We once asked some members of our league of coaches to list books that had most influence on their personal development. One book that featured prominently on their lists is “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Dotun Sulaiman , Tunde Lemo , Shyngle Wigwe , Pat Utomi
and Bunmi Oni, among others, picked it as their top read. What is it about the book? We present a summary in this edition. Please enjoy.
When faced with defining crises in life and business, most people would rather go for a “microwave“ approach that offers quick and soothing reliefs but merely addresses the issue on the burner at the peripheral and leaves the real problem unresolved. In his seminal and groundbreaking book: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey suggests a more enduring approach to solving every crisis in life, in business and in a career that people might confront at one point or the other: confront the problem headlong through decisions (often tough) that flows from within you.
HABIT 1: BE PROACTIVE
Being proactive is more than taking the initiative. It means taking full responsibility for every aspect of your life (negative, positive, past, present and future). The moment you shift the responsibility for what is happening to you to others, you have missed it. Covey established that no one owes you anything.
Your current circumstance is a product of your past decisions, and to change it, you need to refine your decision making. No one can make you unhappy unless you choose to be unhappy. Everything you would ever need to solve any problem that confronts you is within you or within your reach. You need to develop the capacity to think through every challenge by drawing on the internal forces available to you. The more you do this, the better you can develop your proactive muscles. Here are a few truths about the first habit:
- Stimulus vs Response: There is a gap between every event that happens to you (stimulus) and your reaction to such event (response). Inside that gap is the only freedom you have to turn things around. When someone abuses you, for instance, rather than reacting immediately, the most intelligent thing to do is to pause and process your decisions. That ability to pause brings the power which you should exercise all the time.
- Circle of Concern vs Circle of Influence: One way to demonstrate proactivity is to refuse to focus on your current challenges, which in any case, you have no control over. Rather, you should be solution-driven by focusing on what you can do to solve any of the problems that are within your control. Keep solving them one after the other until your concerns over them disappear. When you focus on your problems, you help to magnify them until they become so big that you cannot see any ray of hope around you. This is a dangerous zone to be, for, at that point, you would be enveloped by a negative aura that can sometimes lead to foolish decisions. But when you are solution-driven, you constantly increase your circle of influence.
HABIT 2: BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND
One core foundation for personal effectiveness is to envision the result of your decisions. When you can see the end clearly from the beginning, you are likely to come up with hypothetical solutions to problems you are likely to meet on the road. You are better off than someone who just plunges into things without knowing where they would end. Things are created twice: first in your mind and then outside. Unless you can see the big picture with your mind eyes, you are likely to get your life messed up, for you would be tossed here and there by events. You would end up becoming a “victim of circumstance” rather than being a “creator of circumstances”. They once asked the late founder of IBM Computers why his company was so successful, and here is the abridged version of his response. He said ever before they opened the shop to customers, they first sat to visualise what the company would look like when it was in its ideal state, and once they had a clear picture of that reality, they now settled down to figure out what they needed to do to close the gap between that ideal state and the current reality of the company, which was a very wide gap then. The truth of the matter was that as they were consciously behaving to conform to the image they had, the company started to move forward at an incredible pace. The same principles are applicable when you have a personal vision. You should be driven by the picture and the image in your head rather than by what is happening around you. Visionary individuals are hardly discouraged or depressed. In addition to having a personal vision, you should also strive to articulate values that would guide your decisions. Values are well processed internal anchors that make it possible to take decisions fast in moments of crisis. When you combine personal vision with deep values in running your life, you are almost unstoppable.
HABIT 3: PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST
Many people have got their lives twisted. They do what they should do first, last, and what they should do last, first. Success cannot result from such lives. Covey writes on four generations of time management theories and why they have not worked. The central fault in all of them is that they seem to organise around activities, whether it is trivial or important. They also seem to believe that you can manage time. Prioritisation is the emphasis here. Everyone has priorities, just like habits, and these priorities differ from person to person. This is not necessarily a bad thing because it helps you to see things from different viewpoints. However, in order to achieve your own objectives, you must develop your own routines and priorities.
HABIT 4: THINK WIN/WIN
There is more than one way of looking at any issue that comes up for deliberation, and the hallmark of Habit 4 is that both parties to an issue can win without anyone feeling a sense of loss. Covey identifies six paradigms of human interactions:
● Win/Win: In this frame of human interaction, the individuals try to come up with points of view and actions that seek mutual benefits. This flows from the mentality of abundance, where individuals believe that the progress of one person does not in any way stop that of the next person.
● Win/Lose: This is an attitude of winner takes all. This is where an individual tries to dominate the other person believing that he must win and the other person must lose. This attitude flows from the mentality of scarcity, where you believe that the progress of others would hinder your own progress.
● Lose/Win: This is a variant of Win/Lose. The difference is that an individual does not have the confidence to push through a particular point of view, deciding rather to transfer the power to the other person.
