The President’s Seven Bad Habits

If only Donald J. Trump would listen to Stephen R. Covey.

If you’ve spent any time weeding in the gardens of corporate America, you surely have heard of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Perhaps you’re one of the 25 million who read Stephen R. Covey’s book once upon a time. Maybe you went to a seminar.

A few months ago, a local executive reminded me of Covey’s contribution to the workplace. Hard to believe it’s been nearly 30 years since Covey, who died in 2012, set boardrooms and business schools abuzz with his self-help advice rooted in character over personality.

To even the most casual observer, our nation’s CEO doesn’t seem to be a Covey kind of guy. In the character-vs.-personality tussle, Donald J. Trump comes down on the personality side rather decisively. But is it possible for someone to go 0 for 7 on the Covey scale? 

Let’s look at the evidence, habit by habit.

1. BE PROACTIVE: This means taking responsibility, not blaming external forces. Has anyone encountered a person more reactive than Donald Trump? Virtually everything he says and does smacks of retaliation.

2. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND: This habit requires imagination, “the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes,” in Covey’s view. “… It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself.” Trump simply prefers to move the goalposts.

3. PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST: Organizing and managing priorities seems anathema to Trump, who loves to revel in the scattershot approach to governance.  

4. THINK WIN-WIN: The win-win practitioner “sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one,” Covey says. Trump is such a cutthroat, win-lose guy, I’ll bet if he gets up on the left side of the bed, he’ll taunt the right side all day and call it a loser. Sad. 

5. SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD: Yeah, right. Not gonna happen.

6. SYNERGIZE: “Valuing differences is what really drives synergy,” Covey says. Valuing differences is what really drives Donald Trump crazy.

7. SHARPEN THE SAW: Covey calls this “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have” by eating well, exercising, making meaningful social connections, reading, learning, spending time in nature. We’ll give Trump half a point on this one. He likes golf courses.  

Last year, a CEO I know said he never considers a candidate’s character when voting. He prefers voting for the candidate who he believes will improve the economy and, by extension, his personal welfare. 

This economics-over-character stance is preposterous, of course, for I doubt that the CEO would vote for someone with the known proclivities of, say, a serial killer or an Adolf Hitler. Sorry, I guess that’s redundant. The point is that people who dismiss character as a criterion for evaluating candidates are simply saying to themselves, “Well, he may be an ass, but if my 401(k) doesn’t take a hit when he’s in office, how bad could he be?”

People who still like Trump like him precisely because of his behavior. While most people probably thought he was a pain in the neck at first and now have a much lower opinion of him, there’s no changing the minds of his core supporters. But can someone who goes 0.5 for 7 on the Covey scale — someone lacking an ounce of empathy, a shred of imagination — really be effective?

Put another way: Would you want such a person running your company?  

John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at

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