Summary of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

INTRODUCTION

One of the foundational texts that I use in my leadership coaching is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, a classic book by Stephen Covey about personal change.  The basis of the book is that there are timeless, self-evident principles and laws that govern the world, and that we can recognize and harmonize our values and behavior with those principles, resulting in effectiveness, or resist and short circuit those principles and not achieve sustainable results.

The book emphasizes that we need to begin with an inside change of ourselves if we want to increase our leadership influence with others.  This principle centered approach is a significant paradigm shift (way of understanding and seeing the world) from the manipulative technique- based character ethic.  Often the problems and frustrations we face are rooted in the way that we see them.  We all have a lens through which we see that world, and our evaluation and response comes from our own perception and view.  If we will slow down and think, we can shift our paradigm and harmonize it with self-evident timeless principles.

To become highly effective, we must commit to personal change.

The 7 Habits that Covey present are

1. Be Proactive,

2. Begin with the End in Mind,

3. Put First Things First,

4. Think Win:Win,

5 Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood,

6. Synergize, and

7. Sharpen the Saw.

I encourage you to obtain a copy of the book and read it.

INSIDE OUT

Stephen Covey opens the book discussing the contrast between primary greatness that stems from character (inside) vs. secondary greatness that stems from personality (outside).  He believes that the personality ethic can be quite shallow and often rooted in other people’s judgment and assessment vs an internal compass that aligns values with self-evident principles.  He asserts that sustained personal change is an inside-out growth process that is that involves paradigm shifts.

A paradigm is a mind map of how one sees themselves, others and the world.  Our paradigms are embedded in our character.  The 7-Habits of Highly Effective People is a principle-based paradigm.  Adopting and implementing these habits begins by recognizing that our problem is often the way we see the problem, our paradigm.  To become more effective in life, relationships, and the pursuit of personal fulfillment, I must realign my character (made up of habits) with unchanging self-evident principles such as fairness, honesty, goodness, kindness, service, and excellence.  My destiny changes when my character is changed, and my character is a product of my habits that stem from my repeated actions driven by thought.

This inside-out paradigm of human change is key to understanding and implementing these seven habits.

I encourage you to slow down and think about your habits.  Do they support the person you aspire to be?  What choices could you take that would realign your actions with self-evident principles of life?  These are worthwhile thoughts to ponder.

 

THE MATURITY CONTINUUM

Dependent – relying on someone or something else for support
Independent – not ruled, controlled, or supported by others
Interdependent – mutually dependent

As infants, we all start out in life totally dependent on others. Without the assistance and help from someone caring for our basic needs, we die. It would be absurd for us to believe that a small child could survive on their own. But as children grow and mature, it is appropriate and important for them to learn to become independent. The teenage years are often fraught with this passage from dependence to independence as a person grows and learns how to live and stand on their own.

What is most interesting about growth and maturity is that there is an even more effective place than independence called interdependence. This is a state of mutual dependence that creates greater possibilities through synergy and team. For people to effectively participate in an interdependent team, they must first become an independent person that can contribute. Independence is that state of being responsible and taking personal ownership. Only independent people can participate in an interdependent relationship. Independent people who have developed a sense of identity and individuality can achieve more that those who rely on others for purpose, identity, and function.

Those who refuse to move from dependence to independence often develop a sense of entitlement and victim mindset. They carry a belief that they have a right to have whatever they want, and that when others don’t provide what they want, they are being abused and mistreated. They live in a state of excuse, blame, and denial.

For an independent person to mature to the most effective state of interdependence, they must learn how to depend on others, not as takers, but as givers. Independent people are often proud of their achievement, and reluctant and skeptical to move toward interdependence. In their disdain of dependence, they avoid any admission of weakness or reliance on others. Rugged individualists are limited in their pursuits and outcomes. It is in the synergy of a functional team that the most can be achieved. Nature and life itself teaches us that interdependence is a reality, whether we admit it or not. Just consider how long you could survive if you were cut off from all outside resource today.

The lesson: First, consider where you might be immature and dependent, and break that unhealthy state of dependence on others. Take full responsibility and ownership for your life. Second, consider how you could vastly increase your effectiveness and results in interdependence, and take the steps necessary to grow and mature in your communication and relationships so that you can be interdependent and promote that on your team.

There is such possibility in the world, and the greatest of these possibilities will be realized in collaboration and mutual dependence with others.

P/PC BALANCE

“P” stands for Production, and “PC” stands for Production Capacity.

