Recently I was invited to speak at a university and then answer any questions the students had. I was struck by the directness of Brandon’s question: “One book—just one book, what would that be?”
Without hesitation I replied: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. I then gave my summation as to why that one book (which I first read nearly 20 years ago) made such an impact on me and millions of others. I figured it would be useful to do the same here, in the hope that it may encourage you to read it, or dust it off and let the pages feel the sunshine again.
What I like about the 7 Habits is its common-sense organized and yet, sadly, we know that common sense is just not that commonly practiced. Covey has been criticized for borrowing from “The Good Book” (the Bible) to sell his book but I don’t sense God’s going to be suing him for plagiarism.
Whenever I proselytize this prose, I always emphasize a few points: (1) It’s the seven habits — not the three habits or the 5.25 habits. (2) Habits are… habitual — they have to be practiced repeatedly. (3) The book isn’t titled, “The 7 Habits of Mildly Mediocre People” for a reason — there’s effort required.
Habit 1 is “Be Proactive.” The opposite is to be reactive — a product of your circumstances rather than your choices. I have found proactive people to be better work colleagues. Proactive people carry their own weather with them. They also mind their own language, as they understand the power of words.
Habit 2 is “Begin with the End in Mind.” It’s built on the principle that mental creation precedes physical creation. This habit helped me have vision for what I wanted to have, do and be in all aspects of life.
Habit 3 is “Put First Things First.” Whereas effective people are able to prioritize and execute with excellence, I’ve noticed that reactive people who lack vision are always rushing and scrambling between tasks. People who don’t practice Habit 3 get their identity from their busyness and are proud to tell you they’re “Crazy Busy.” Well, they got half of that right. Habit 3 helped me with prioritization.
Habit 4 is “Think Win-Win.” It’s built upon the principle that in conflict we should look out not only for our own interests but also the interests of others. I have found that the Law of Reciprocity is written on all human hearts and when you sincerely seek to help another, beautiful fruit falls from the tree.
Habit 5 is “Seek First to Understand and Then Be Understood.” This reminds me, we were created with two ears and one mouth and that effective people listen twice as much as they speak. Conversely, ineffective people rarely listen and at best they listen selectively, selfishly or defensively. Listening is the fastest form of human communication.
Habit 6 is “Synergize” and is the habit of creative co-operation. In sports we call this “great chemistry.” A team will always achieve much more than the work of a lone genius in the long run. Synergy is a beautiful word — it’s the concept that the whole can be greater than the sum of the individual parts. Great leaders build synergy.
Habit 7 surrounds the first six and is titled, “Sharpen the Saw.” It’s the habit of renewal built upon the principle that we have to nurture the goose (ourselves) to keep laying the golden eggs (what we want to have, do and be). Covey addresses the four dimensions of the human being — the physical; the mental; the social/emotional and the spiritual. He encourages us to “sharpen the saw” in each of these dimensions on a regular basis.
Stephen Covey did a superb job building his habits upon the rock of timeless, universal and objective truths — principles that in these times of shifting shadows enable us to follow a light that is trustworthy not only for the workplace but our lives in general — even if he did borrow them from The Good Book.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].