The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
By Stephen R Covey
In this 30th anniversary edition of the original book published in 1989, Sean Covey, the author’s son, provides a fresh look at his father’s work, ensuring his timeless message reaches a new audience. He writes: Now is the greatest time to be alive. You can navigate with your phone’s GPS instead of stopping at a gas station to ask for directions. You can fly to any city in the world. You can influence and reach millions around the globe instantly through books, blogs, videos, or a dozen other communication channels. On the other hand, challenges have increased. Trust in our institutions is declining. Depression and anxiety have become a global epidemic. The family unit is hurting. Much of the world lives in terror, psychologically or literally. For individuals, the pace of life is at light speed. We are connected 24/7. We are saturated in social media. Screens have taken over. There is too much information, too many choices. Something has to give.
This is why the 7 Habits are needed more than ever. They provide a sure foundation upon which you can build a better life. They offer stability in the midst of an increasingly crazy world. The 7 Habits give people their lives back. They remind us that, despite our psychic baggage or past, we have the power to choose. They encourage us to envision and pursue exciting purposes. They communicate that we have it within us to build quality relationships and find third alternatives that bring people together.
My Top 3 Takes from the Summary
Our character is a composite of our habits.
Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.
It’s easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
The author writes: Our character is a composite of our habits, which form a powerful factor in our lives. Because habits are consistent, unconscious patterns, they constantly express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Habits also have a tremendous gravity pull. Breaking deeply imbedded, habitual tendencies such as procrastination, impatience, criticalness, or selfishness that violate basic human principles of human effectiveness involves more than a little willpower and a few minor changes in our lives.
The 7 Habits
In this summary, the 7 Habits detailed in the book are outlined briefly to demonstrate the wisdom and depth of knowledge shared by the author. The Habits and their titles are trademarked material.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Being proactive means more than taking initiative. It means we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. “Response-ability” is the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of those conditions, based on feeling. Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance. Proactive people carry their own weather with them. They are still influenced by external stimuli, but their response, conscious or unconscious, is a value-based response or choice.
Our basic nature is to act and not be acted upon. As well as enabling us to choose our response to particular circumstances, this empowers us to create circumstances. Taking initiative does not mean being pushy, obnoxious, or aggressive but recognizing your responsibility to make things happen.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. You need to know where you are going in order to better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction. It’s easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
The most effective way to begin with the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement. It focuses on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based. To write a personal mission statement, you must begin at the very center of your Circle of Influence. Whatever is at the center of your life will be the source of these four factors, which are interdependent:
Security: Your sense of worth, identity, emotional anchor, self-esteem, basic personal strength, or lack of it.
Guidance: Your source of direction in life, an internal frame of reference that includes standards or principles or implicit criteria that govern moment-by-moment decision-making and doing.
Wisdom: Your perspective on life, sense of balance, judgment, discernment, comprehension.
Power: The faculty or capacity to act, the strength and potency to accomplish something.
A mission statement takes deep introspection, careful analysis, thoughtful expression, and often many rewrites. Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply and carefully and to align your behavior with your beliefs.
By centering your life on correct principles, you create a solid foundation for development of the four life-support factors: Security comes from knowing that, unlike other centers based on people or things subject to change, correct principles do not change.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Effective management is putting first things first. While leadership decides what first things are, it is management that puts them first, day by day, moment by moment. Learning to put first things first is hard. In fact, this is the habit, in general, that people struggle with most. Why is Habit 3 so hard? It’s urgency, plain and simple. And the reality is most of us are addicted to urgency.
(The way we spend time is dependent) on the two factors that define an activity: urgent and important. Urgent means it requires immediate attention. Urgent things act on us and are usually visible. A ringing phone is urgent. Importance, on the other hand, has to do with results. It contributes to our mission, values, and high-priority goals. We react to urgent matters. Important matters that are not urgent require more initiative, more proactivity.