Covey tells the fable of a farmer who discovered he had a goose that laid golden eggs.  Every morning he would find one of these golden eggs in her nest.  He was so happy that he had found his fortune. His new-found prosperity began to take hold of him, and he began to consider how he could accelerate his success.  “What if I could get inside that goose and extract all the eggs at one time.  After becoming obsessed with the thought, he killed the goose and cut her open, only to find no eggs within.  He had killed the source of his fortune.

The moral of the story is simple, a self-evident principle, that to maintain production, you must also maintain and care for the producer.  Human bodies need sleep.  Mechanical systems need preventative maintenance.  You need to work ON your business as well is IN your business.  Employers need to care for their customers and their employees if they want production to continue.

The question; What areas of renewal, maintenance, and care are you neglecting that will lead to eventual loss of production, and what action will you take today to address that neglect?

 

PRINCIPLES vs VALUES

Covey’s seven habits is a principle-based paradigm.  His conjecture is that effectiveness is a result of the consistent practice of habits that are rooted in values aligned with self-evident unchanging principles of life and nature.

A physical example of a self-evident principle is gravity.  If I am going to effectively function in the world, I must learn how to navigate in respect and deference to gravity.  Gravity always is present, and it always exerts the same force.  It is unchangeable.  If I work with it, I get along well.  If I fight against it, it doesn’t change, and I suffer the consequences.  Gravity always prevails, and always wins the battle.  It is an unchanging principle.

I cannot change principles, but I can change my values.  A value is what I hold to be important.  If I align my values with unchanging principles, I increase my effectiveness.  If my values conflict with such principles, I cannot have sustained effectiveness.

Covey states that habits are the intersection of knowledge, skills, and desire.  This book presents seven such habits that are based on unchanging self-evident principles.  If these habits are embraced, practiced, and valued, then you will create character that will increase your effectiveness and destiny as a person.

Questions for your consideration:  What values do you hold, and are those values aligned with self-evident principles?  Do your habits reflect what you say are your values?  What habits in your life would you like to drop, and what great habits could you increase?

 

HABIT 1 – BE PROACTIVE

Habit one of the seven habits is “BE PROACTIVE”.  This is the habit owning your life vs being a victim.  It is the key to positive life change.

People engage my coaching services because they want change. They typically want a change in their cash flow, a change in their customers, a change in their employees, or a change in their discretionary time. The good news is that all of this is possible. The interesting news is you really can’t directly change any of those things. To affect sustainable change, you must accept the fact that you can only change yourself. When you change, you become more effective in influencing your environment. It is an inside-out process.

Life comes at all of us at a rapid pace. We are bombarded with messages, people issues, and business and life challenges, daily. The key to winning the game is learning to stop ……. think …….. and then choose your response based on your values instead of reacting out of mere habit or emotion. You have decided you want to change. The first and most difficult step is to stop all the stuff you are currently doing! Realize that you don’t really “have” to do anything. Stop the excuses and blame and take back the ownership of your life and choices. Get out of denial and take full accountability and responsibility for your life, business, and choices.

Dealing effectively with the past and the future is another key to being proactive. Learn from the victories and the mistakes of your past, but don’t allow them to be your story going forward. Create a new and fresh story every day! The past is over. You cannot re-live it. Fully engage in the present. The future is like the past. You can’t live tomorrow today. Anxious thoughts and worries about future “what ifs” only drain your energy and spirit. Plan optimistically and envision great future outcomes, and then take action in the present, fully engaged.

A few practical suggestions: Begin each day with a clear routine. Use your early morning time to think through priorities and choices for the day. Write down and commit to a few specific, non-urgent actions that will move you toward your long-term values and goals. Renew yourself physical exercise, a healthy breakfast, and be thankful and reflect on your blessings. Start the day with a full tank, ready to go! Jim Rohn, business philosopher, states it this way “Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job”.

A FEW MORE PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO BE PROACTIVE

Please compare the following two sets of words.  To get the full impact, read them out loud.

Set #1: Planning, creating, active, excited, energized, motivated, engaged, present, responding, participating, growing, flowing, joyful, curious, relaxed, anticipating, having fun….

Set #2:  Wishing, hoping, reacting, bored, coasting, disappointed, discouraged, overwhelmed, surviving, stalled, stuck, worried, afraid, getting by, dreading, dying, tired……

Which set most describes your life?  The first world is exciting, fully engaging and growing.  The second world is dying, and you are just trying to survive.

I have been in both worlds.  I have clients that are in both worlds.  If you are in world #2, I want to help you move to world #1 if you are ready.

