Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R Covey in his number one bestseller ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ laid down a framework for improving personal effectiveness. This article attempts to summarise the first section of his bestseller with a list of the seven habits that he wrote about.
Covey’s Inside Out Approach
Stephen Covey during his research while working on his doctorate, reviewed around 200 years of literature on success. According to his observation, ever since the 1920’s, writings on success have centred on solutions to specific problems. All the literature on success in the latter half of the 20th century has accredited success to skills, techniques, personality traits, and maintaining a positive attitude. This was known as the ‘personality ethic’. However, 150 years ago the literature on success was character centric. This was known as the ‘character ethic’. As per this philosophy, success was attributed to factors such as courage, justice, integrity, patience, etc. The elements listed under character ethic are termed as primary traits, while those that belong to the personality ethic are termed as secondary traits. To achieve long term success, both these traits are equally necessary.
To explain the difference between primary and secondary traits, Covey provides the following example. Let’s assume you are in Chicago and you are trying to locate a particular destination in the city with the help of a map. While you may have brilliant secondary skills in reading maps and navigation, but you won’t be able to locate your destination if you are taking a look at the map of Detroit. Hence, in this example, Covey tried to prove that getting the right map is a primary element before you can effectively utilise your secondary skills.
Covey’s book offers an ‘inside out’ approach towards effectiveness that relies on character as well as principles. The ‘inside out’ approach indicates that change begins from within.
Overview of the Seven Habits
Our character is a sum total of our habits and habits have a significant role in our lives. Habits entail knowledge, skills, and desires. With the help of knowledge, we understand what needs to be done, while with the help of skill, it provides us with the ability to do the task. Desire provides us with the motivation to do the task.
The seven habits take us through the following stages: Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence.
- Dependence indicates the criteria under which people are born, and the dependency on others to take care of them.
- Independence indicates the criteria which help people to make their own decisions and take care of themselves.
- Interdependence indicates the criteria which help peoples to cooperate in order to achieve a goal which can’t be attained independently.
While the present day literature on success values the criteria of independence, the reality is that people are interdependent. The independent model cannot be optimally used in an interdependent environment which needs team players as well as leaders.
To become interdependent, one needs to be independent first. The three habits which people need to move from dependence to independence include:
- Being proactive
- Beginning with the end in mind
- Putting first things first
Habits 4,5, and 6 takes care of interdependence.
- Thinking win-win
- Seeking first to understand to be understood
Last but not the least, the seventh habit is the art of renewing and continuously improving which builds an individual’s production ability. To be effective, people need to strike a balance between actually producing and improving their capability to produce. Covey explains this with the help of an old fable of the goose who laid golden eggs.
According to the fable, a farmer once had a goose that used to lay every day a solid gold egg. Slowly the farmer grew rich, but he also became greedy. He thought to himself that the goose must be having a stock of gold eggs within her and hence decided to kill the goose to take out all the eggs at one time. When he cut the goose, he discovered there was no gold egg inside. The moral of the story is that if one wishes to increase production without having any regard to the production capability, eventually the capability will be lost. Effectiveness entails both production and the ability to produce. Likewise, there is a need to balance physical, financial, and human assets. However, if an individual only builds capacity but never utilizes it, there will be no production. Hence, there needs to be a balance between producing capacity and actual production.
Summarising the Seven Habits
- Being proactive: Change commences from within. People who are highly effective decide to improve their lives by influencing things instead of merely reacting to external factors or forces.
- Beginning with the end in mind: People must develop a personal mission statement that is centred on a principle. They must then formulate long term goals based on these personal principles from the mission statement.
- Putting first things first: People need to wisely spend their time in doing things that fit into their mission. They can do so by striking a balance between production and the capacity to build production. Finally, they need to identify the key roles to take on in life and make time for each of these roles.
- Thinking win-win: People need to look out for mutually beneficial agreements and relationships. In situations where a win-win deal cannot be attained, it is wise to accept the fact that agreeing to make a no deal may be the best possible alternative. While developing an organizational culture, you must ensure to reward win-win behaviour amongst your employees.
- Seeking first to understand, to be understood: As per Covey, people must first try to understand the other individual and then only they need to try to be understood. As per Covey, this is one of the most important principles of interpersonal relations. People must always put themselves in the shoes of the other person and listen empathetically to feelings and meaning.
- Synergizing: People must look for ways to leverage individual differences to create a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. With the help of mutual trust and understanding, people can resolve conflicts and seek a better solution.
- Sharpening the saw: People must take time out from production to build capacity by renewing their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual dimensions. They need to achieve a balance between all these various dimensions.