● Lose/Lose: This occurs when two individuals with a Win/Lose mentality get together. They would be obsessed with scheming to outsmart the other. One person would think the other is his arch-enemy, so he would try everything to do him in. People in this frame of mind have not won the internal battle.
● Win: This is another alternative in human interactions. Here the attitude is to win all the time irrespective of what happens to the other person.
Of all the five variants of interactions, which one is the best?
Covey says it depends, and we tend to agree with him. In some circumstances, depending on your assessment of how you view the relationship, you may choose any of the variants or a combination. The key ingredient is to believe that there is enough for everybody. The truth is that the universe has more than enough in stock to accommodate everybody’s needs. Even though the Win/Win paradigm appears to be the most ideal and it is the habit of interpersonal leadership, it is anchored on the exercise of the unique human endowments: Self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and interdependent will- in sustaining relationships with other people.
HABIT 5: SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN BE UNDERSTOOD
There is a common communication error inherent in most of us: we do not understand that listening is a form of communication. We spend time reading, studying, and talking, but we don’t believe that listening is an act that must be learned if we want to be effective communicators. When you are listening to someone talk, rather than listening to him intently, you are busy processing how to respond to what he is saying. When someone comes to you for counselling, for instance, in most cases, you interrupt them and rush in to provide answers to his concern. The truth is, you have no clue as to the dimension of his problem. That is a big problem for most of us; we are not involved in empathic communication. Character and communication: If you really want to communicate effectively with people, you will need to seek to understand them to see things from their perspective. In dealing with your children, for example, the real lever of influence is your example. Your children learn more from your example than what you say. And so are many people who try to understand you. Emphatic Listening: Consider this statistics as given by Covey, quoting an expert estimate: “only 10 per cent of our communication is represented by the words we say. Another 30 per cent is represented by the words we say. Another 30 per cent is represented by our sounds and 60 per cent by our body”. To communicate emphatically means that you have to involve your own being (your body, your eyes, your ears and your heart) in communicating with another person. That is the best way to seek to understand. When you seek to understand the other person first, and you succeed in doing that, getting that person to understand you become very easy. This is one barrier you must break if you must be effective in communication. You must, however, understand that emphatic listening involves some level of risk in that you become vulnerable when you get involved in it. That is why it is said that you should not migrate into the public victory arena until you have mastered habits 1, 2 and 3 when you have developed unshakable confidence in yourself. Diagnose before you prescribe: Whether you are a businessman or a career professional, you should develop the habit of taking time to listen to your boss or your client before you offer help. You should be a solution provider. Rather than sell products, sell solutions. You can only sell solutions only if you take time to understand the dimensions of the problem of the people. Being a solution provider puts you in a position to influence your customer for life.
HABIT 6: SYNERGISE
Principle of Creative Communication:
Without any controversy, the more you learn how to relate well with others through effective communications, the more interesting it becomes and the more you can get done. At its ultimate, when you have completely mastered yourself, your relationship with other people can produce amazing results; it would produce synergistic outcomes. In simple arithmetic, when you add 1 plus 1, it should give you 2.
In a synergistic relationship, the equation does not work out that way. When you add 1 plus 1, it can produce 20 in a synergistic relationship. This is how Covey defines it: “It means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part. In a synergistic creative relationship, you focus on the strengths and compensate for whatever weaknesses you have. The bedrock of Habit 6, creative communication, is that there is always the third alternative that produces a better result. When you are in a relationship with someone who looks at things differently from your point of view, rather than argues with him, seeks to understand him, look at things from his own point of view and try to construct something from his point of view. You would discover that ultimately, you can come up with the result that satisfies both parties. That is what creative communication is.
HABIT 7: Renewal Sharpen the Saw
Principles of balanced self-renewal: This is the last habit and the one that makes all the difference to all the other six habits. When you get it right here, you will get things fixed in all the six habits, and when you get it wrong, nothing else can work. It is such a powerful habit. It is one habit that hits at the core of your being. Simply put, Habit 7 says you have to take time to shape four key aspects of your life: physical, mental, spiritual and social/emotional.
● Physical: Regular exercise and feeding well.
● Mental Self: Stress management, reading, learning, and writing, as well as visualising and preparing your objectives, are all good ways to start.
● Social/ Emotional: Be empathetic and strive for synergy.
● One’s Spiritual Self: Spiritual reading and research, as well as meditation.
Most people struggle in at least one of these areas, if not all of them. You may believe you don’t have time to devote to these activities, but you only have time if you make time for them. Taking care of yourself physically, spiritually, and emotionally will have a positive impact on every other aspect of your life.
Conclusively, when Covey published this book, he probably had no idea he was kicking off a leadership revolution at business and at home. Covey’s work is at the heart of a body of work that has spawned thousands of publications, some of which have altered the business and management environment forever