What I learned – “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”


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The tremendously popular self-help book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was first published in 1989.It was written by Stephen R. Covey and has sold over 15 million copies in 38 languages since its first publication. The book was enormously popular, and catapulted Covey into lucrative public-speaking appearances and workshops.

In his book Covey lists seven principles that, if established as habits, are supposed to help a person achieve true personal effectiveness. He argues this is achieved by aligning oneself to what he calls “true north” – the principles of a character ethic (how I am) that he believes to be universal and timeless.

Although I’m a BIG sceptic when it comes to universal, prescriptive methods, i.e. methods that tell you “do this and this will happen” and thus totally taking context into account, this book has provided me with a good  frame of reference to which I have come to assess my personal development and progress against.

The following constitutes a very brief introduction of the seven habits. The habits are placed in two main groups: personal (habits 1-3) and interpersonal (habits 4-6). The last principle is a principle of relentlessly striving for continous improvement.

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive: Principles of Personal Choice
  • Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind: Principles of Personal Vision
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First: Principles of Integrity & Execution
  • Habit 4: Think Win/Win: Principles of Mutual Benefit
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood: Principles of Mutual Understanding
  • Habit 6: Synergize: Principles of Creative Cooperation
  • Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw: Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal

Each habit is argued for and described in a dedicated chapter, which are represented by the following imperatives:

  1. Be Proactive – Principles of Personal Choice: Covey emphasizes the original sense of the term “proactive” as coined by Victor Frankl. You can either be proactive or reactive when it comes to how you respond to certain things. When you are reactive, you blame other people and circumstances for obstacles or problems. Being proactive means taking responsibility for every aspect of your life. Initiative and taking action will then follow. Covey also argues that man is different from other animals in that he has self-consciousness. He has the ability to detach himself and observe his own self; think about his thoughts. He goes on to say how this attribute enables him: It gives him the power not to be affected by his circumstances. Covey talks about stimulus and response. Between stimulus and response, we have the power of free will to choose our response. One of his best tips is a “model” of two concentric circles – a big and a  small one. The inner circle is called the “circle of influence” and represents what  you have the power to change – more or less directly. The other one represents what “concerns you”. Case-in-point – concentrate on the “circle of influence”.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind – Principles of Personal Vision: This chapter is about setting long-term goals based on “true north” principles. Covey recommends formulating a “Personal Mission Statement” to document one’s perception of one’s own vision in life. He sees visualization as an important tool to develop this. He also deals with organizational mission statements, which he claims to be more effective if developed and supported by all members of an organization rather than prescribed.
  3. Put First Things First – Principles of Integrity & Execution: Covey describes a framework for prioritizing work that is aimed at long-term goals, at the expense of tasks that appear to be urgent, but are in fact less important. Delegation is presented as an important part of timemanagement. Successful delegation, according to Covey, focuses on results and benchmarks that are to be agreed in advance, rather than on prescribing detailed work plans. Habit three is greatly expanded on in the follow on book First Things First.
  4. Think Win/Win – Principles of Mutual Benefit: An attitude whereby mutually beneficial solutions are sought that satisfy the needs of oneself as well as others, or, in the case of a conflict, both parties involved.
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood – Principles of Mutual Understanding: Covey warns that giving out advice before having empathetically understood a person and their situation will likely result in that advice being rejected. Thoroughly listening to another person’s concerns instead of reading out your own autobiography is purported to increase the chance of establishing a working communication.
  6. Synergize – Principles of Creative Cooperation: A way of working in teams. Apply effective problem solving. Apply collaborative decision making. Value differences. Build on divergent strengths. Leverage creative collaboration. Embrace and leverage innovation. It is put forth that when synergy is pursued as a habit, the result of the teamwork will exceed the sum of what each of the members could have achieved on their own. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
  7. Sharpen the Saw – Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal: Focuses on balanced self-renewal: Regain what Covey calls “production capability” by engaging in carefully selected recreational activities. Covey also emphasizes the need to sharpen the mind.

Covey’s  writing  leans heavily on a concept he has coined  “abundance mentality” or “abundance mindset”, meaning a state of mind in which a person believes there are enough resources and success to go around. This It is commonly contrasted with a “scarcity mindset”, which is founded on the idea that, given a finite amount of resources, a person must hoard his belongings and protect them from others. Individuals with an abundance mentality are supposed to be able to celebrate the success of others rather than be threatened by it.

According to Wikipedia, a number of books appearing in the business press after “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” have discussed the idea of “abundance mentality” and some have propose there is a connection between this frame of mind and a high degree of self worth and security.

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