Some of my clients have read Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I bought a copy in 1993 but only read it in 1999 – and regretted not having done so sooner.
It is with sadness that I learned of his passing this month – which led me to rereading The Seven Habits. Through the years I have read a number of Covey’s books and also valued The 8th Habit.
While The Seven Habits in style is not a classic business book, it covers the domain of leading/managing in an intriguing and thoughtful way. It prompted me to write this post.
Dependence to independence to interdependence
Habits 1, 2 and 3 focus on the development of the individual from dependency to independence.
Habits 4, 5 and 6 concern collaboration between persons which is only truly possible between independent individuals who act interdependently.
Habit 7 covers continuous individual learning and growth necessary for staying ahead in the game of life and business.
The 1st Stage: From dependence to independence
I borrowed freely from Covey in the paragraphs that follow while inserting references to business practices.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
The first habit is about “self-knowledge or self-awareness and the ability to choose your response (response-ability)”, to quote Covey.
“Be Proactive” concerns creating your own future. You choose and plan your future and proactively work towards making it happen. It is not a given and it is not predetermined by fate.
Covey was struck by a thought formulated by Victor Frankl: Between stimulus and response lies your freedom and power to choose your response. How you respond to life and business is your choice. You always have a choice. Exercise it. Do not abdicate it.
True leaders/managers are proactive and they choose how to proceed.
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
This habit concerns imagination and conscience. Visualize what you’re going to do with your strengths (talents, qualifications, skills and experience) and the tools and resources at hand.
“Begin With the End in Mind” means find strategic direction with your team, visualising where your company is going and what you want it to become. Lead the process of defining your company’s or organisation’s mission, its vision and its core values.
Also define the purpose of your area of responsibility while contemplating what contribution you personally make to the bigger scheme of things. This applies to every team member.
Some leaders develop more than a work purpose. They also develop a relationship purpose and a personal purpose and think not only about their role as company leader but also about private roles such as partner, spouse, father, friend or as a volunteer and about personal health. They do not focus only on their work. What do you do?
Consider dealing with your work, relationships and health. Do not overplan. Develop one specific overall Wildly Important Goal (WIG) with clear measures for each role.
Each person has a circle of influence which you can expand. Most people have a circle of concern – often large and negative – instead of placing their energy and focus on building their circles of influence. Extend the latter circle by means of your own growth, and the contributions that you are able to make. Being influential means being able to muster support.
Often a young person is able to develop a truly remarkable circle of influence within a company.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
“Put First Things First” is all about being an effective manager or self-manager and on deciding on important priorities which grow your company or organisation and its value to your clients.
Develop an operational plan , having proactively defined the strategic side of things (Habits 1 and 2). Ensure that all your company Wildly Important Goals are chosen in terms of the impact which they make on your one overall company WIG. Develop clear measures and due dates for each WIG.
Covey emphasises the difference between urgent and important. His son, Sean Covey, and the latter’s co-authors in a publication which appeared in 2012, describe the whirlwind of daily activities. Nobody can escape the whirlwind, whose activities, which are usually urgent, are essential to the day-to-day survival of your business. These activities easily consume most of your day. However, find time each day to tend to one and at the most two important lead WIGs. They build your business. Invest in building the future. Work at only two WIGs at a time. Tackle more and you will achieve less (The Law of Diminishing Returns).
Block chunks of time in your diary for important WIGs and their activities. An effective leader is proactive, plans, sees to it that everyone works on one or at the most two important WIGs at a time, and builds relations. A leader ensures that his/her life is not totally governed by wheel-churning urgent work.
Deliberately create the habit of having and working lead WIGs, “battles that win the war”, to quote Covey Jnr. Know the difference between lag and lead WIGs. (Lead wigs create and track movement forward while lag WIGs are historic – having won or lost a war.)
On attaining independence
Independent individuals work well with other independent individuals.
We live in the Knowledge or Information Age and a growing number of people have an independent proactive attitude. They have the mindsets of the first three habits and work at it to acquire the knowledge and skill necessary to attain true independence – even if they work for someone. They turn the job they have into the job they want; or pack up and go elsewhere or start their own enterprises.
Independent people prefer to work and converse with other independent people.
The 2nd Stage: From independence to interdependence
The next three habits define an approach that makes interaction and collaboration between independent people successful.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Covey observed that people who harbour feelings of intrinsic self-worth often go from a scarcity to an abundance mentality. They harbour a desire to act for mutual benefit.
What does “Think Win-Win” mean? You are not self-centred as you realise the value of getting an appropriate portion of success for both you and others in areas of collaboration, of joint projects or joint ventures.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Being able to firstly listen is truly difficult. Covey observes that this habit requires restraint, respect, and reverence. The ability to listen and then make yourself understood requires consideration.
Go from too-often fight and flight instincts to mature two-way communication. Develop a mutual purpose and actively seek mutual benefit.
Habit 6: Synergize
Synergize is the endowment of creativity, the creation of something not on you own by yourself but through two or more respectful independent minds communicating and producing solutions that are far better than what either originally proposed. Two plus two could be seven.
Most negotiations are positional bargaining and result at best in compromise. But when you get into synergistic communication, you leave position behind. You understand the basic underlying needs and interests of each other and find solutions to satisfy all concerned.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
This habit concerns continuous improvement or self-renewal concerning the seven habits and other areas.
If you don’t constantly improve and renew yourself, you’ll fall into entropy, closed systems and styles. You’ll fall into a rut. You might become stuck in mindsets and approaches that do not serve you or those around you.
The habit of “Sharpen the Saw” is in present times more important than ever. Ensure that you learn daily and weekly and become very proficient at what you are doing. Make yourself more valuable and provide value. There are a number of ways to accelerate learning. Each is simple to master. In the age we live in, one’s personal pace of change has to be faster than the change around you.
You will have noticed that each habit overlaps into the next. They form a set of principles.
Covey authored his book in 1989. It is as relevant today as when it was first published.