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Megaselling author Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) speaks to American Way about the new book he coauthored with David K. Hatch, Everyday Greatness: Inspiration for a Meaningful Life ($25, Rutledge Hill Press), a collection of the best stories from 80 years of Reader’s Digest, with a running commentary by Covey. — Chris Tucker

Why did you want to do this book now?
Wehave a celebrity-obsessed culture focused on what I call secondarygreatness — wealth, prestige, position, notoriety. But character andcontribution are much more important. The key is you make a difference,add value in society.

How do we attain everyday greatness?
First,we take responsibility for our own life. We’re not victims ofcircumstance; we’re the creative force of our own life. Second, we havea purpose, to contribute, [and] that gives our life meaning. And third,we accomplish that purpose by living by principles such as integrity,humility, empathy, and discipline.

Your stories focus on 21 principles. Is one more important than the others?
No,but I would say that courage is the quality of every other quality atits highest testing level. The real test of any principle, when pushcomes to shove, is courage.

You’re often classified as a business author. How do you see yourself?
Itry to think like a social ecologist, seeing how different elements ofsociety connect. Business is only one element, but it’s an economicengine that drives opportunity. Businesspeople should feel astewardship for the whole society, not just for their customers.

How do you define leadership?
It’sa choice, not a position, and it must be based on moral authority, noton formal authority. You can be a key informal leader and have thegreatest influence within the company culture. People who have formalauthority but don’t live by principles will lose influence even ifthey’re the CEO of a big corporation.

Your motto is “live life in crescendo.” Please explain.
It’s simple. The most important work you’ll ever do is always ahead of you, not behind you.