First, get moving…physically.  Set a regular time every day to get some aerobic activity. Take opportunities throughout today to increase your physical movement.  Use the stairs.  Choose parking places further from entrances.  Add steps to your day.  Pick up the pace.  Stand and walk tall.  Replace an hour of sedentary activity (like TV watching) with a physical activity.  In other words, act alive!!  Your thoughts and feelings will improve as you choose to move your body.

Second, choose empowering words.  I’ll do it vs I’ll try; I want to vs. I have to, I can vs I can’t.  You see the world through your words.  You find what you look for.  Your language (the words you choose) programs your mind and body to either be alive, vibrant, and engaged or tired, struggling, and sedentary.  Carefully choose what you think about.  Choose encouraging books, media, and uplifting conversations.  Walk away from gossip, negativity, and victim talk.  Your feelings will follow your thoughts.

Third, be action oriented.  Ask yourself “What can I DO right now to improve and change my situation?”  Once you have a great idea, the time for analysis is over!  Choose to take action on some great idea TODAY, and you will start to feel and think better as you begin a movement in a positive direction.  By the way, congratulations if you mess it up.  Mistakes are wonderful teachers!!

It’s your life.  It’s your choice.  I invite you to step into a better place right where you are.

 

YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING

You Don’t HAVE to Do Anything!

This is ultimate proactivity, accepting the fact that you do not have to do anything.  Whenever a person says “I have to go to work”, or “I have to pay my bills”, or “I have to go to school”, they are not being fully truthful.  The absolute truth is you don’t have to do anything.

Though you can choose to do or not do anything, you cannot choose the consequences.  Stephen Covey calls this being aware of the “other end of the stick”.  You can’t just pick up one end of a stick.  If you pick it up, you get both ends. There is always another end to every stick.

It’s the principle of sowing and reaping.  You can choose to sow whatever you want, but whatever seed you sow, that is the harvest you will reap.  It’s foolish to sow corn and expect soybeans.  You don’t HAVE to work diligently, but your laziness will reap unemployment and poverty.  If you play, you pay.  What goes around eventually does come back around.  You don’t have to exercise, eat healthy, and get adequate sleep, but there are consequences to not taking care of your body.  You don’t have to apologize, and mend strained relationships, but you will lack deep, meaningful friends.

The lesson:  Realize that you choose your actions, but you do not choose consequences.  Be proactive and choose actions that lead to the consequences you desire.  Choose and act wisely, and then reap the benefit.  It’s common sense, but not always common thinking and practice.

 

HABIT 2 – BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND

Vision casting, planning, goal setting, big picture thinking….it all is important when leading a life, a business, or a project.  Habit 2 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the End in Mind”. 

He begins that chapter by taking the reader on a journey to an event, their own funeral.  Imagine key loved ones, friends, and associates speaking of the difference you made in their lives and in the lives of others.  What would each person?  What would you hope they would say about you?

That is the point of the exercise, for you to become mindful of what is truly valuable to you, and then to ask if you are currently living life every day with that end in mind.  It is a sobering exercise, and potentially transformational.

Unfortunately, most people must face a life crisis before choosing to make significant changes.  Highly effective people are proactive and use their ability to envision and imagine the future to move them to change.

The question:  Will you take that journey to your funeral, and listen to what others will say about your life, and then make some changes?

 

THE MATURITY CONTINUUM

Dependent, independent, and interdependent.  It is a paradigm of personal as well as organizational growth.

The 7 Habits model is framed in the context of what Covey calls the maturity continuum.  We all begin as dependent.  As a dependent person, you need another person to survive.  Think of a baby.  They are totally dependent on their caretaker.  They need someone to feed them, love them, and take care of them.  Everyone begins life as a dependent person.

As you grow and mature, you begin to stand on your own, and care for yourself.  The teenage years are so interesting and awkward.  At one moment, you feel so dependent, and at another moment you shout for your independence.  You are breaking away from that dependence on your parents, and hopefully maturing into a self-sustaining individual.

Here is the one of the most interesting learning from the seven habits.  Independence is not the ultimate expression of maturity.  The pinnacle of personal growth is interdependence, where as an independent person, you learn to also depend on other independent people for the purpose of producing synergy.

To move from independence to interdependence, you must develop some new habits.  you must learn to seek to understand before being understood.  You must seek solutions that benefit others as well as yourself, and you must recognize that being and independent person is quite limiting.

The enemies of interdependence are independent ego and immature dependence.  To be truly interdependent, you must first take full responsibility as an independent individual, (Habits 1, 2 and 3), and then humbly learn habits 4,5, and 6 to function in a healthy symbiotic relationship with others, recognizing the strength and beauty of diversity.

