The Stephen Covey Epiphany

In reading Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust, Covey put words to something I’d observed but had never really understood before.

The problem in organizations, however, is that many “ethics” solutions focus on compliance. The compliance definition of “ethics” is not one of integrity or integratedness; it is a watered-down, devalued definition that essentially means “follow the rules.” Ethics training, therefore is often focused exclusively on conformity to Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulatory and rules-based legislation—and not on clarifying values and fostering integrity to those values and to enduring principles.

As a result, companies have huge, complex policy manuals. In addition, people can be duplicitous or even brutal in how they treat others, but unless they’re caught fudging on an expense account or violating some other measurable rule, as long as they’re getting results, most companies typically won’t do anything about it.


In the church culture I grew up in and the Christian university I went to, there were measurable rules. Don’t drink. Don’t swear. Don’t smoke. Don’t gamble. Don’t have sex outside of marriage. Don’t skip church. Yet, some of the biggest betrayals I experienced were inside the church.

As I was tracking down people for the Facebook reunion project, I traced one girl through her brother who is a pastor in Oklahoma. The Google search returned a plethora of articles with incredible venom over a stand he had taken within his denomination. Here were people “following the rules” yet treating one of their own with an ugliness that was difficult to process.

It hit me in going through the articles, that “the big rules” (the Ten Commandments) were completely focused on how we treat God and how we treat each other. To paraphrase:

1. Love God.
2. Don’t take things you’ve made and worship them.
3. Don’t misuse the name of God. (By the way, I think this goes way beyond swearing. There’s that whole part in the Book of Job where God is really annoyed that Job’s friends didn’t speak truly about His character.)
4. Take one day off each week for rest and worship.
5. Honor your parents.
6. Don’t murder
7. Don’t commit adultery.
8. Don’t steal.
9. Don’t slander.
10. Don’t envy.

In terms of commands, God could have asked us to defend the truth, make converts, or do quite frankly anything He wanted us to do. (That’s the thing about the job description for a god. The whole concept is that gods run things.) Instead, He focused on relationships to Him and to each other.

I think that’s significant.

As for the other rules, the smoking, drinking, and swearing rules, maybe we are measuring the wrong stuff. What if we started measuring people by their relationships? Or, what if we stopped measuring at all and focused on our own relationships. On the “being before doing”?

Hmmmm….. If Stephen Covey sparks this much thought with a paragraph, it’s going to take me the rest of the year to finish the book.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall