Title: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Author: Stephen R. Covey, Wikipedia Bio
Topic: Personal Leadership
ISBN-10: 9780671708634
Purchase: Half.com ($2.88), Amazon.com ($5.30)
My Rating: ★★★★★

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“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

I chose to read 7 Habits because of all the positive reviews it received.  It is a modern classic and I was curious to see what all of the hype was about.  I began reading with the expectation that the book would be excellent.  In my mind, I placed it alongside such works as Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager, or John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  I believe it surpassed my expectations!  Below is a quick summary of each of the habits and some of my thoughts:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 1 is about taking initiative and responsibility.  It’s about living out preventive maintenance and solving problems before they become problems.  In my own experience being able to be proactive and know what someone needs before they do is an invaluable skill and earns a lot of points!  As an engineer or designer, being able to predict problems in the design stage can save millions of dollars in redesign and recalls.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
In your own life, where are you going?  If you are the leader of an organization, where are you taking your followers; what is the vision?  Covey also touches on the difference between leadership and management.  The manager asks, how fast can we cut down this forest?  The leader asks, is this the right forest?   Last he talks about what is at the center of our lives.  Covey writes, “Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power.”  Have the right thing at the center.

Habit 3: Put First Things First
Goethe says, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”  Covey makes a convicting distinction between what is urgent and what is important.  A telephone ringing is urgent, but the person sitting in your office is much more important.  Covey argues that we spend too much time on things that are urgent but not important.  Do we know what is important in our lives?  What would we miss if it was suddenly gone or, what would we regret not doing if our chance has passed?

Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Covey talks about stubbornly seeking to find solutions that are wins for both parties (like Scott Lang).  This solution is often difficult to see at first and requires cooperation from both sides to find.  I envision it as two people writing the problem on a white board and looking at it together instead of arguing with each other across a table. (great complementary book which expands on these principles titled, Difficult Conversations)

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
For me this was one of the most easily applied chapters.  It is easy to tell if you are trying to impose understanding on someone else before you have understood them.  This chapter talks about our own stories which we fit all of our experiences into.  Many times other people and their stories do not fit!  I have told many of my friends that his habit is a game changer.  Cliche jargon aside, I do believe that this can have an immediate impact on your relationships.  If you can set your story aside, especially if angry, and seek first to see where the other person is coming from, you’d be amazed at the results.  Update: I have written a blog post dedicated to this chapter here: Listening From a Learning Perspective

Habit 6: Synergize
Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  A team’s capability is greater than the capabilities of each team member separately.  I have studied synergy before but this chapter is one of the most profound resources on the topic I have found so far.  When combined with Win/Win it’s an unstoppable combination.  Covey also makes an interesting point about valuing the differences between people.  Covey writes, “The person who is truly effective has the humility and reverence to recognize his own perceptual limitations and to appreciate the rich resources available through interaction with the hearts and minds of other human beings.  That person values the differences because those differences adds to their knowledge, to their understanding of reality.”

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Sharpen the saw is about taking a break once in a while and refueling the tank.  I believe humans were designed to operate like this.  That is why God gave us a sabbath.  Covey encourages taking time to reflect and internalize the happenings of your day/week. 


Myths

Don’t get trapped into thinking that because 7 Habits is popular it isn’t good (that’s Twilight).  It’s popular because it contains things worth knowing.

It is just another “self-help” book and should be avoided.  This is an assumed constraint.  I challenge you to try it yourself and then judge if it’s advice is “useless self-help nonsense.”  Also we all need help, sometimes we’re the only ones who can help ourselves!

The book is not worthy of your time because the ideas are common sense.  Covey makes this point throughout the book; the ideas contained in 7 Habits are principles which weave themselves throughout all of history.  Many of them are common sense, but just because they are simple ideas does not mean they are easily practiced.  It will take anyone many years to become proficient at these habits, we can use all the reminders we can get.

Because you’ve read this review (or any) you understand the principles of 7 Habits!  The book was very dense and I had to resist the urge to write down every sentence.  If you’re interested read the whole book not just spark notes!

For a second opinion on 7 Habits check out the highest rated reader review on Amazon.com.

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