Novak Leadership Speaker Series highlights Engagement Week

Stephen M. R. Covey is a world renowned leadership speaker. At the invitation of the Novak Leadership Institute, he spoke at Jesse Auditorium on Oct. 23.

For many, the highlight of Engagement Week was the Novak Leadership Speaker Series, where Stephen M. R. Covey expressed the importance of leading with trust.

Covey’s presentation was part of the UM system-wide Engagement Week, which saw multiple events take place at MU. The week was kicked off by the chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who presented on the importance of engagement at the university level. Other events included a presentation on broadband access with multiple figures from the state government and the private sector.

Covey, former CEO of the Covey Leadership Center, was invited by David Novak and the Novak Leadership Institute to speak in Jesse Auditorium on Oct. 23. Covey travels around the world presenting to companies, government organizations and other groups on leadership and trust.

His presentation to a crowd of over 1,500 focused on the idea of treating trust as a currency and other concepts from his book “The Speed of Trust.” Covey contends that there is a “trust tax” that impacts low-trust businesses. When groups trust each other, they are able to accomplish tasks more quickly and at a lower cost, he said.

Additionally, there is higher employee satisfaction in environments where the leadership trusts those whom they are leading, Covey said.

“In a high trust environment, you have a 22-times greater chance of retaining millennials,” Covey said in his speech.

Covey also emphasized that true leadership is built on trust, and that both trust and leadership are learnable skills.

“Leadership is a choice, not a position,” Covey said in his speech.

Covey concluded his presentation by challenging those in attendance to pick a couple of traits that are vital to trust for them to work on. This part of the presentation resonated with graduate student Stirling Stewart.

“He gave some specific examples of characteristics that can improve trust in relationships and I am going to try and work on some of those things like talking straight,” Stewart said.

Stewart also said that Covey gave a good explanation, with examples, of how trust is not just a nice thing to have, but a real advantage in terms of leadership.

“I thought he did a really nice job of explaining some of the characteristics of someone who has trust and examples of things that people can do to build trust,” Stewart said. “He had all sorts of ways that trust is good for society and businesses and relationships as well.”

Novak, who introduced Covey, moderated a discussion with him after the presentation. Novak said he was thrilled by the opportunity to have someone like Covey speak after he had spoken last year at the institute’s first speaker’s series.

“Stephen is one of the most renowned leader-teachers in the world,” Novak said. “I actually had his father come speak to Yum Brands at one of our conventions when I was CEO. I’m sure Stephen would be making his father very proud.”

For Covey, the decision to speak at a university, a departure from his usual audience, was immediately exciting and intriguing — in no small part due to Novak’s involvement.

“I jumped at this chance when I heard that David was involved,” Covey said. “When I learned about the Novak Leadership Institute and what is happening here at the University of Missouri — given the need for leadership and the right kind of leadership — for me this is in my sweet spot. There’s a beautiful alignment with my message and the leadership institute’s message.”

As for the future of the leadership institute, which is in its second year on campus, Novak did not have many specifics but did say that big things are coming. One goal for the institute is to increase the number of people that are trained in leadership.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished together, but let me tell you, the best is yet to come,” Novak said.

When asked if he would be interested in coming back to MU to speak or be involved in the institute, Covey said that he, “absolutely would be interested.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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