When I was in my first official leadership role, one of my team members recommended a book to me. I first viewed this book with some skepticism as it came with a recommendation that included the phrase “life-changing.” However, wanting to be a leader who was open to input from his team members and also striving to be a lifelong student, I picked up a copy of the highly acclaimed book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. Needless to say, my esteemed colleague was not exaggerating. The principles and practices shared within the pages of the book have the potential of being life-changing if the reader is committed to making it so. Please join me in exploring how messages within its pages can have such a profound effect. Afterward, please share your own thoughts.
One of the first things that struck me as I began reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” was the two-stage progression from dependence to independence – or the private victory – and then from independence to interdependence – or the public victory. I had heard for years that we cannot hope to lead others until we can lead ourselves, or that we can’t master external skills until we learn to master what is within us. However, I had never thought of it in terms of moving from a state of dependence to one of independence in which I would then have the strength to contribute and more fully receive from others. I learned that the key to moving through this progression, dependence to interdependence, would be to learn, initially develop and continuously refine the seven habits in my life.
Learning and Implementing the 7 Habits
In the past almost 30 years since I was first introduced to this book, I have found that my biggest challenge has been to consistently live the first habit, which is to be proactive. The difficulty for me, and I’ve heard for many others, is implementing the two most fundamental disciplines of this habit, i.e. exercising my freedom to choose rather than just reacting to every stimulus that comes my way, and focusing on my circle of control rather than my circle of influence or my circle of concern. It is all too easy to surrender to bad habits and their older and more threatening sibling – addictions. Through habit one, I’ve learned that living a proactive life is like a chess match. Success comes with planning several moves ahead based on your strategy and the anticipated moves of your opponent (or life) and then adjusting as reality unfolds. Herein comes the importance of habit two, which is to begin with the end in mind.
The key to a solid proactive strategy and wise responses to ever-changing reality is to begin with the end in mind.
In other words, have clarity about your personal vision, mission and values. I’ve personally applied this and it has made all the difference in the world for me.
Habit three instructs us to put first things first. This makes me think of the old adage, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” You may ask what that habit has to do with plans going wrong. Well, as pointed out in the book “Execution” by Bossidy and Charan, the thing that most often goes wrong with well-laid plans is poor prioritizing. However, if my execution stays true to my vision, mission and values, I am more successful regardless of what barriers Murphy’s Law places in my way.
It’s interesting and yet so profound that the first habit leading to public victory should be focused on our hearts and minds being in the right place. Habit four states to think win-win. I may master myself, but if that private victory leads to selfishness then I will never achieve the full potential available to those who become interdependent with their fellow-beings. The key to this habit is to abandon the scarcity mindset and realize there is more than enough to go around if we work together with others to create new opportunities and increasing harvests.
With habit five, seek first to understand, then to be understood, I have found one of the most powerful and important principles and practices of effective leadership is to listen to open two-way communications.
Dr. Covey equates listening first to providing the other person in the discussion with psychological air. How true.
When I start by listening, I create a safe environment for my communication partner and I set the tone for a shared exchange of important information, including facts and perspectives. (See “Crucial Conversations” from the VitalSmarts group.) This lays the foundation for habit six: synergize.
Synergizing or achieving the state in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, such as a high-performance team, requires the consistent and continuous application of the preceding five habits. In addition, it requires a firm conviction that such a concept exists. If you doubt it, just take a look at quantum physics or quantum mechanics. It is happening all the time in the world around us and within us at macro and micro levels. The only thing that limits any of us from tapping into this shared exponential energy is our unwillingness to believe in the potential, develop the required habits and act in unity with others.
In the end, as the seventh habit of sharpening the saw so clearly points out, this is a never-ending process of renewal and refinement. It is a process of continuous self-reflection, re-calibration, life learning and action at a new level.
The only question that remains is whether or not each of us is willing to be more effective in any or all aspects of our lives. If so, then we need to learn and live “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It is something we try to do each day at England Logistics.
As a Talent Management/HR executive with over 20 years of talent and human resource management experience, I strive to deliver value generating services to internal and external clients. This has provided me with the ability to lead or influence people in developing solutions to achieve higher levels of measurable success. My professional interests are targeted toward helping clients achieve their optimum performance through people solutions.