Book review: ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

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Book review: ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

Steven Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989. It was the first book of its type, almost starting a new genre – the self-help book.

Now 30 years later the book remains a favourite. And for good reason – the lessons are timeless and can be applied to all aspects of your life – business, personal, professional. For me, it works because the central premise of the book is about our everyday habits and how these habits make up the person we are. It explores the idea that we see the world based on our own perceptions and biases, and if we want to change ourselves, our behaviours, we have to be able to modify our perceptions.

Habits can be good and bad

We all have good habits and bad habits. Some habits we are aware of, and others we are blissfully unaware of unless someone points them out. Or you can use Covey’s methods to uncover your subconscious habits. In looking at our habits though – unlike many other tomes in this space – Covey focuses on how you can build up your good habits to overtake your bad ones, rather than trying to eliminate bad habits in isolation. He also acknowledges how many good habits do not necessarily come naturally and they have to be learned. To be effective you have to tap into your values.

This strength-based approach is what I always gravitate to as a coach. Generally, business people have all the answers inside them, they just need the tools to uncover the potential of them.

Unlike current self-help books, it doesn’t promise a quick fix that may only serve to hide or band-aid the problems. Instead, Covey guides you through a process that for some of us will take some time to get through! The first three steps centre on mastery of your ‘private victory’ which he claims are essential steps before being able to take action teams at work or in your business.

The seven habits 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
  7. Sharpen the saw

Habit 1: Be proactive

This is the ability to control one’s environment, rather than have it control you, as is so often the case. Self-determination, choice, and the power to decide how you respond to stimulus, conditions and circumstances. Do you accept responsibility for your actions?

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

Covey calls this the habit of personal leadership – leading oneself towards what you consider your aims. By developing the habit of concentrating on relevant activities you will build a platform to avoid distractions and become more productive and successful. What do you want to be said at your funeral?

Habit 3: Put first things first

Covey calls this the habit of personal management. This is about organising and implementing activities in line with the aims established in habit 2. Covey says that habit 2 is the first or mental creation; habit 3 is the second, or physical creation. Are you spending time with people that matter?

Habit 4: Think win–win

Covey calls this the habit of interpersonal leadership, necessary because achievements are largely dependent on cooperative efforts with others. He says that win–win is based on the assumption that there is plenty for everyone. How do you develop a cooperative approach?

Habit 5: Seek first to understand and then to be understood

One of the great maxims of the modern age. This is Covey’s habit of communication, and it’s extremely powerful. Covey helps to explain this in his simple analogy ‘diagnose before you prescribe’. It’s simple and effective, and essential for developing and maintaining positive relationships in all aspects of life. Are you genuinely listening?

Habit 6: Synergize

Covey says this is the habit of creative cooperation – the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which implicitly lays down the challenge to see the good and potential in the other person’s contribution. What are the third alternatives?

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

This is the habit of self-renewal and it necessarily surrounds all the other habits, enabling and encouraging them to happen and grow. Covey interprets the self into four parts: the spiritual, mental, physical and social/emotional, which all need feeding and developing. Are you making time for self-improvement?

With this book and his follow-up book (The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness) which includes the habit ‘Find your voice and inspire others’, Covey probably did not understand the revolution he started.

Yet despite the huge number of books that have been written since on similar topics, you can return to this book again and again to sharpen your saw!