Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
In 1989, Stephen Covey changed the world of self-improvement forever when he published his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book quickly became an international bestseller and a go-to resources for anyone who wanted to improve themselves. From top-tier executives to students, Covey’s book was the book to read.
Over 25 years later, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People remains one of the most referenced books in its genre. It set the tone not only for Covey’s second book but for an entirely new genre of literature. Now, Covey’s work is used not just at work but at home. Whether you want to improve relationships with colleagues, managers or have more fruitful social relationships, Covey bestows serious lessons on his readers. These lessons have more or less withstood the test of time and remain relevant as a solid foundation in interpersonal communication today.
In this guide you will learn how to use the 7 habits of highly effective people.
HOW TO USE THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE
Covey centers his book around the average person’s personal and professional habits. This is the focus of the book because it is these habits which make up your character.
Everyone has habits. Some of these habits are good habits, some are bad habits and some habits have little to no impact on your daily life. Too much of the time, people are unaware of their habits. Sometimes you write them off as unchangeable characteristics of your personality but other times you may be entirely unaware that they exist. These habits may be obvious to everyone around you but if you do not sit back and examine them, you find that you have dangerous habits that develop without your full awareness.
Covey’s book focuses not on eliminating bad habits but on building up good ones. For most people, good habits need to be practiced and sharpened. Many good habits must be learned and do not come naturally. They often take more conscious effort than bad habits do.
Changing your habits can change not only the way you see the world but the way the world sees you. You can use the lessons in Covey’s book to help you:
- Taking control of your life
- Making not just better decisions but smarter, strategic ones
- Managing and improving your relationships with family and friends
- Overcome bad habits
- Boost your productivity
- Find a healthy work/life balance
- Be your happiest self
Get a first impression on those 7 habits by looking at the following presentation.
Covey starts the book with three habits which he groups together under the title Private Victory. These habits are more about developing your own habits as an individual. It is important that a private victory comes first because if you are trying to implement change in a team, you must be able to change yourself. This step is preparation for the Habits 4, 5 and 6 which are designed to help you boost your leadership and management skills.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Being proactive is one of the hardest habits to maintain. It is easier to let things come to you and cast off responsibility if you do not get the results that you want. The reason that you need to be proactive is because you are the person who will make the most changes in your life. If you can’t be an active participant in your own life, you cannot expect to lead others.
Being proactive does not mean grabbing life by the horns. It means focusing only on events that are within your realm of control and not worrying about the things that you cannot change. If you develop a habit where you do everything within your power to improve yourself and your situation, you will then be able to go on to get started developing the next six habits.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Once you have decided to gain control of your life, amazing things can happen. However, you still need to make your decisions strategically. Covey suggests that the second habit you develop is to learn how to plan your goals. This habit is a method of psychological creation and when it is mastered, it makes the physical creation of your goals much easier.
Lead yourself towards your goals from the beginning. When you do this, you will find that you can anticipate obstacles and distractions and are able to deal with them effectively. You will also find that you reach your goals much faster because the planning you do will take time off of the work you are required to do. It will often prevent you from wandering down the wrong path. Even if you do venture in the opposite direction at first, it will be much easier to get back on track if you have your goals in mind from the start.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 3 is all about prioritization. Just like habits, everybody has priorities and these priorities vary from person to person. This is not a bad thing because it allows you to gain new perspectives. However, it is essential that you develop your habits and your priorities to meet your own goals.
This follows habit 2 because it is the physical creation of your goals. Learning how to prioritize your activities according to your goals is essential for turning your goals into a reality. Like strategic planning, proper prioritization will help you work more effectively because it cuts out needless work, or at least, puts it off until it is absolutely necessary. According to Covey, prioritization is not about learning how to manage your time. It is about learning how to manage yourself.
Once you have learned how to effectively manage yourself, you can then become an effective manager of others. In the public victory, you can take all that you have learned and begin to apply it to your leadership style.
The basic idea is that when you are an effective individual with the ability to plan, prioritize and pursue opportunities, you can then inspire others to do the same.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
When you were developing the habits that lead to personal victory, you learned how to create a winning situation for yourself. You developed the methods with which you would win and then followed them up with action. You can use these skills to translate that “win” into a public victory. When you are creating a winning scenario in a public setting, you would call it a “win/win.”
A win/win situation is the ideal situation in any public sphere. When one person wins too often while others continue to lose, you will witness the perfect breeding ground for resentment, unhappiness and occasionally anarchy.
Instead of approaching decision making by trying to make the best of the situation, you should approach decisions by creating an opportunity for both sides to win. If there is not any opportunity for both sides to win, you should stop the deal and restart the negotiating process.
Of course, it’s not easy to come up with a deal in which every single party wins. What you can do, however, is create a deal that lets your team know that you are looking out for their interests and your interests equally.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Listening is a key skill in any type of leadership. When most people think about problems with communication, they think about an inability to find the correct words to put into a message to convey a very precise meaning. Even when you find these words, they can be meaningless if the person receiving the message is not really listening.
