything about relationships, cultures or programmers-the individuals. Nothing, absolutely nothing. Financial accounting intoxicates the brain. It gives people a sense that they know what’s going on, and they are drunk. They are drunken with this sense of concrete, precise, scientific data, unaware of how totally incomplete and inaccurate it is. So they have to add the other 90 degrees of looking at their customers and understanding the buying habits, motives and needs. To really understand them.
The other 90 degrees is to understand their own people. Their own culture. People’s families. The other 90 degrees deals with the community and with suppliers and distributors and dealers. Government. Media. A 360 degree review basically means that you have a scientific, and a systematic and a regular approach at gathering data and putting it in front of people in ways so that it is very useable. So that they have a very good understanding of not only the acute, but the chronic sources of problems. Not only of the part but of the whole. Ultimately, what we call total quality today focuses upon total customer satisfaction will be changed. It will move to total stakeholder satisfaction.
The universal mission statement is basically to increase the economic well-being and quality of life of all stakeholders. If one is neglected, it will have a negative, domino effect on all the rest.
DiCarlo: In your view, what would you say characterizes the times in which we live?
Covey: We are seeing the fruits of social disintegration everywhere-families torn apart, businesses failing, low trust, adversarial relationships, fighting in all sectors of society. It’s across the board in hospitals, health care, schools and education. No one is trained in interdependence, in working together. Everyone is thinking independently and yet the problems we face all require high levels of cooperation. The essential message of my work has been that we need to return to the fundamental principles of the character ethic. The need is enormous.
DiCarlo: How did we deviate from these principles?
Covey: By behaving in a way that is in direct opposition to each principle. The first principle involves personal responsibility and most people don’t take it. Principle 2 involves developing a personal vision of your life-most people don’t have a vision. They don’t act on purpose. Principle 3 involves putting first things first and keeping commitments-most people don’t have integrity. Principle 4 involves seeking mutual benefit-most people are selfish. They think “win-lose” or if they are martyrs, think “lose-win.” Principle 5 involves seeking to understand others first-most seek first to be understood all the time. Principle 6 involves synergy and looking for third alternatives-most go for compromise instead. And the 7th principle involves what I call “sharpening the saw”-most people fail to pay the price of personal renewal.
So the opposite of each of the 7 habits is the deviation.
DiCarlo: Now when you say integrity, as in principle 3, do you mean being honest and ethical?
Covey: No. Honesty is just one of many symptoms of integrity. Integrity means integrated. Whole. Harmonized. Unified. Sincerity means without wax, no seams. You are seamless. So integrity is the opinion you have of yourself and the concept of honesty would be one of the symptoms of a person who is integrated.
DiCarlo: How would a person go about becoming more integrated in their life?
Covey: Educate and obey their conscience. By that I mean, get deeply into the great wisdom literature of all religions and all societies that have had enduring value and study it. Study the lives of great individuals who have made tremendous contributions and who have been admired for their contributions, their service, their integrity. Identify with it until your conscience becomes extremely sensitive, strong and inside you. Then, learn to listen to it and to obey it.
That’s why I believe that humility is the mother of all principles. Everything flows from the spirit of, “You are not in charge, you are not a law unto yourself.” Your social values may have nothing to do with principles at all. In fact, most social values are not principle-centered at all. It’s about accepting that, “I have to be subject to the natural law of the universe.” To admit that, “I am not in control” is a humbling statement which requires a humble attitude. It makes you capable then, of having all other virtues come through you.
On the other hand, if you are a law unto yourself, that kind of pride and arrogance will preclude that level of openness and receptivity. People then gather other people around them to validate them, massage their hearts and make them feel good. But they are really very proud, arrogant and have a hard time learning. They fail to be open and teachable, and they are not growing. They begin to define all of life around their own narrow and distorted frame of reference. It’s a form of self-centeredness, feeling that everything revolves around you.
DiCarlo: You mentioned that a scarcity mentality prevents individuals from establishing “win-win” relationships…what would you say is the root cause?
