The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
POWERFUL LESSONS IN PERSONAL CHANGE
Author – Stephen Covey
Genre – Management, Self-Help
When people ask me the one book that has influenced me most, 7 Habits comes out as a clear winner. It has sold a whopping 25 million copies (top 5 selling business book of all time) and is consistently rated one of the most influential business books ever written. I read it, then did a full five day 7 Habits course in P&G, then was so impressed that I enrolled to become a trainer of the course and have since trained multiple nationalities in many different countries on this book. And, in every single training, the participant score is outstanding.
So what is about this book that runs so deep even after 25 years? First, it distills 150 years of leadership literature to understand the secrets of effectiveness. What is it that makes some people more effective than others? Covey purposely uses the term effectiveness (ability to achieve what we set out to achieve) and not success (that may connote materialistic goals) to show that we all choose what we want to excel in. The book guides us to move beyond the ubiquitous Personality ethic (the desire to appear good) to Character ethic (to be good from the inside out). He quotes Emerson: “What you are shouts so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”
The 7 Habits are:
- Be Proactive – meaning take control of our life and be accountable for our actions instead of blaming things beyond our control. The 90/10 principle says that only 10% of what happens in our life depends on external circumstances. 90% depends on our chosen reaction to what life has given us.
- Begin with the end in Mind – Make a plan, have an end objective. In our life we play multiple roles (employee, son/daughter, spouse, parents etc.) and we need to have a clear understanding of what success in each role is. It was always an aha moment in trainings to see that even senior managers did not have a personal mission statement.
- Put First Things First – Once we are clear on what we want to achieve, live life centred around these priorities. The 2×2 matrix is amazing. Focus on what is really important but not necessarily urgent. This is the quadrant of planning, preparation, relationship building that effective people spend 50-60% time on (others spend only 10% time here, always busy putting off fires). But more time planning leads to lesser fires.
- Think Win-Win – In every conflict, think of a win-win solution where both sides will achieve what they want. A Win-Lose thinking is short term and prone to fail since life is inherently interdependent (i.e. our success, in the long run, will depend on support from many other stakeholders).
- Seek First To Understand, then Be Understood – Or the habit of empathetic listening, putting ourself in the shoes of others and truly trying to appreciate their view-point. Most of us listen with an intent to reply, instead of genuinely removing our biases and trying to understand.
- Synergize – Use listening, goodwill and creativity to find a Third alternative, better than what each side is arguing for.
- Sharpen the Saw – Always keep reinventing ourselves. Physically (exercises), Emotionally (relationships), Intellectually (reading) and Spiritually (meditation). Covey uses Goose and Golden Egg adage to show we need to tend the goose.
Covey also wrote a sequel, The 8th Habit, that talks of the one thing many of us found missing in the 7 Habits: Passion to follow our dreams. Find Your Voice, and Help Others Find Theirs. However, the book is repetitive, and not recommended. Covey’s other books are Principle Centred Leadership and Put First Things First, and both are highly recommended.
There may be some who find 7 Habits’ language too corporate and heavy. Words like Proactive, Synergize, Win-Win Paradigm or Balanced Self-renewal may be a turn-off. Or we may not be able to relate to the business examples given in the book. For such an audience, Stephen’s son, Sean Covey, has simplified the habits in a more fun and engaging book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. I even have a 7 Habits of Highly Effective Kids version for my little girls.
Why Read it? If you are looking for condensed wisdom on how to lead your life, both in personal and professional space, this is it. If you want to make a specific action plan on becoming a better person and manager, 7 Habits are your starting point. I can vouch that the eternal principles espoused here have not only made me a better manager but also a better person. My wife says our married life has become richer since I read this book. What bigger endorsement do we need?