Learning to listen is hard because it does not seem to serve you at first. Really listening to another person requires you to pay attention to the other person solely to understand their point of view. Listening must be free of the intent to reply, manipulate or convince the person that is speaking.
Listening is one of those habits that needs to be constantly developed. Because it feels counterintuitive to listen to another person just for the sake of empathizing with them, it makes it hard to find the benefit of listening. Covey says that the value of listening is more powerful than many give it credit for because it allows you to gather real data rather than perceived data.
When you are working to solve a problem, it helps immensely to know what the problem is. A common bad habit is not to listen to the problem and only to offer a solution. This is a bad habit that can not only plague your professional life but your personal life as well.
To combat this issue, you need to seek to understand the problem first and foremost. Only when you have affirmed the problem with the speaker can you offer real solutions. Having a clear understanding of the problem will save you a lot of time, a lot of frustration and in the business world, a lot of money.
Habit 6: Synergize
Covey believes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Encouraging positive responses to individual contributions and providing recognition for the individual is an effective habit.
This is in your best interest because when you have a bigger network of effective people working on a problem, you are more likely to come up with a viable, creative solution while expending less energy. The knowhow that each person brings to the table can be fostered to create a scenario in which you do not have several individuals on a team but one team made up of several individuals. The difference may sound pedantic but the results are astounding.
Bringing It Together
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
The final habit encourages you to help every other habit grow and develop. To do this, you need to make sure that your mental, spiritual, physical and social self all have the time and space they need to become regular habits that slowly become integrated into your character.
Covey describes this as self-renewal and he believes that it is this habit that makes everything else possible. To make sure that you cover all four bases, you might consider the following habits:
- Physical Self. Proper exercising and nutrition as well as stress management
- Mental Self. Reading, studying and writing as well as visualizing and planning your goals
- Social Self. Serve others, practice empathy, and work towards synergy
- Spiritual Self. Meditation as well as spiritual reading and study
Most people struggle in at least one, if not all, of these areas. You might think that you do not have time to dedicate to these things but you only have time if you make time. The benefits that you reap from taking care of yourself physically, spiritually and emotionally will spill over into every other facet of your life.
Habit 8: Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Do the Same
In a follow-up book, Covey details an eighth habit that is essential for productivity and good relationships. He believes that leadership is not a necessity but a choice. When you are a real leader, you are making a choice to support your team and help both individuals and the team reach their full potential.
Leadership is all about communication and communication is all about finding a positive and effective voice. Once you have found your own voice, you should use it to create situations where the communication helps to inspire other people to find their voice. When everyone has a voice, it is easier to continue down a path towards a shared vision.
THE 7 HABITS: A SUMMARY
These seven habits are all synergistic and each of them complement each other in different ways. Thinking about developing these habits becomes easier when you consider them to be a part of two major habits: taking action and organized planning.
Habit 1. When you develop habit 1, you are committing to taking action by being proactive about your life. When you begin to take responsibility for your life and how you experience it, you are making both a physical and mental choice to regain control over your experience.
Habit 3. When you choose to prioritize the actions that help further your goals, you are taking decisive actions. Habit 3 helps support habit 1 because while it is important to be proactive, it is equally important to act upon the things that will help get you there.
Habit 5. Learning to listen first may not sound like you are taking action. However, active listening is one of the most important active choices that you can make. Active listening sets you up not only for further planning but also for further action. It cuts out redundancies and makes your team feel valued. It is astonishing what kind of difference you can make when you choose to listen to those around you.
Habit 6. Working on your team’s synergy is the ultimate way to take action in a group. It is important to remember that you cannot throw together a bunch of string instruments to create an orchestra. If the players do not have synergy, they are just people who happen to be playing complementary sheet music. When you reach that synergy, you are more likely to reach greatness.
Habit 7. Habit 7 is all about taking action to protect yourself. Making conscious choices to care for yourself will help you make conscious choices to care for others.
Habit 2. In habit 2, you learn to define your goals and your mission in life. This is an integral part of the planning process because you cannot create a set of directions if you do not have a final destination in mind.
Habit 4. When you learn to think in terms of a “win-win” scenario, you learn to plan for several possibilities. Committing to a “win-win” decision is important because it helps everyone on the team feel valued. Learning to prioritize the health of the team over the health of the individual takes serious planning, compromise and flexibility.
When Stephen Covey wrote this book, it is doubtful that he realized that he would begin a leadership revolution both at work and at home. Covey’s work is at the center of an oeuvre that has developed into thousands of books, some of which have changed the entire business and management landscape.
Despite the huge number of books that have been written and published since The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it remains a book that people return to again and again. Because as the key message of the book suggests, you must master certain basic habits before you can move on to bigger and brighter things. Covey serves up these basic lessons on a highly informative and emotionally moving platter.