7 habits
June 2, 2018

7 Habits, that are still as relevant, for today’s Highly Effective Leaders

By Paul Laughlin

One of the few Leadership books that I have come back to time & time again, is “The 7 habits of Highly Effective People“.

Perhaps, alongside classics from writers like Dale Carnegie or Peter Drucker, this book by the late Stephen Covey, is one you’ve heard of. It might have been mentioned to you, from time to time, over many years.

Did you intend to read it once, but have never gotten around to it? Well, if so, let me encourage you, that it is still very relevant. As with all books truly worth the honorific of being “a classic“, it outlines timeless principles, that still work in business life today. In fact, perhaps even more so.

This month, I’ll be sharing a number of book reviews & related resources (including two books by regular guest bloggers). So, I thought it seemed fitting to start with a foundational book. This title by Stephen Covey is one that I regularly recommend when training leaders in Stakeholder Management. Let’s find out why…

7 Habits: the approach of this book

The late Stephen Covey was a great observer of the human condition. This book is peppered with human stories and his own approach. So, the first thing to say is that it intends to be pragmatic & practical.

Despite outlining “timeless & self-evident truths“, Stephen explains these in relatable ways, that help you see their application to your life. As you read through this book expected to be struck by ideas that touch on all areas of your life. It is a business classic, but also holistic to the extent that it has as much to say to your personal life & relationships, as it does to work.

Although the result of Dr Covey studying 200 years of “success literature“, to identify what distinguishes the ‘highly effective’ from those who are less so – this is no fast-buck self-help book. You won’t come away from it ‘blowing your own trumpet’ or expecting to instantly demand a higher salary. The work of this book goes much deeper.

Stephen Covey shares his take on many of these habits, from his own Christian faith, but also reveals their basis in all leading religions & many moral systems. In these days of fake news, shallow celebrity & crass immoral behaviour – it’s a refreshing change to read someone seeking to identify values-based behaviours. So, I encourage you to approach this book with your whole self (mind, body & soul), you might just spot habits you want to adopt in all aspects of your life & outlook.

7 habits: a summary of the principles that work

You need to read this book to understand these habits better & benefit from the many implications that Stephen brings out. But, the best way to give you a taster for the lessons you can learn from this great book, is to briefly outline those seven habits for you.

In summary they are:

  1. Be Proactive: this is not just about action & ownership, but also where to focus, including the very helpful idea of your own ‘circle of concern verses circle of influence‘. A clue is that you make more of a difference being proactive in what you can influence, than being drained by all the things that concern you.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind: the benefit of identifying your ‘centre’ & principles, then from this setting clear life goals for areas of your life. Plus, the benefits of visualisation & speaking to your self (which still works for me, “no it doesn’t, yes it does, no it….“)
  3. Put First Things First: these first three are all part of what Covey calls, Personal Victory, and this includes prioritisation and his system for time management (same ethos as 18 Minutes).
  4. Think Win/Win: you’ve almost certainly heard of this in negotiation skills training, Covey goes deeper into implications for character, relationships, agreements & your processes.
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood: told in such a human way, this chapter includes greater advice on more effective listening & communication for every area of your life.
  6. Synergize: Very much a build on thinking Win/Win, this is a chapter on working Win/Win, how can you better collaborate to achieve more together?
  7. Sharpen the Saw: How to avoid just being a busy fool & realise the need to stop & invest in your capabilities, so you can work better & smarter in future.

I hope that taster whets you appetite to read the book itself. Each of the above chapters includes many hints & tips that can change how you work & relate to others, for the better.

7 habits: how can you live this way?

Like many books with advice for how to improve your habits or lifestyle, reading this book is just the start. It is well written, with an easy style, so consuming the book shouldn’t take you long. But, like the work I do with mentees & coachees, the real learning takes place in between our sessions. You will really learn about these habits by doing.

For that reason, after reading the two introductory chapters, I recommend that you stop after each Habit chapter. Then give yourself, at least a week, to try changing your behaviour to adopt that habit. Even small changes can make big differences & give you surprising insights (or reactions from others).

If you are able to invest in coaching or mentoring, this is also rich material to review with your coach or mentor. Take time out to reflect after each ‘practice week’. What did you do differently? What happened as a result? What did you notice during that week? What feels significant?

In addition to the continual benefit of establishing a reflective practice, Stephen Covey also published a less well-known book, to share more personal experiences. Reading “Living the Seven Habits” can be a great way to supplement your own experiments by hearing the stories of others’ life experiences with these habits.

Living the 7 Habits

If you liked 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll love this follow up. Stephen Covey puts together a collection of stories he received from people who used the 7 Habits to change their lives. He gives a brief intro to each story and a follow up after, which help reinforce the lessons from 7 Habits.

7 habits: how has it helped you?

I’m conscious that many of our readers may have read this book. Perhaps many years ago.

If so, would you be willing to share what it meant to you? It would be great to have some personal feedback of its impact on your behaviour or what worked for you.

As always, please feel free to comment below or on social media. You can also contact me directly using our Contact page, if you’d be willing to share your story.

Have a great week & I hope your habits are serving you well.