The world has changed dramatically since The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was first published in 1989. Life is more complex, more stressful, more demanding. We have transitioned from the Industrial Age to the Information/ Knowledge Worker Age – with profound consequences.
We face challenges and problems in our personal lives, our families and our organizations unimagined even one or two decades ago. These sweeping changes in society and rumbling shifts in the digitized global market place give rise to a very important question: “Are the 7 Habits still relevant today?” And, for that matter, “Will they be relevant 10, 20, 50 or 100 years from now?” Stephen R Covey’s answer: “The greater the change and more difficult our challenges, the more relevant the habits become. How you apply a principle will vary greatly and will be determined by your unique strengths, talents and creativity but, ultimately, success in any endeavour is always derived from acting in harmony with the principles to which the success is tied.”
The 7 Habits: An Overview
Our character is a composite of our habits, which form a powerful factor in our lives. Because habits are consistent, unconscious patterns, they constantly express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Habits also have a tremendous gravity pull.
Breaking deeply imbedded, habitual tendencies such as procrastination, impatience, criticalness or selfishness that violate basic human principles of human effectiveness involves more than a little will power and a few minor changes in our lives.
A habit is the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire:
•Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why.
•Skill is the how to do.
•Desire is the motivation, the want to do.
Knowing you need to listen and knowing how to listen are not enough. Unless you want to listen, it won’t be a habit. Creating a habit requires work in all three dimensions. By working on knowledge, skills and desire, we can break through to new levels of personal and interpersonal effectiveness as we break from old paradigms.
The maturity continuum
On the maturity continuum, dependence is the paradigm of you – you take care of me; you come through for me, you didn’t come through; I blame you for the results. Independence is the paradigm of I – I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose. Interdependence is the paradigm of we – we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities, and create something greater together.
True independence of character allows us to act rather than be acted upon. It frees us from our dependence on circumstances and other people, and is a worthy, liberating goal. But it is not the ultimate goal in effective living. Interdependence is a more mature, advanced concept. As an interdependent person, you have the opportunity to share yourself with others and have access to the vast resources and potential of other human beings. Interdependence is a choice only independent people can make. Dependent people cannot choose to become interdependent. They don’t own enough of themselves. That’s why Habits 1, 2 and 3 deal with self mastery. As you become truly independent, you have the foundation for effective interdependence.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Being proactive means more than taking initiative. It means we are responsible for our own lives. Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. “Responseability” is the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people do not blame circumstances, conditions or conditioning for their behaviour.
Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of those conditions, based on feeling. Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance. Proactive people carry their own weather with them. They are still influenced by external stimuli, but their response, conscious or unconscious, is a value-based response or choice.
Taking the initiative
Taking initiative does not mean being pushy, obnoxious or aggressive, but recognizing your responsibility to make things happen. People who end up with good jobs are the proactive ones; they are solutions to problems, not problems themselves. They seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, to be consistent with correct principles and to get the job done.
Act or be acted upon
If you wait to be acted upon, you will be acted upon. Language, for example, is a real indicator of the degree to which you see yourself as a proactive person. The language of reactive people absolves them of responsibility. A serious problem with reactive language is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Examples of reactive language are: There’s nothing I can do; That’s just the way I am; I have to do that; and I can’t. On the other hand, proactive language takes responsibility. Examples are: Let’s look at our alternatives; I can choose a different approach; I control my own feelings; and I will.
Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence
We each have a wide range of concerns – health, children, problems at work, the national debt and nuclear war. We could separate those from things in which we have no mental or emotional involvement by creating a “Circle of Concern”. Within our Circle of Concern are some things over which we have no control and some we can do something about. We could identify those in the latter group as within our Circle of Influence. Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence.
The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase. Reactive people focus their efforts on the Circle of Concern, which results in blaming, accusing attitudes and increasing feelings of victimization, causing their Circle of Influence to shrink.
Direct, indirect and no control
The problems we face fall in one of three areas:
1 Direct control problems are solved by working on our habits, which are within our Circle of Influence. These are the “Private Victories” of Habits 1, 2 and 3.
