Stephen Covey’s Leadership Roles—Explained

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What are Stephen R. Covey’s leadership roles? How can you use the body, mind, heart, and spirit to lead others?

Stephen R. Covey’s book The 8th Habit concludes that there are four roles a leader can inhabit: the Auditor, the Navigator, the Advocate, and the Captain. If you embrace the concept of Covey’s leadership, you’ll be able to use your body, mind, heart, and spirit to share your wisdom with your team.

Continue reading to discover more about Stephen Covey’s leadership roles.

What Are Covey’s Leadership Roles?

According to Covey, leadership should be about focusing on cultivating self-control, focus, dedication, and integrity within organizations. Instead of issuing orders, they should encourage team members to develop these four intelligences of the body, mind, heart, and spirit within themselves, thereby nurturing the team members’ own unique contributions.

(Shortform note: This focus on self-work is typical of Covey, who espouses an approach to leadership based on character rather than personality. This approach has gained popularity since Covey’s death, with research increasingly focusing on “self-leadership” or “worthy leadership.” The Worthy Leadership model, for example, has three main facets: capacity, commitment, and character.)

To do this effectively, leaders also need to develop these qualities in themselves. Covey maps the four types of intelligence onto what are known as the roles of a leader. Each role should be able to step into as needed: the Auditor, the Navigator, the Advocate, and the Captain. The relationships between the different layers of Covey’s model (parts of the human being, types of intelligence, key components of relationships, and leadership roles) are summarized below:

Parts of the human beingBodyMindHeartSpirit
Type of intelligenceSelf-ControlFocusDedicationIntegrity
Key components of relationshipsEngagementIndependenceSelflessnessHonesty
Leadership rolesThe AuditorThe NavigatorThe AdvocateThe Captain

Below we’ll go more in-depth on what Covey’s leadership roles are, individually.

Leadership Role 1: The Auditor

The Auditor role, which Covey calls “aligning,” relates to the body of the organization and involves implementing self-control on an organizational scale. Auditors ensure that an organization’s institutions and processes are linked to the realities of the organization and the desired results. In the Auditor role, leaders ask: Do our current systems line up with our mission and strategic priorities? If not, what needs to be done to bring them in line?

(Shortform note: Higher education expert Laura Montgomery adds that reconciling strategy and reality involves three key capabilities: clear communication from senior executives, openness and trust between departments, and agile responses to changes in the external environment.)

Leadership Role 2: The Navigator

The Navigator role, which Covey calls “pathfinding,” relates to the mind of the organization and involves implementing focus on an organizational scale. In the Navigator role, leaders consult others about the future of the organization and plot a course forward.

The skills of Navigating include listening, distilling common values and strategic policies, and using conflict as a springboard to create new, synergistic solutions. Covey sees this as the most challenging role for many leaders.

(Shortform note: Although experts agree with Covey that listening is a core leadership skill, some researchers have also pointed out that leaders may think they’re better at listening than they actually are. This notion supports Covey’s observation that the most difficult role of a leader is the Navigator role.)

Leadership Role 3: The Advocate

The Advocate role, which Covey calls “empowering,” relates to the heart of the organization and involves implementing dedication on an organizational scale. Advocates encourage independence in members of the organization: They communicate the desired results and then trust people to develop the methods that work best to get them there. Employees who are empowered by Advocates are happier, less likely to leave the company, and more likely to use their unique gifts to come up with innovative solutions. 

(Shortform note: Empowering leadership behavior has real effects on employees’ psychological well-being, creativity, and work performance. It can even improve workplace safety. The benefits may, however, vary from person to person: For example, employees with a strong desire for autonomy benefit more from empowering leadership, while employees who are under significant psychological strain may benefit less than their more relaxed counterparts.)

Leadership Role 4: The Captain

The Captain role, which Covey calls “modeling,” relates to the spirit of the organization and involves implementing integrity on an organizational scale. In the Captain role, leaders set an example that others can identify with and be inspired by. Captains need to demonstrate versatility by showing their staff how they inhabit the other three leadership roles.

Setting an example is at the center of Covey’s leadership. If people identify with you, your vision, and the way you do things, they’ll become involved of their own volition. 

(Shortform note: In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, leadership expert John Maxwell argues that modeling desirable behaviors is much more effective than talking about them. Followers find it easy to copy leaders but often struggle to keep an abstract vision for the future in mind. Maxwell adds that leading by example is especially important in times of uncertainty.)

Stephen Covey’s Leadership Roles—Explained

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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