Covey: It comes from being compared as a child and getting your sense of security from that comparison. It is what’s called “comparison-based identity.” The primary six sources of scarcity come from conditional love supplies at home, competitive based grading systems at school, comparison between friends and peers, the world of work where people are up against using so-called scarce resources-they are fighting for them and they are usually up against some forced ranking systems. Also, much religion focuses upon much comparison so that even though they teach the religion of love they often practice exclusivity and judgements and superior attitudes. Also, a sixth one is athletics, particularly for young men, and becoming more and more for young women, where “win-lose” is deeply embedded.
DiCarlo: You’ve made an interesting observation, that in today’s business environment there is a very close relationship between pragmatics and ethics…
Covey: Entrance into the global marketplace humbles organizations. It demands high quality. They have to accommodate that reality. It’s external to themselves. You can’t fake it. You can’t produce it through a quick-fix, through chemistry, through surgery. All you can do is mess it up. The same thing is true of our own bodies. If we try to heal ourselves through chemistry or surgery we haven’t fundamentally changed our lifestyle. You can’t really produce the pragmatic fruits if you violate these principles. You can’t have trust if you don’t have trustworthiness. You can’t talk yourself out of problems you behave yourself into. When people try this approach, it often worsens the situation even though they might temporarily get by, or deceive a few people. Ultimately, what they are comes out. Their character surfaces. Particularly in the dark, when they are alone, when they have a lot of power. When they don’t have to impress people. That’s when they usually manifest their true character.
DiCarlo: In your book, Principle Centered Leadership, you suggest that revolutionary change is now taking place in every industry and profession-a “metamorphosis” in your terms. Can you identify what lies at the heart of this profound shift in world view?
Covey: It usually involves a great deal of interior work, self-awareness, examining your past motives, examining your past scripting, and then realizing, “You are not just that.” You have the power to act on the basis of a new vision. You can use more than self-awareness. It involves what I call the four human endowments: self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and will-power. And it’s the combination of those four unique endowments that enable people to accommodate the new reality.
DiCarlo: I see. Well, could you explain what you mean by each?
Covey: Self-awareness is basically the fact that you can stand apart from yourself and examine your own mind, your own mood, your own feelings. This means you are not your mind, your moods or your feelings. You have an identity apart from these things.
Also, I really believe the greatest battles we ever fight are those in our own heart-finding what our own true motives are-and that comes out of periods of deep reflection. But the very fact that you can examine means that you can re-script your life.
Imagination, the second human endowment, means that you can create your future. You don’t have to predict it, you create it. That’s the best way to predict it. You don’t have to live out of your memory. Animals have no self-awareness and no imagination. That’s why they are totally a product of the past, instinct and/or training. They can’t rescript themselves. They have no ability to stand apart. They can think, but they can’t think about their thinking.
Third one, conscience, is I think a divine gift given to all of God’s children. It is their native sense of right and wrong. It is a moral sense. The more they educate it by studying the great literature, which I think comes from God, the more their conscience becomes the source of their guidance, security, wisdom and their power.
Independent will is just the sheer grit power to swim up-stream, to exercise enormous courage in the face of enormous odds and to make things happen.
Incidentally, it’s a huge challenge to change world views, because people’s styles, their habits, their emotional food comes from the success of the past paradigm. To move into this new paradigm-which the quality movement kind of embodies-involves a tremendous internal revolution. It’s not easy, but if people don’t make it, they won’t accommodate the new world. It’s a new day, and nothing fails like success. But people have to deal with that internally, and usually their approach is, “Other people should change” and “the problem is out there.”
DiCarlo: Yes, there’s this false sense of complacency in which people don’t want to move out of their comfort zones.
Covey: People don’t do anything until they experience pain. It’s too bad the pain of conscience isn’t sufficient, but it isn’t. In most cases, it takes the pain of circumstance. And that humbles them, and then they become open, and then they tend to unfreeze old paradigms, and look for new ways of thinking. Sometimes they don’t look for new ways of thinking at all. They just look for new techniques. But you see, we’re not just talking about some new techniques. We’re talking about a fundamental transformation. Many individuals don’t want that to happen. They just want to learn some new techniques.
Ironically, if they use their old thinking with new techniques, then the bottom-line gets worse, not better.
DiCarlo: As you mentioned earlier, as a society we’re feeling pain right now….
Covey: Yes… Just look at the economic dislocation, the social dislocation. It’s getting so deep and so pervasive that it’s really undermining the very foundation of our whole civilization. People are becoming increasingly aware of it. However, in my opinion, 80% or 90% of the people are capable of approaching this new situation with values that are based on principles, rather than just self-serving values. I think a critical mass can be marshalled through this pain. I am very optimistic myself that we can respond to the pain. I have seen this country do it before, and I think it can do it again.
DiCarlo: Are there any other individuals-living or dead, who have most influenced you in your thinking?
Covey: Well, I would say that I have been influenced by Ghandi, and the way he learned “Win-Win” and law. That became the foundation for his whole philosophy and approach in liberating 400 million Indians.
I am influenced by the wisdom literature of all the religions, and all of the cultures that have had enduring value. That they focus upon principles that ultimately control, not on personalities. That’s why we can’t focus on Deming, Covey or anyone. It’s the principles that ultimately control. The more people become centered on those principles personally, the greater their minds come to think abundantly, to not have jealousy’s, to do that kind of thing that builds trust between people and true integrity. And then to build that into the organization where the structures and systems are in alignment with it. That becomes their managerial task. But unless they work personally and build high trust with other people, the techniques will just not work.
DiCarlo: Obviously, you have a deep sense of life purpose..I’m wondering how you arrived at that?
Covey: Well, I guess I’ve just grown up in the tradition that you are here to make a contribution. You are here to make a difference-not a living. I also believe that it’s genetically built into us. By that, I mean that meaning and purpose is a part of our own spiritual identity. We are intrinsically predisposed to serve and contribute. Whether you call it a sense of mission, or a sense of vision, or a purpose it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. The key thing is that you are to add value-constantly. That’s the only thing that enables survival. People cannot survive if they do not have a sense of meaning. They literally and physically cannot survive. Victor Frankl demonstrated that, Hans Seyle teaches that…
DiCarlo: You’ve borrowed a quote from Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” What are the implications of that recognition in the way we conduct our lives and manage our businesses?
Covey: Enormous. It means you have a sacred stewardship towards people. That they are immortal. Eternal. They are not just mortal animals.
It means that the next generation really needs to be taken care of, just like we take care of our environment. The highest and most precious stewardship we have are our children.
It would also imply that you cannot accomplish any worthy end with an unworthy mean- that the Machivallean concept of “the end justifies the means” is totally flawed.
Excerpted from the book Towards A New World View: Conversations At The Leading Edge with Russell E. DiCarlo. The 377-page book features new and inspiring interviews with 27 paradigm pioneers in the fields of medicine, psychology, economics, business, religion, science, education and human potential. Featuring: Willis Harman, Matthew Fox, Joan Boysenko, George Leonard, Gary Zukav, Robert Monroe, Hazel Henderson, Fred Alan Wolf, Peter Senge, Jacquelyn Small, Elmer Green, Larry Dossey, Carolyn Myss, Stan Grof, Rich Tarnas, Marilyn Ferguson, Marsha Sinetar, Dr. Raymond Moody, Stephen Covey and Peter Russell.
Russell E. DiCarlo is a medical writer, author, lecturer and workshop leader who’s focus is on personal transformation, consciousness research and the fields of energy and anti-aging medicine. His forthcoming book is entitled “The Definitive Guide To Anti-Aging Medicine” (1998, Future Medicine Publishing). DiCarlo resides in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Copyright 1996. Epic Publishing. All Rights Reserved.