2 Indirect control problems are solved by changing our methods of influence. These are the “Public Victories” of Habits 4, 5, 6 and 7.
3 No control problems involve taking responsibility to smile, to genuinely and peacefully accept and learn to live with these problems, even when we don’t like them.
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. You need to know where you are going in order to better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction. It’s easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. “Begin with the end in mind” is based on the principle that all things are created twice.
There is a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation. Look at a business: If you want to have a successful enterprise, you must clearly define what you’re trying to accomplish. The extent to which you begin with the end in mind often determines whether or not you are able to create a successful enterprise.
Leadership and Management – Two Creations
Habit 2 is based on principles of personal leadership, which means leadership is the first creation. Leadership is not management. Management is the second creation. Management is a bottom-line focus: how can I best accomplish certain things? Leadership deals with the top line: what are the things I want to accomplish?
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Take a few minutes and write down a short answer to each of these two questions:
1.What one thing could you do (that you aren’t doing now) that if you did on a regular basis would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?
2.What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?
Habit 3 is the practical fulfilment of Habits 1 and 2. Habit 1 says, “You are the creator. You are in charge.” Habit 2 is the first mental creation, based on imagination, the ability to envision what you can become. Habit 3 is the second creation, the physical creation. It’s the exercise of independent will toward becoming principle-cantered.
The power of independent will
Independent will makes effective self-management possible. It is the ability to make decisions and choices and act in accordance with them. It is the ability to act rather than be acted upon, to proactively carry out the program you have developed through the other three endowments. Effective management is putting first things first. While leadership decides what “first things” are, it is management that puts them first, day by day, moment by moment. Management is discipline carrying them out. If you are an effective manager of yourself, your discipline comes from within; it is a function of your independent will.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Win/Win is not a technique; it’s a total philosophy and one of the six paradigms of human interaction. The other paradigms are: Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose, Win, and Win/Win or No Deal.
• Win/Win. This is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.
• Win/Lose. In leadership style, it is the authoritarian approach: “I get my way, you don’t get yours.”
• Lose/Win. This is worse than Win/Lose because it has no standards, no demands, no vision. In leadership, it’s permissiveness or indulgence, being a nice guy, even if “nice guys finish last.”
• Lose/Lose. When two Win/Lose people get together, the result is Lose/Lose. Both will become vindictive and want to get back at each other.
• Win. People with this mentality don’t necessarily want someone else to lose. What matters most is that they get what they want.
• Win/Win or No Deal. If we can’t find a solution that benefits us both, we agree to disagree agreeably.
Which Option Is Best? Most situations are part of an interdependent reality, and then Win/Win is the only viable alternative of the five. Think of Win/Win as the bait of interpersonal leadership. Character is the foundation of Win/Win. There are three character traits essential to the Win/Win paradigm:
• Integrity. The value you place on yourself.
• Maturity. The balance between courage and consideration.
• Abundance mentality. There is plenty out there for everyone.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood
“Seek first to understand” involves a deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Instead, most people listen to the reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. Empathic listening is listening with the intent to understand. Empathic listening is powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. It takes time, but nowhere near the time that it takes to back up and correct misunderstandings when you’re already miles down the road.
As you learn to listen deeply to other people, you will discover tremendous differences in perception. You will also begin to appreciate the impact these differences can have as people try to work together in interdependent situations.
Knowing how to be understood is the second half of Habit 5 and equally critical to reaching Win/Win solutions. Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood takes courage. Win/Win requires a high degree of both. So it becomes important in interdependent situations for us to be understood. There are three words that contain the essence of seeking first to understand and making effective presentations:
•Ethos – your personal credibility, the trust you inspire.
•Pathos – your empathic side, showing you are in alignment with the emotional thrust of another person’s communication.
•Logos – the reasoning part of the presentation.
Habit 5 is powerful because it is right in the middle of your Circle of Influence. You can always seek first to understand. That’s something within your control. And as you do it, your Circle of Influence begins to expand. Habit 5 is also something you can practice right now.