(Those addicted to urgency) have a hard time saying no to anything that is urgent or popular, resulting in staying incredibly busy while getting nothing of importance done… Say no to responding immediately to every email or text that comes your way. Say no to serving on that community board when you might be neglecting your family or your health. Say no to filling out that report no one reads. The key to saying no is to have a deeper yes burning inside of you. Clarify the few things you do well, and then start saying no to everything else.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Think Win-Win is an attitude toward life that says, “I can win and so can you.” It’s not me or you, it’s both of us. Think Win-Win is the foundation for getting along with other people. It begins with the belief that we are all equal, that no one is inferior or superior to anyone else, and no one needs to be.
Win/Win is not a technique; it’s a total philosophy and one of the six paradigms of human interaction. This is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way. The other five paradigms are as follows:
Win/Lose. In leadership style, it is the authoritarian approach: “I get my way; you don’t get yours.”
Lose/Win. This is worse than Win/Lose because it has no standards, no demands, no vision. In leadership, it’s permissiveness or indulgence, being a nice guy, even if “nice guys finish last.”
Lose/Lose. When two Win/Lose people get together, the result is Lose/Lose. Both will become vindictive and want to get back at each other.
Win. People with this mentality don’t necessarily want someone else to lose. What matters most is that they get what they want.
Win/Win or No Deal. If we can’t find a solution that benefits us both, we agree to disagree agreeably.
Most situations are part of an interdependent reality, and then Win/Win is the only viable alternative of the five. Think of Win/Win as the bait of interpersonal leadership. Character is the foundation of Win/Win. There are three character traits essential to the Win/Win paradigm:
Integrity—the value you place on yourself.
Maturity—the balance between courage and
Abundance mentality—there is plenty out there for everyone.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Seek first to understand involves a deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. Empathic listening is listening with the intent to understand. Empathic listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.
Empathic listening is powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. It takes time but nowhere near the time that it takes to back up and correct misunderstandings when you’re already miles down the road. As you learn to listen deeply to other people, you will discover tremendous differences in perception. You will also begin to appreciate the impact these differences can have as people try to work together in interdependent situations.
Seek first to understand… then to be understood. Knowing how to be understood is the second half of Habit 5 and equally critical to reaching Win/Win solutions. Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood takes courage. Win/Win requires a high degree of both. So it becomes important in interdependent situations for us to be understood. Habit 5 is powerful because it is right in the middle of your Circle of Influence. You can always seek first to understand. That’s something within your control. And as you do it, your Circle of Influence begins to expand.
Habit 6: Synergize
Exercising all the other habits prepares us for the habit of synergy. Synergy is the essence of principle-centered leadership. It catalyzes, unifies, and unleashes the greatest powers within people. Simply defined, synergy means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship the parts have to one another is a part in and of itself. And it is not only a part but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part. Life is a team sport, and with the right attitude and skills, you can find synergistic answers to complex problems—not all of the time but most of the time. You have to believe in the idea that by working together, we can find a solution that is better than what either of us had in mind.
A key building block to finding third alternatives (a solution that is mutually beneficial and is better than what either person originally proposed) is to set aside your ego and acknowledge that you need the collective intelligence of everyone involved to find the best solution. Another building block is conversation. We must learn to communicate with one another. We need to brainstorm, talk through issues, bounce ideas off each other, and go back to the drawing board again and again and again.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”
Habit 7 is about taking time to sharpen the saw. It surrounds the other habits on the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible. Essentially Habit 7 is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you.
The authors describe The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as principle-centred, character-based, “inside-out” approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness. It’s all about making and keeping promises to yourself, rather than making promises to others, and realising that improving relationships with other people begins with improving yourself. They write: By centering our lives on correct principles and creating a balanced focus between doing and increasing our ability to do, we become empowered in the task of creating effective, useful and peaceful lives for ourselves and for our posterity.
The original message contained in The 7 Habits has stood the test of time, and in this 30th-anniversary edition, Sean Covey adds his own insights on applying the habits in today’s world, thereby refreshing his father’s wisdom and passing it on to a new generation of leaders.
Bio of the Authors
Stephen R. Covey was an internationally respected leadership authority, family expert, teacher, organisational consultant, business leader, and author who dedicated his life to teaching principle-centred living and leadership to build both families and organisations.
Sean Covey is a business executive, author, speaker, and innovator. He is the president of FranklinCovey Education and is devoted to transforming education throughout the world through a principle-centred leadership approach.