Summary of Stephen R. Covey's
The 7 Habits of Highly
In his #1 bestseller,
Stephen R. Covey presented a framework for personal effectiveness. The
following is a summary of the first part of his book, concluding with a
list of the seven habits.
Change Starts from Within
While working on his
doctorate in the 1970's, Stephen R. Covey reviewed 200 years of
literature on success. He noticed that since the 1920's, success
writings have focused on solutions to specific problems. In some cases
such tactical advice may have been effective, but only for immediate
issues and not for the long-term, underlying ones. The success
literature of the last half of the 20th century largely attributed
success to personality traits, skills, techniques, maintaining a
positive attitude, etc. This philosophy can be referred to as the Personality
However, during the 150
years or so that preceded that period, the literature on success was
more character oriented. It emphasized the deeper principles and
foundations of success. This philosophy is known as the Character
Ethic, under which success is attributed more to underlying
characteristics such as integrity, courage, justice, patience, etc.
The elements of the
Character Ethic are primary traits while those of the Personality Ethic
are secondary. While secondary traits may help one to play the game to
succeed in some specific circumstances, for long-term success both are
necessary. One's character is what is most visible in long-term
relationships. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "What you are shouts
so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say."
To illustrate the
difference between primary and secondary traits, Covey offers the
following example. Suppose you are in Chicago and are using a map to
find a particular destination in the city. You may have excellent
secondary skills in map reading and navigation, but will never find your
destination if you are using a map of Detroit. In this example, getting
the right map is a necessary primary element before your secondary
skills can be used effectively.
The problem with
relying on the Personality Ethic is that unless the basic underlying
paradigms are right, simply changing outward behaviour is not effective.
We see the world based on our perspective, which can have a dramatic
impact on the way we perceive things. For example, many experiments have
been conducted in which two groups of people are shown two different
drawings. One group is shown, for instance, a drawing of a young,
beautiful woman and the other group is shown a drawing of an old, frail
woman. After the initial exposure to the pictures, both groups are shown
one picture of a more abstract drawing. This drawing actually contains
the elements of both the young and the old woman. Almost invariably,
everybody in the group that was first shown the young woman sees a young
woman in the abstract drawing, and those who were shown the old woman
see an old woman. Each group was convinced that it had objectively
evaluated the drawing. The point is that we see things not as they are,
but as we are conditioned to see them. Once we understand the importance
of our past conditioning, we can experience a paradigm shift in the way
we see things. To make large changes in our lives, we must work on the
basic paradigms through which we see the world.
The Character Ethic
assumes that there are some absolute principles that exist in all human
beings. Some examples of such principles are fairness, honesty,
integrity, human dignity, quality, potential, and growth. Principles
contrast with practices in that practices are for specific situations
whereas principles have universal application.
The Seven Habits of
Highly Effective People presents an "inside-out" approach
to effectiveness that is centred on principles and character. Inside-out
means that the change starts within oneself. For many people, this
approach represents a paradigm shift away from the Personality Ethic and
toward the Character Ethic.
The Seven Habits - An Overview
Our character is a
collection of our habits, and habits have a powerful role in our lives.
Habits consist of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge allows us to
know what to do, skill gives us the ability to know how to do it, and
desire is the motivation to do it.
The Seven Habits move
us through the following stages:
- Dependence: the
paradigm under which we are born, relying upon others to take care
- Independence: the
paradigm under which we can make our own decisions and take care of
- Interdependence: the
paradigm under which we cooperate to achieve something that cannot
be achieved independently.
Much of the success
literature today tends to value independence, encouraging people to
become liberated and do their own thing. The reality is that we are
interdependent, and the independent model is not optimal for use in an
interdependent environment that requires leaders and team players.
To make the choice to
become interdependent, one first must be independent, since dependent
people have not yet developed the character for interdependence.
Therefore, the first three habits focus on self-mastery, that is,
achieving the private victories required to move from dependence to
independence. The first three habits are:
- Habit 1: Be
- Habit 2: Begin with
the End in Mind
- Habit 3: Put First
Habits 4, 5, and 6 then
- Habit 4: Think
- Habit 5: Seek First
to Understand, Then to Be Understood
- Habit 6: Synergize
Finally, the seventh
habit is one of renewal and continual improvement, that is, of building
one's personal production capability. To be effective, one must find the
proper balance between actually producing and improving one's capability
to produce. Covey illustrates this point with the fable of the goose and
the golden egg.
In the fable, a poor
farmer's goose began laying a solid gold egg every day, and the farmer
soon became rich. He also became greedy and figured that the goose must
have many golden eggs within her. In order to obtain all of the eggs
immediately, he killed the goose. Upon cutting it open he discovered
that it was not full of golden eggs. The lesson is that if one attempts
to maximize immediate production with no regard to the production
capability, the capability will be lost. Effectiveness is a function of
both production and the capacity to produce.
The need for balance
between production and production capability applies to physical,
financial, and human assets. For example, in an organization the person
in charge of a particular machine may increase the machine's immediate
production by postponing scheduled maintenance. As a result of the
increased output, this person may be rewarded with a promotion. However,
the increased immediate output comes at the expense of future production
since more maintenance will have to be performed on the machine later.
The person who inherits the mess may even be blamed for the inevitable
downtime and high maintenance expense.