Are you ready to grow and improve?  If so, consider where you still might be needy and dependent, and move to independence.  Then think about where you are standing alone, and choose to reach out and work with others to achieve much more.  Happy Monday!!

HABIT 3 – PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST

Picture a one-gallon glass jar filled to the brim with several large rocks, lots of gravel, sand and water.  Now envision dumping the full contents of that jar into a pan.  Your task is to fit100% of the contents back into the jar.  The only way you can get it all back in is to put the big rocks in first, followed by the gravel, then the sand and finally the water.  The order is critical.  If you try to put the sand or the gravel in first, the big rocks just won’t fit.

Here’s the lesson.  The space in the jar represents the limited amount of time you have to fill with activity.  The big rocks represent what is most important.   To accomplish what is most important (the big rocks), you need to put those priorities into your schedule (the jar) first.  Please note that these “big rock” priorities are not the most urgent items in your life.  That is why without intentional planning, they will get pushed out by smaller things.  The purpose of weekly planning is to be sure that you put the most important tasks in your schedule first and allow the other lower priorities to fill in.

For this to be effective, you must be clear on what is most important.  Covey expresses this challenge with a tool he calls the time management matrix.  The matrix provides four quadrants for all your tasks as follows I – Urgent Important, II – Not-Urgent Important, III Urgent Not-Important and IV – Not-Urgent Not-Important.  To move through life proactively and fulfill our mission and vision, we must learn to prioritize and execute the most important things.  Quadrant II (Not Urgent Important) is the quadrant where we increase our production capacity, build relationships, recognize new opportunities, plan, and renew.  The key to placing the “big rocks” of quadrant II in the jar is by proactively prioritizing those activities by planning.  The commitment to the plan requires you to say NO to people pleasing and time-wasting activities.

Think about it.  If you consistently accomplished 10 most important things in your life every week, you will have completed 520 important tasks every year.  What difference will that make in your relationships and success?  The question is will you proactively plan and execute?

 

THE EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNT

Stephen Covey shares a paradigm called the emotional bank account. In the process of relating to others, we make deposits and withdrawals into their emotional bank account.

Emotional bankruptcy occurs when my withdrawals exceed my deposits. Withdrawals are actions and attitudes that deplete trust, such as ignoring a person or minimizing their value. Gossip will deplete accounts quickly, as will dishonesty and a lack of integrity in my communication and actions.

Covey shares six specific ways I can deposit into another person’s account as follows:
#1 – Seeking to understand that person by giving them my full attention and empathy in our communication.
#2 – Doing little kind considerate things to demonstrate my appreciation for them.
#3 – Keeping my commitments, like showing up on time and following through on communications.
#4 – Clarifying expectations, in reality, creating clear agreements with them.
#5 – Behaving with strong personal integrity and dependability.
#6 – Apologizing when I take a withdrawal from their emotional bank account.

These are simple and easy to understand, but not always so easy to do. Our pride and independence can keep us from being focused on others. When I demonstrate love and respect for another person, that’s when I fill their account.  What specific deposits will you make into someone’s account?

 

HABIT 4 – THINK WIN:WIN

Complete the following sentence.  For there to be a winner, there has to be a  _______.

Most everyone thinks that for there to be a WINNER, there must be a LOSER.  This is the default paradigm.  It is a subtle belief that for me to really win, someone else must lose.  For me to win as a business owner, my employee must lose, or my customer must lose, or my supplier/vendor must lose.

The fourth habit in of Covey’s seven habits is “Think WIN:WIN”.  If you are playing football or chess, for you to win, your opponent must lose.  That makes sense for competitive games.  But in most of life and business, the ultimate effectiveness is when both parties win.  If you “Think WIN:WIN, you will use your proactivity to create WIN:WIN scenarios with your partner.  The WIN:WIN person is always seeking to create a resolution where everyone wins.

The sophisticated version of WIN:LOSE mindset is compromise, that says for both parties to win something, they must also be willing to lose something.  WIN:WIN is not the same as compromise.  It is taking what is good for me, and good for you, and creating a superior resolution for both parties.  In a WIN:WIN resolution, both parties gain more than they would have in a compromise.  This is an expression of the principle of abundance.

The practice of this habit requires a high level of proactivity.  You must be able to step back from the challenge and begin with the end in mind.  You must have a clear commitment to first things, one of those being the advancement of others success as well as your own.

This is not allowing others to win at your expense and loss.  That is LOSE:WIN.  It is not a compromise, where both parties must lose something to win.  WIN:WIN is a collaborative creation that ends in both parties winning more than they would have by just defeating or dominating their opponent.

