I got a call this week from a gentleman who said he enjoyed my columns and wanted to let me know. We had a nice chat, during which he wondered if I'd read Stephen Covey's book, The 8th Habit. I had not, though I've been exposed to Covey's more famous work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, at various times during my career.
Covey's eighth habit, my caller said, is to "find your voice and inspire others to find theirs." He added that he thought I'd found my voice. I took this as a fine compliment. It made my day. And it reminded me of my prior encounter with Covey's work, which wasn't as pleasant.
A couple decades back, I worked for a public television station in another city. The management was very high on self-improvement schemes and was fond of sending its employees to day-long sessions with consultants, who would give us tests to determine whether we were "thinkers," "feelers," "innovators," "doers," etc. Given some of my co-workers back then, I always thought there should have been a few more categories, like "back-stabber," "brown-noser," and "stoner," but that's just me.
Every year, during the dead of winter, the company would send all of us away to a lodge out in the country for three days of intensive "team building." This was as hellish an experience as you might imagine it to be. After eight hours of sitting in a room learning what kind of people we were, the rush to the bar at 5 p.m. was like running with the bulls at Pamplona. The next day, with hangovers from Hades, we did it all again. These were, I suspect, not effective habits.
One year, we had a four-hour session on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The leader was a peppy salesman-type with a bow tie and brush-cut hair. He was quite enthusiastic but didn't have much luck motivating a room full of people who wanted nothing more than to take an effective nap.
At the end of the session, he gave us each a piece of paper and told us to write our name on it and put it into a large bowl that was being passed around. Whoever's name was pulled from the bowl would win a copy of Covey's famous 7 Habits book. Bored and bleary, I wadded up my paper and tossed it into the bowl like a basketball.
Imagine my surprise when bow-tie boy stuck his hand in the bowl, pulled out my entry, unwadded it, and proceeded to praise me for "thinking outside the box." While everyone else just did the expected, the man enthused, I had "innovated," wadding up my paper to give it a better chance of being selected. A very "effective" move.
Which only goes to show, sometimes you find your voice, sometimes people find it for you.