Customer loyalty also
is an asset to which the production and production capability balance
applies. A restaurant may have a reputation for serving great food, but
the owner may decide to cut costs and lower the quality of the food.
Immediately, profits will soar, but soon the restaurant's reputation
will be tarnished, the customer's trust will be lost, and profits will
This does not mean that
only production capacity is important. If one builds capacity but never
uses it, there will be no production. There is a balance between
building production capacity and actually producing. Finding the right
trade-off is central to one's effectiveness.
The above has been an
introduction and overview of the 7 Habits. The following introduces the
first habit in Covey's framework.
FROM DEPENDENCE TO INDEPENDENCE
Habit 1: Be Proactive
A unique ability that
sets humans apart from animals is self-awareness and the ability to
choose how we respond to any stimulus. While conditioning can have a
strong impact on our lives, we are not determined by it. There are three
widely accepted theories of determinism: genetic, psychic, and
environmental. Genetic determinism says that our nature is coded into
our DNA, and that our personality traits are inherited from our
grandparents. Psychic determinism says that our upbringing determines
our personal tendencies, and that emotional pain that we felt at a young
age is remembered and affects the way we behave today. Environmental
determinism states that factors in our present environment are
responsible for our situation, such as relatives, the national economy,
etc. These theories of determinism each assume a model in which the
stimulus determines the response.
Viktor Frankl was a
Jewish psychiatrist who survived the death camps of Nazi Germany. While
in the death camps, Frankl realized that he alone had the power to
determine his response to the horror of the situation. He exercised the
only freedom he had in that environment by envisioning himself teaching
students after his release. He became an inspiration for others around
him. He realized that in the middle of the stimulus-response model,
humans have the freedom to choose.
Animals do not have
this independent will. They respond to a stimulus like a computer
responds to its program. They are not aware of their programming and do
not have the ability to change it. The model of determinism was
developed based on experiments with animals and neurotic people. Such a
model neglects our ability to choose how we will respond to stimuli.
We can choose to be
reactive to our environment. For example, if the weather is good, we
will be happy. If the weather is bad, we will be unhappy. If people
treat us well, we will feel well; if they don't, we will feel bad and
become defensive. We also can choose to be proactive and not let our
situation determine how we will feel. Reactive behaviour can be a
self-fulfilling prophecy. By accepting that there is nothing we can do
about our situation, we in fact become passive and do nothing.
The first habit of
highly effective people is pro-activity. Proactive people are
driven by values that are independent of the weather or how people treat
them. Ghandi said, "They cannot take away our self respect if we do
not give it to them." Our response to what happened to us affects
us more than what actually happened. We can choose to use difficult
situations to build our character and develop the ability to better
handle such situations in the future.
Proactive people use
their resourcefulness and initiative to find solutions rather than just
reporting problems and waiting for other people to solve them.
Being proactive means
assessing the situation and developing a positive response for it.
Organizations can be proactive rather than be at the mercy of their
environment. For example, a company operating in an industry that is
experiencing a downturn can develop a plan to cut costs and actually use
the downturn to increase market share.
Once we decide to be
proactive, exactly where we focus our efforts becomes important. There
are many concerns in our lives, but we do not always have control over
them. One can draw a circle that represents areas of concern, and a
smaller circle within the first that represents areas of control.
Proactive people focus their efforts on the things over which they have
influence, and in the process often expand their area of influence.
Reactive people often focus their efforts on areas of concern over which
they have no control. Their complaining and negative energy tend to
shrink their circle of influence.
In our area of concern,
we may have direct control, indirect control, or no control at all. We
have direct control over problems caused by our own behaviour. We can
solve these problems by changing our habits. We have indirect control
over problems related to other people's behaviour. We can solve these
problems by using various methods of human influence, such as empathy,
confrontation, example, and persuasion. Many people have only a few
basic methods such as fight or flight. For problems over which we have
no control, first we must recognize that we have no control, and then
gracefully accept that fact and make the best of the situation.
SUMMARY OF THE SEVEN
Habit 1: Be
Change starts from
within, and highly effective people make the decision to improve their
lives through the things that they can influence rather than by simply
reacting to external forces.
Habit 2: Begin
with the End in Mind
principle-centred personal mission statement. Extend the mission
statement into long-term goals based on personal principles.
Habit 3: Put
First Things First
Spend time doing what
fits into your personal mission, observing the proper balance between
production and building production capacity. Identify the key roles that
you take on in life, and make time for each of them.
Habit 4: Think
Seek agreements and
relationships that are mutually beneficial. In cases where a
"win/win" deal cannot be achieved, accept the fact that
agreeing to make "no deal" may be the best alternative. In
developing an organizational culture, be sure to reward win/win behaviour
among employees and avoid inadvertently rewarding win/lose behaviour.
Habit 5: Seek
First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
First seek to
understand the other person, and only then try to be understood. Stephen
Covey presents this habit as the most important principle of
interpersonal relations. Effective listening is not simply echoing what
the other person has said through the lens of one's own experience.
Rather, it is putting oneself in the perspective of the other person,
listening empathically for both feeling and meaning.
Habit 6: Synergize
communication, find ways to leverage individual differences to create a
whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Through mutual trust
and understanding, one often can solve conflicts and find a better
solution than would have been obtained through either person's own
Habit 7: Sharpen
Take time out from
production to build production capacity through personal renewal of the
physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Maintain a
balance among these dimensions.