WIN:WIN is not always possible.  It requires both parties to be committed to mutual benefit.  But it is a way of thinking that dominates an effective person.  Everyone winning is by far the best outcome if it can be achieved.  It takes proactive leadership to create WIN:WIN.

Are you currently facing conflict and disagreement with another person?  WIN:WIN is an exciting alternative as you seek a resolution.  My challenge is for you to invite that person to work with you to create a resolution where both of you win.

HABIT 5 – SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD

“I just don’t understand why they don’t listen to me!” Have you ever had that thought? Do you have employees? Are you married? Do you have teenage children?

We can learn much from Covey’s Habit 5, “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”.  The fact is that people do not listen and understand you is because you are not listening to them. You talk, explain, analyze, preach, propose, and offer advice and instruction. The reason that they do not listen and understand is because you have not listened and understood them. You will understand them only when you listen to them.

If you would ask a great open ended questions (Who, What, When, Where, Why) and then get present, engaged, and quietly listen………….only to understand, not to reply, then……… ask another question related to their response and listen some more, and understand, and feel where they are, and see how they see you and the world, and then……….ask yet another question and listen for a real long time, without offering your wisdom or solutions, without your problem solving, just UNDERSTAND AND LISTEN, THEN get validation that you truly understand them, and you are sure that you see things and understand the situation totally from their world and point of view, then and only then will you be ready to be understood.

When you truly respect and listen, and understand another human being, it opens the possibility for a real conversation. What they understand is that you care, and that you truly understand and respect them. They might even ask you a question and seek to understand you. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting response, that they want to listen to you?

HABIT 6 – SYNERGIZE

Synergy. It simply means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

In human terms, it is creative collaboration.  Synergize is Habit 6 of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  This habit itself is a synergistic result the other habits.

For synergy to occur, the participants must be open to change and possibility.  The solutions and creations that emerge from synergy are a product of the participation of diverse parties.  Synergy thrives when we seek first to understand before being understood, are proactive, put first things first, and begin with the end in mind.  It certainly must have win:win thinking as a key component.

Glory hogs kill synergy.  The bigger mission and why is the driver of synergy.  Leadership in the synergistic world is serving by facilitating the full participation of all parties.

There is risk in synergy.  The outcome is not always clear.  Synergy is fueled by creativity.  Creativity requires setting aside preconceived ideas and systems and experimenting with new combinations.  Synergy occurs outside of our comfort zone.  It is a new paradigm for all involved, because it includes contributions from diverse participants.

Here is the leadership challenge:  If you are bored, tired, and have lost that bounce and sizzle, first, do a seven-habit inventory on yourself. Take appropriate actions to course correct and get personally into a good place. Then seek to enroll a community of people who want to address a significant challenge – and synergize.

You’ll be smiling and having fun in no time!!  Who knows what your team might create that will benefit others?  Go for it!!

 

HABIT 7 – SHARPEN THE SAW

It’s habit number seven of the seven habits, and it encircles the other six.  The analogy is quite simple.  It is the lesson from the lumberjack who refuses to stop cutting trees to sharpen his saw.  He’s too busy working to pause and sharpen his saw.

It is epidemic in modern society.  People burning themselves out because they refuse to invest time into personal renewal.  Low sleep, little exercise, fast food, no time to think and plan, no time to relax and recharge.  Go go go go go the STOP!!!

Covey addresses the four areas that we must renew if we want to sustain an effective life.  The physical (exercise, nutrition, stress management), the mental (reading, visualization, planning, writing), the social/emotional (service, empathy, synergy, intrinsic security), and the spiritual (value clarification and commitment, study, meditation).

As we bring our article on the seven habits to a close, my encouragement and challenge is for you to make a self-evaluation of the four dimensions of renewal, and choose one simple change from each one to sharpen your saw.  It will serve you and others well.

CONCLUSION

This classic book by Stephen Covey is packed full of wisdom and principles that can potentially change your life.  I encourage you to get a copy of the book and read it several times.  As you learn, and grow, and change, pass it on.  That is the way to really gain from any lesson, practice it yourself and pass it on to others.

-Dave Beam

Dave Beam has been helping businesses for the last 25 years.  He is owner and operator of a successful ActionCOACH Business Coaching franchise, and has a passion to assist business leaders create amazing outcomes.  He has coached over 300 businesses and corporations over the last thirteen years.

You can learn more about Coach Dave Beam on his website:

coachdavebeam.com

Author: Guest Author

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