13 January, 2009

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R. Covey

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is still on the bestseller lists having sold some fifteen million copies. And, people want to know more about Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. So, I decided to review The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in more detail.

Borrowing slightly from the concepts of Quantum Mechanics, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People begins with the astute observation that people perceive the world differently, and because we view the world with our own unique "lens," it is difficult to separate the observation from the observer.

Covey says that we all have our own paradigm, which is our own map of how we perceive the world and how we think the world should be in our ideal view. Covey writes, "The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act."

Covey goes on to explain: "...[T]hese paradigms are the source of our attitudes and behaviors. We cannot act with integrity outside of them. We simply cannot maintain wholeness if we talk and walk differently than we see. ... To try to change outward attitudes and behaviors does very little good in the long run if we fail to examine the basic paradigms from which those attitudes and behaviors flow."

So, part of achieving insight involves making a "paradigm shift" which causes us to perceive things differently. Covey notes that life threatening experiences or a major role change in a person's life can change a person's paradigm. Sometimes, just a little more knowledge might help us examine our paradigms.

Covey says that although many people want to be effective in their lives and achieve certain goals or dreams, they are unwilling to honestly examine their own paradigms. They are unwilling to look at the way they look at things.

Among his many examples, Covey tells the story of a manager who has taken management training classes and seminars and who is friendly to his employees. Yet, he doesn't feel that his employees have any loyalty toward him. He feels they lack independence and responsibility. If he took a day off, he believes his employees would goof off and stand around the water cooler talking all day.

Covey suggests the manager ask himself, "But is it possible that under that apparent disloyal behavior, these employees question whether I really act in their best interest? Do they feel like I'm treating them as mechanical objects? ..."

Our paradigms will affect how we interact with others, which in turn will affect how they interact with us. So, Covey argues, any effective self-help program must begin with an "inside-out" approach, rather than looking at our problems as "being out there" (an inside-out approach). We must start by examining our own character, paradigms, and motives.

Covey writes that the inside-out approach says "[I]f you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person who generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it. If you want to have a more pleasant, cooperative teenager, be a more understanding, empathic, consistent, loving parent. If you want to have more freedom, more latitude in your job, be a more responsible, a more helpful, a more contributing employee. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy. If you want the secondary greatness of recognized talent, focus first on primary greatness of character."

Hence, character and principles are keys to success, effectiveness, and happiness in life. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People points out: "Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value. ...One way to quickly grasp the self-evident nature of principles is to simply consider the absurdity of attempting to live an effective life based on their opposites. I doubt that anyone would seriously consider unfairness, deceit, baseness, uselessness, mediocrity, or degeneration to be a solid foundation for lasting happiness and success."

After discussing the importance of character, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People jumps into the habits you should work toward creating as a part of your life. The first three habits, Covey says, are habits of independence. They will help you achieve a private victory of being more personally effective and independent.
Stephen Covey's Habits of Independence:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Covey says you must use your resourcefulness and your initiative to work toward your personal goals. In particular, each person has both a circle of influence and a circle of concern. Worrying endlessly about things outside of your circle of influence isn't particularly productive. Working within your circle of influence is productive. Further, the more effective you become, the more your circle of influence will expand.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Covey starts with the extreme example of considering your death. What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? How will you be remembered? Note to budding, self-help writers: Leave the funeral spiel out. It's not particularly motivating!
Covey says that many people climb the ladder of success only to find the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. He writes, "We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind."

To succeed, Covey suggests visualization. He points out many peak, athletic performers are visualizers. Covey writes: "You can do it [visualization] in any area of your life. Before a performance, a sales presentation, a difficult confrontation, or the daily challenge of meeting a goal, see it clearly, vividly, relentlessly, over and over again. Create an internal "comfort zone." Then, when you get into the situation, it isn't foreign. It doesn't scare you."

Habit 3: Put First Things First
Put First Things First is the habit that became a book. But, we'll wait for the movie. While we strongly recommend The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the book, First Things First, didn't really seem to add any significant insight to the basic theme. Big rocks, sand, jar. Put the big rocks in the jar first, so they will fit. Same old, same old.

The key to putting first things first is to understand that you have many things you can do which will have a significant, positive impact on your life. But, you probably don't do them, because they aren't urgent. They can be delayed. Of course, so will your success.

Covey stresses that you must balance Production (P) with Productive Capability (PC). You must keep the engine producing, but also maintain the engine. You must allocate time to improve your Productive Capability. You shouldn't spend time doing unimportant things.

Covey says that all time management can be summed up by one short line: "Organize and execute around priorities." He's correct. And, that's why you don't need to read First Things First! The first-things-first chapter in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People will teach you all you need to know about time management.

The remaining habits in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are habits of interdependence. Rather than being dependent upon other people, or trying to be totally independent, we learn how to be more effective by effectively working with others.

Covey writes: "Independent thinking alone is not suited to interdependent reality. Independent people who do not have the maturity to think and act interdependently may be good individual producers, but they won't be good leaders or team players. They're not coming from the paradigm of interdependence necessary to succeed in marriage, family, or organizational reality."
Stephen Covey's Habits of Interdependence.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Thinking Win/Win means seeking mutual benefit in your human interactions. Covey points out that many people think Win/Lose. They internally believe, "If I win, you lose." Such people focus upon power and credentials, but have trouble building meaningful relationships. Such people drive other people away and are seldom extremely effective. Such Win/Lose thinking is encouraged and programmed into us by society.

Covey writes: "[A] ...powerful programming agent is athletics, particularly for young men in their high school or college years. Often they develop the basic paradigm that life is a big game, a zero sum game where some win and some lose. 'Winning' is 'beating' ... ."

To be successful you should learn to leverage the strengths of others. To do this effectively involves being able to find Win/Win deals. No deal is better than any non-Win/Win deal.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

Covey observes that few people have training in listening. Most people don't listen. They wait to talk. But, how can you discover Win/Win deals, if you aren't even listening to the other party? Covey also suggests that you don't read your own personal autobiography into the lives of other people. Listening shouldn't be selective listening. Nor should we only pretend to listen to others.

Covey writes: "Communication experts estimate, in fact, that only 10 percent of our communication by the words we say. Another 30 percent is represented by our sounds [tone? Or, does he mean "sounds" like chortle, chortle, grunt, grunt ?], and 60 percent by our body language. In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel."

Habit 6: Synergize
Covey writes: "What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Covey goes on to discuss synergy in the classroom and synergy in business.

To be effective, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People emphasizes that we must value the differences between people and how they view the world. That difference can be used as a source of insight.

Covey says: "Valuing the differences is the essence of synergy-the mental, the emotional, the psychological differences between people. And the key to valuing those differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are."

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
The final habit discussed in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is "Sharpen the Saw," which focuses upon self-renewal. There is an analogy with Habit 3: Put First Things First, where we learned that we must balance Productivity (P) with future Productive Capability (PC). Just as a machine will wear out quickly if not properly maintained, the same is true for your own personal productivity. You must take care of yourself.

Covey breaks personal renewal into four dimensions:

• Physical Renewal covers topics such as exercise and stress management.
• Mental Renewal discusses the need to read, visualize, and plan.
• Social/Emotional Renewal involves interacting with others to build our own sense of well-being.
• Spiritual Renewal involves possible religion, study, and meditation.