The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009).
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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Synopsis
The late Stephen Covey shares his insight on what makes a person highly effective in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey defends the importance of developing strong character in place of personality. Strong character gives way to the right personality. More importantly, character is a genuine and authentic display of who you are – by honing your character, you can improve your effectiveness and make it part of your innate being. Anything else would be inauthentic and you would likely be unable to sustain wearing such a “mask” for a long time.
To build strong character, individuals need to take on a perspective that centers on freedom. This means believing that one’s self can change. From here, when we believe we can morph who we are, we can develop the habits that will make us effective. Great philosopher Aristotle said, we are what we habitually do. With that, individuals wanting to become effective must take the following steps:
- Know what you want to do and why you want to do it
- Develop the skills to be able to do it
- Will yourself to do it through your want and desire
Habit #1 – Take initiative
According to Covey, highly effective individuals are proactive and take initiative. They take responsibility over their lives and their choices. This means that they take matters into their own hands and, thus, can shape the results of their choices. As a result, they do not impose limits on themselves. Instead, they shape their character as they believe they have power over their own choices. While it is true that everyone is subject to different circumstances, effective individuals choose to use those circumstances rather than be a product of them.
Individuals who take initiative often frame situations as opportunities for new possibilities. Rather than accept that “this is just me,” they are open to working on changing who they are. Instead of letting individuals ruin their mood, they make a choice to not let external actors affect their emotions. By living in a paradigm of possibility, these individuals naturally can do more.
Habit #2 – Begin with the end in mind
Highly effective individuals focus on their goals. More importantly, they are good at focusing on the right goals. The right goals are those that will allow you to achieve what you want in your life. Thus, the best way to understand what goals to focus on is to start at the end. For example, if you were to pass away tomorrow, what would you want people to remember you for? As of today, what would people say at your funeral? How far is this from what you want people to remember you as?
Answering these types of questions will reveal what is important to you. It will also tell you what you need to work on. From here, write a personal mission statement. This statement should align with what you want from your life. Make a commitment to yourself to reach this statement.
Habit #3 – Prioritize the right priorities
Covey tells readers to never let their most important priorities fall victim to the least important ones. This means beyond setting priorities, take time to plan to ensure that anything that may put your priorities at risk are dealt with. For example, balancing between personal relationships and work can be tricky. Thus, schedule time to spend with friends and family and do not let work interruptions get scheduled on top of that. Taking more time to plan at the beginning means being able to live more thoughtfully. Instead of constantly reacting to emergencies, you can understand what is expected of you at which times. This will allow you to make the most of the time spent with all the important people in your lives.
Habit #4 – Think win/win
Highly effective individuals focus on building win-win relationships. This helps them cultivate a network of allies. Any other relationship is destructive because it comes at someone’s loss. This can breed hostility and even resentment, which can ultimately lead to enemies. Focusing on building mutually beneficially relationships means that you will not only expand your allies, but it will also strengthen those relationships. These allies will become important to lean on when you are in need. They will also be your advocates to others, which is valuable when building trust with new relationships and when expanding your network.
Habit #5 – Communicate effectively
One thing that Covey reminds us is that communication works both ways. To be effective, we must first seek to understand people. This means taking the time to listen to the other party. In order to forge win/win relationships, effective individuals take the time to learn what success means to the other person. They listen and reflect on what is being said and try to empathize with the other person.
Habit #6 – Cooperate
Effective individuals cooperate with others in ways which yields value that is greater than the sum of the parts. This result is known as synergies. It has a multiplicative effect on the value that those bring into a relationship. An example of a synergy is an arch; arches can hold more weight than using two pillars.
To reach this synergy, effective individuals listen and reflect. They are less likely to react reflexively and or defensively. This gives them the space to cooperate, which allows them to achieve more with the other parties involved.
Habit #7 – Reflect on and repair deficiencies
Highly effective individuals recognize the importance and value of rest and reflection. By taking the time to renew one’s self, they are better prepared and equipped to continue being effective. They do this by supporting their bodies, souls, mind, and heart.
- Highly effective individuals focus on developing strong character rather than personality.
- Making things into a habit is a key for building strong character.
- To understand what to prioritize in life and the type of character you want to be, start at the end and see how far you are from where and who you want to be.
The Seven Habits author Stephen Covey
The late Stephen Covey was an American businessman and professor at Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. He is one of the founders of FranklinCovey, a professional services firm that formed in 1997 as a merger between Stephen R Covey and Associates and Franklin Quest. The company provides leadership training and productivity tools for business leaders. Covey’s legacy includes many awards, including being named Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Americans in 1996.
Related readings to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Getting People Right (GPR) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in human resources and leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional GPR resources below will be useful: