The most critical leadership concerns are timeless: Am I effective? Is my team effective? What is effectiveness, anyway? Many books have been dedicated to answering these questions, but one has stood the test of time. Stephen R. Covey’s masterpiece ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’ presents fascinating insights into human behavior and how we can effectively lead ourselves, and others.
A book in three parts
Being an effective leader means mastering the self — our own processes. As such, the Seven Habits paradigm consists of three parts: Independence, Interdependence, and Continual Improvement. However, before we can be independent, Covey notes that we are dependent. There, Covey outlines the first three habits, which move us from the dependent stage to interdependence. The second part of the book deals with Interdependence, and the three habits we need to master in order to be effective in working with others, and specifically how to use our own character towards this end. Lastly, Covey tackles Continuous Improvement, and how to maintain what we’ve achieved.
The 7 Habits
No. 1: Be Proactive
Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices.
No. 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Discover and clarify your deep character values and life goals. Create a mission statement for your life.
No. 3: Put First Things First
Prioritize, plan, and execute your week’s tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluate whether your efforts propel you toward goals, and enrich the roles and relationships as discussed in Habit 2.
No. 4: Think Win-Win
Strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a “win” for all is ultimately the best long-term resolution.
No. 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.
No. 6: Synergize
Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution.
No. 7: Sharpen the Saw
Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term and effective lifestyle.
Character rather than personality
Life is about character rather than personality and aligning one's values with universal and timeless principles. Covey says. He presents a step-by-step approach for living with fairness, integrity, honesty and human dignity. These will give us the security to adapt to change. Our values help us navigate our behavior, while principles ultimately determine the consequences. Covey: “Principles are not values. Values remain internal and subjective. Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value. They’re fundamental. They’re essentially unarguable because they are self-evident. One way to quickly grasp the self-evident nature of principles is to live an effective life based on their opposites.” (page 35).
Habits of effectiveness
The 7 habits are habits of effectiveness, “because they are based on principles, they bring the maximum long-term beneficial results possible. They become the basis of a person’s character, creating an empowering center of correct maps from which an individual can effectively solve problems, maximize opportunities, and continually learn and integrate other principles in an upward spiral of growth” (page 52). According to Covey, true effectiveness is a function of two things: the golden eggs + the goose, or that which is produced (egg) and the producing asset or capacity to produce (goose). You have to work on both, the production of desired results and the production capability.
‘Begin with the End in Mind’
Let’s zoom in on one of the habits in particular, i.e. No. 2: Begin with the End in Mind. Covey’s message is clear. First, you create a mental creation, then turn this into a physical creation through one’s actions. If you don’t choose to control the mental creation, the physical one is unlikely to happen due to distractions or other people’s agendas or expectations. Beginning with the end in mind, therefore, will give direction to anything that one plans to do in life. One has to discover and clarify one’s deep character values and life goals and envision the ideal characteristics for each of one’s various roles and relationships in life.
Where most people fail
Individuals must take the time to align their values with their centers. Most people don’t. As a result, they have one or more of many alternative centers. People can be spouse-centered, family-centered, money-centered, work-centered, pleasure-centered, friend- or enemy-centered, church-centered, or self-centered. Covey says: “The personal power that comes from principle-centered living is the power of a self-aware, knowledgeable, proactive individual, unrestricted by the attitudes, behaviors, and actions of others or by many of the circumstances and environmental influences that limit other people.”
7 Habits is about cooperation
‘Most of life is an interdependent, not an independent, reality. Most results you want depend on cooperation between you and others.’ (page 130). ‘But cooperation in the workplace is as important to free enterprise as competition in the marketplace’ (page 146). Or to stick to the7 Habits: “While the physical, spiritual, and mental dimensions are closely related to Habits 1, 2, and 3 – centered on the principles of personal vision, leadership, and management – the social/emotional dimension focuses on Habits 4, 5, and 6 – centered on the principles of interpersonal leadership, empathic communication, and creative cooperation.” (page 193, 194)
The book has philosophical and existential views on life, family, relationships and teamwork, yet also presents down-to-earth application suggestions (page 186). Covey: “The next time you have a disagreement or confrontation with someone, attempt to understand the concerns underlying that person's position. Address those concerns in a creative and mutually beneficial way.” Bottom line: we have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen (page 71). That’s a great message for anyone.
About the book
‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ (1989) by Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012). Influential author, academic, leadership authority, family expert, teacher and organizational consultant.