Habit 6: Synergize
Exercising all the other habits prepares us for the habit of synergy. When properly understood, synergy is the highest activity in all life – the true test and manifestation of all the other habits put together. The highest forms of synergy focus the four unique human endowments, the motive of Win/Win and the skills of empathic communication on the toughest challenges we face in life. What results is almost miraculous. We create new alternatives. Synergy is the essence of principle-cantered leadership.
It catalyses, unifies and unleashes the greatest powers within people. Simply defined, synergy means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship the parts have to one another is a part in and of itself. And it is not only a part, but the most catalytic and most empowering.
Synergy and communication
Synergy is exciting. Creativity is exciting. It’s phenomenal what openness and communication can produce. The possibilities of significant gain and improvement are so real that it’s worth the risk such openness entails. Trust is closely related to different levels of communication: defensive, respectful and synergistic.
•Defensive. The lowest level of communication coming out of low-trust situations would be characterized by defensiveness, protectiveness and often legalistic language, which covers all the bases and spells out qualifiers and the escape clause. Such communication only produces Win/Lose or Lose/Lose. It isn’t effective, creating further reasons to defend and protect.
•Respectful. The middle position is respectful communication, a level where fairly mature people interact. They communicate politely but not empathically. They may understand each other intellectually, but they really don’t deeply look at the paradigms and assumptions underlying their own positions and become open to new possibilities. Respectful communication works in independent situations, but the creative possibilities are not opened up. Compromise is the position usually taken, meaning that 1+1=1½. Both give and take. It produces a low form of Win/Win.
•Synergistic. Synergy means that 1+1 may equal 3, 5, 10 or 100. The synergistic position of high trust produces solutions better than any originally proposed, and all parties know it. They also genuinely enjoy the creative enterprise.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Suppose you were to come up on someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. “What are you doing?” you ask. “Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.” “You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?” “Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.” “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.” “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!” Habit 7 is about taking time to sharpen the saw. It surrounds the other habits on the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible.
Four dimensions of renewal
Essentially Habit 7 is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you. It’s renewing the four dimensions of your nature: physical, spiritual, mental and social/emotional.
Physical – exercise, nutrition, stress management.
The essence of renewing the physical dimension is to sharpen the saw, to exercise our bodies on a regular basis in a way that will preserve and enhance our capacity to work, adapt and enjoy.
Spiritual – value clarification and commitment, study and meditation.
Renewing the spiritual dimension provides leadership to your life. It’s highly related to Habit 2. This dimension is your core, your centre and your commitment to your value system. It’s a very private area of life and a supremely important one. Spiritual renewal takes an investment of time.
Mental—reading, visualizing, planning, writing.
Most of our mental development and study discipline comes through formal education. But as soon as we leave the external discipline of school, many of us let our minds atrophy. We don’t do any more serious reading, we don’t explore new subjects in any real depth outside our actions fields, we don’t think analytically, we don’t write, at least not critically or in a way that tests our ability to express ourselves. Instead, we spend our time watching TV. Wisdom in watching TV requires the effective self-management of Habit 3, which enables you to discriminate and select the informing, inspiring and entertaining programs that best serve and express your purpose and values.
Social/emotional – service, empathy, synergy, intrinsic security.
This dimension centres on Habits 4, 5 and 6 – principles of interpersonal leadership, empathic communication and creative cooperation. Renewing our social/emotional dimension does not take time in the same sense that the other dimensions do. We can do it in our normal everyday interactions with other people. It definitely requires exercise.
Success in Habits 4, 5 and 6 is not primarily a matter of intellect; it is primarily a matter of emotion. It’s highly related to our sense of personal security. If our personal security comes from sources within ourselves, then we have the strength to practice the habits of Public Victory. By cantering our lives on correct principles and creating a balanced focus between doing and increasing our ability to do, we become empowered in the task of creating effective, useful and peaceful lives for ourselves, and for our posterity.”