The Enduring Wisdom of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
If you ask successful businesspeople to recommend one book that has been a key influence on their lives and careers, chances are many of them would name Steven R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
A highly effective book
Originally published in 1989, the book has achieved long-lasting bestseller status, remaining on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 200 weeks after its initial publication and selling more than 40 million copies. Called “the #1 Most Influential Business Book of the 20th Century,” The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has served as a mainstay of countless business leadership training courses for more than 30 years.
Covey, a leadership and management expert, passed away in 2012, but he continues to share his wisdom with us through his original book and those that followed. Readers from all backgrounds, occupations, and personal perspectives — including presidents, celebrities, well-known CEOs, and millions of front-line employees and educators — have found life-changing advice within his writings.
There’s one simple reason why so many people have made Covey’s 7 Habits part of their lives: they work.
Leading with character
One of the book’s most meaningful points is the important role a leader’s character plays in their success. Stephen Covey had originally wanted to title the book Restoring the Character Ethic, but (perhaps fortunately) he went with a clearer and catchier name instead. His son Sean Covey, who now leads FranklinCovey, the publishing and training firm his father built, has opined that the 7 Habits are so popular because of their universality. They not only encapsulate sound logistical advice on succeeding in business, but they offer guidance on the value of developing honesty, integrity, and reliability as ethical — and highly useful — character traits in any life or leadership situation.
Covey didn’t offer a prescriptive or uniform list of rules that everyone had to follow, yet his 7 Habits are anchored in truly timeless values. What he wanted to do was to change each reader’s perspective, help readers develop new and more positive and productive ways of viewing the world, and assist them in making more conscious choices about how they would set their goals and spend their time and energy.
The power of relatability
The 7 Habits are easily grasped by people from all over the world. They cross cultural and language barriers because of their relatability, so much like the people and the situations we all encounter every day of our working lives. Covey never claimed to be entirely original. In fact, a part of his genius was his ability to take time-honored principles of business, ethics, and philosophy and repackage them for our modern era.
The 7 Habits, summarized
Here are Covey’s habits in a nutshell:
1. “Be proactive.” This habit involves focusing on personal initiative. Covey wanted us to take responsibility for our lives and careers, with the understanding that it is our decisions as human beings that determine our behavior, not simply the conditions in which we find ourselves.
2. “Begin with the end in mind.” To understand our current situation and develop the most effective strategies, we need to know what success looks like and where we ultimately want to end up.
3. “Put first things first” is the logical outcome of the first two habits. First, we learn that we are the creators in charge of our own lives. Second, we form strong mental images of what we want to accomplish. By practicing this third habit, we learn to exercise our independent will to accomplish the goal of becoming, as the FranklinCovey team puts it, “principle-centered.” Once we reach this goal, we better understand how to plan and prioritize rather than simply react to the new urgencies of each day.
4. “Think win/win.” Understand that win/lose outcomes ultimately fail us because they breed mistrust and dissatisfaction. Gain added leverage for success by consciously working as part of a team, building the most effective team possible through forging trust.
5. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey was always reminding us to change our paradigms if we want to change our lives for the better in bigger ways. With this almost Zen-like phrase, he wanted to convey the importance of reaching people where they are and seeing the world through their eyes, allowing us to get to know them so that we are better able to fill their needs. This, in turn, leads to more effective and successful relationships and to teams who truly want to collaborate with us.
6. “Synergize.” Synergy, said Covey, isn’t “my way” or “your way” but “our way.” He wanted people to draw on the widest and most diverse range of ideas, insights, and contributions to create solutions that, through being more than the sum of their parts, would lead to lasting productivity and positive change.
7. “Sharpen the saw.” Most of us could use a boost to our energy levels and sense of motivation, a lifting of our mood, and an increased sense of life’s possibilities. With this habit, Covey wanted to emphasize the necessity of taking time to recharge, gather new ideas, take classes and trainings, and expand our awareness generally. He also wanted to ensure that his readers would focus on their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing as the foundation for any long-lasting professional or financial success.
After Covey came out with The 7 Habits, he and his family members and associates used these ideas as jumping-off points for additional titles in what is now an entire leadership advice empire. These spinoff books include The 7 Habits of Happy Kids, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.
The 30th-anniversary edition of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People offers Sean Covey’s addenda and commentary on his father’s classic text, updated for a new generation of readers and leaders.