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THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE is one of those very few “must have” executive coaching books for aspiring managers and leaders, irrespective of their background. It may now appear dated, given its nearly 30 years since it was published, but at its heart is a modern concept – that human beings are driven by subjective internal values and determined by external principles. Covey sets his seven habits on the premise that given there are enough resources to share with all, then there are benefits of pooling and sharing successes and recognition, and by sharing those successes and recognition it will in turn bring in more successes and more recognition.
“I’ve set and met my career goals and I ’m having tremendous professional success. But it’s cost me in personal and family life. I don ‘t know my wife and children any more. I’m not even sure I know myself and what’s really important to me. I’ve had to ask myself – is it worth it?”
“There’s so much to do. And there‘s never enough time. I feel pressured and hassled all day, every day, seven days a week. I’ve attended time management seminars and I’ve tried half a dozen different planning systems. They’ve helped some, but l still don’t feel I’m living the happy, productive, peaceful life I want to live. ”
In response to such sentiments, Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People defines powerful principles for joyful, effective living. His book is saturated with advice on leadership, life management and relationships, all centred around the “inside-out” concept — behaviour is learned, it is not instinctive. Old habits can be discarded and replaced by new and more effective habits.
Until 1930 or so, most success literature was based on the Character Ethic – the belief that there are basic principles of effective living and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they integrate these principles into their lives.
Then shortly after World War 1, the central view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to the Personality Ethic. Success became a function of persona, of public image, of positive attitudes and behaviours, human-relations skills and techniques.
The Personality Ethic is still in wide favour today. And adherents often do find temporary help by practicing these techniques, but sooner or later most realise that the underlying obstacles to happiness still persist.
A paradigm is a model or graph of the way we “see” the world – in terms of perceiving, understanding, and interpreting. A paradigm can be compared to a map. Improving behaviour, doubling your effort, or thinking more positively would have no effect if you were given a map of Chicago and asked to find an address in Los Angeles. The frustrations you would face would have nothing to do with behaviour or attitude: they would arise out of having the wrong map.
When principles — fundamental values, like fairness, integrity, human dignity and service – are internalized into habits, they empower people to formulate a wide variety of practices to deal with different situations. This involves developing an “inside-out” paradigm – maps and models generated of both the way things really are and the way we want them to be – then following the maps and living the models. We cannot change all situations, but we can change ourselves — inside-out.
Before detailing his seven habits, Covey quotes Ezra Taft Benson’s words on the need for inner, spiritual training: “The Lord works from the inside-out. The world works from the outside-in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums… The world would shape human behaviour, but Christ can change human behaviour.”
Four main characteristics separate humans from animals: imagination, conscience, independent will, and self-awareness. In humans there is an interval between stimulus and response; we have the freedom to choose, not just to react. Being proactive means making this conscious “choice to choose”; being responsible for our own lives; taking the initiative; acting instead of being acted upon. Proactivity empowers us to create circumstances. Effective people truly lead their lives. instead of saying, “It’s hopeless,” they say, “Let’s look at the alternatives.” Instead of, “If only . . . ” they say, “I will.” Each of us possesses a circle of concern, which includes our state of health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war. . . It is apparent that we have a great deal of control over some of these concerns and very little inﬂuence over others. The events we do have control over constitute our circle of inﬂuence. Proactive people focus their time and energy on their circle of influence — those things they can do something about.
All successful endeavours are created twice. There’s a first, mental or spiritual creation, and a second, physical creation to all things. For example, if you were going to build a home, you wouldn’t simply start hammering away. You would look at your budget, carefully plan what you wanted in the house, make a blueprint, and then develop construction plans. The same is true with parenting. If you want to raise responsible, self-disciplined children, you have to keep that end clearly in mind as you daily interact with your children. Effective leaders envision what they want and how to get it. They habitually pick priorities stemming from their basic values. In our personal lives, if we do not develop self-awareness and become responsible for our own “first creations,” we empower other people and circumstances to shape our lives by default. Living “by default,” we merely react to the scripts given to us by our family, associates, et al.
Habit 3 sparks the second, physical creation that fulfills habits 1 and 2. It entails the idea of management, or using our four human endowments self-awareness, imagination, conscience and will) to accomplish important things. In a time-management matrix, there are four quadrants”:
Quadrant 1 includes the affairs that are urgent and important — crises, pressing problems, deadline-driven projects. We react quickly to urgent matters’. However, if we focus on Quadrant l, the urgent list tends to get bigger and bigger and we seem to go from one crisis to the next.
Quadrant 3 includes matters that are urgent but not important — some interruptions, phone calls and meetings. Many people spend much of their time reacting to things they deem urgent, assuming that they are also important. Quadrant 4 consists of activities that are not urgent and not important such as busy work and some recreation. These could be thought of as the ‘escape” portions of our lives.
Quadrant 2 is at the heart of effective personal management. It deals with concerns that are important but not urgent – building relationships, long-range planning, exercising . . . things we know we should do but seldom get around to actually doing. “Important matters that are not urgent require more initiative, more proactivity. We must act to seize opportunity, to make things happen.” We become Quadrant 2 persons by learning to say no, by defining our roles in life, and by deciding what we want to accomplish in each of these roles.
Win / Win thinking is a frame of mind that constantly seeks mutual beneﬁt in all human interactions — agreements or solutions that are satisfying to all involved. Most people are inclined to think in terms of competitive dichotomies: strong or weak, win or lose. But Win/ Win thinking centres on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody, and that one person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of another person.
Suppose you’ve been having trouble with your eyes and you go to an optometrist. After listening to your complaint, he takes off his glasses and hands them to you: “I’ve worn these glasses for years now and they’ve really helped me. I have an extra pair at home; you can wear these.” Would you thank him for his generosity? In the communications process, how often do we prescribe before we diagnose? We have a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with “good advice,” but without deep understanding. Habit 5 involves fostering the habit of empathic listening – making deposits in the other person’s “emotional bank. ‘ account“ by sincere validation and appreciation.
“Synergy” implies that the whole is greater than the sum of its Parts. Synergistic Communication begins with the assumption that cooperating individuals will share insights and open their minds and hearts. Then, if of all parties are valued, momentum will build and new alternatives will emerge where there were only roadblocks before.
Habit 7 entails preserving, renewing and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you. It enables you to move on an upward spiral of growth.
Formulate a personal programme to keep in balance the four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental and social / emotional. To do this, again begin with Habit 1 – be proactive. Taking the time to regularly “sharpen the saw” is a definitive Quadrant II activity.
The physical dimension of saw-sharpening involves caring effectively for your body – eating the right foods, and getting sufficient res, relaxation and exercise.
The spiritual dimension gives direction to our life. Find inner peace through daily prayer, meditation, reading from scripture, communing with nature, or habitually immersing yourself in great literature or music. Get up early (“mind over mattress”) and live in harmony with the “still small voice” within you.
The mental dimension is central to life-long development. Education is a vital source of mental rejuvenation. Sometimes it requires the external discipline of the classroom or a systemized home study program; often it does not.
The social/emotional dimension embraces Habits 4, 5, and 6, which centre on the principles of ‘ interpersonal leadership, empathic communications, and creative co-operation. This dimension is developed through service to others and self-discipline.
The inside-out, upward spiral, self-renewal concepts of Seven Habits revolve around becoming more self-aware. Only by knowing ourselves can we choose high purposes and principles to live by and find similar unity in our relationships with others. Developing the seven habits won’t eliminate mistakes from our lives, Covey insists, but it will make us more able people. To quote Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier — not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do his increased. ” And habits centred on correct principles can increase our ability to live peaceful, harmonized, loving, effective lives.