- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Corporate executives and government leaders heed the advice of Stephen R. Covey, best-selling author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” And few business leaders are as respected as former General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch.

So when both Mr. Covey and Mr. Welch arrive in Washington tomorrow for the 12th annual FranklinCovey Symposium, they will turn the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel — at least for two days — into the gravitational center of the management universe.

Mr. Covey, who says he has given advice to both Newt Gingrich and the Clintons, says a major focus of the event will be leadership in a transformed workplace.

“The big question is: How do we adjust to the new economic conditions in the world? Because we’ve moved from an industrial age to an information age,” Mr. Covey said in a telephone interview. “It’s become a knowledge economy. Most people have not adapted to that change.”

This means a shift from the “top-down” management style of “carrot-and-stick motivation,” said the 74-year-old author, describing the theme of his most recent best-seller, “The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.”

“Find your voice and help others find their voice,” he said. This means “that you don’t have to have that external motivation, because people are inspired from within.”

Mr. Welch, whose 20 years at the helm of GE established what the Wall Street Journal called his “Rushmore status” among business leaders, will participate in question-and-answer sessions with those attending the Washington symposium.

“I enjoy doing this,” Mr. Welch said in a telephone interview from his home in Boston. “I enjoy meeting young leaders who are trying to do a better job.”

His discussions will focus on “a management philosophy of candor,” he said. “Organizations are much more effective with candor … where people speak the truth.”

That means “seeing the world the way it is and not the way you hope it will be,” he said.

Mr. Welch, 70, and his wife, Suzy, are authors of “Winning,” a best-seller last year that came with endorsements from such business giants as investor Warren Buffett and software magnate Bill Gates.

“I’ll be talking about a way to win, because it’s all about winning. Losing organizations don’t do anything for anybody,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of what winning can do for society.”

Mr. Welch is a favorite speaker, Mr. Covey said, because “he’s so authentic and practical and realistic, but he’s also idealistic.”

Like Mr. Welch, Mr. Covey is considered a business guru, but he said FranklinCovey’s “biggest client is the government, particularly the military.” In addition to the Pentagon, the firm has provided leadership training to the State Department, he said.

A common problem in organizations, he said, is a lack of trust.

“It has become a disempowered, codependent culture,” Mr. Covey said. “People feel they’re a victim of this and there’s nothing they can do about it, so they become part of it. … That’s why you see low trust.”

Given his insights on management and his experience with government, how does Mr. Covey view the Capitol Hill scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff?

“I find that low trust comes from people who are manipulative and who kind of talk about other people behind their back, who lack integrity and are personally ambitious for themselves and not for their cause,” Mr. Covey said. “They’re arrogant … and eventually they will become derailed, because light is the greatest disinfectant.”

Mr. Welch, despite his heroic reputation as a business leader, hesitates to offer advice to Washington.

“It’s really hard to translate business to politics. … The skills needed are different,” Mr. Welch said. “Candor is tough game in Washington. I believe in a meritocracy. … That doesn’t work in a government bureaucracy . The reward systems are not always aligned.”

He said bureaucrats and elected officials often have conflicting ideologies and interests.

“There are people in the government who see the winning party as a nuisance,” Mr. Welch said. “That explains a lot of things about the … inefficiencies that go on in government.”

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