I loved teaching Stephen Covey's 7 Habits. I got to work for the Covey Leadership Center for about 3 years and I was sometimes amazed that they paid me to do something that was so gratifying. He was a good man who weaved together and created an array of useful tools for better understanding and changing self. One of the questions we asked in the Principle Center Leadership seminar was, "How many seeds in an apple?" The guesses ranged from a couple to a dozen. The next question was, "How many apples in a seed?" Nobody knows. Not yet anyway. And the same could be said about the influence of Stephen's thinking.
For me, teaching the 7 Habits was an opportunity to have a 3 day conversation about how we got to be who we are and how we might change that.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a carefully chosen name. Effective rather than successful because success connoted living one's life by someone else's yard stick, measuring your life by fame, wealth, or waist size. By contrast, effective suggested that you were able to be who you wanted to be, able to live according to whatever standards mattered to you.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
We all react. That's a given. Some people are proactive some of the time, and they are the ones who create lives, relationships, companies, and communities.
The obvious reaction is an eye for an eye, responding in anger to someone who is rude or thoughtless. The less obvious reaction is grasping an opportunity as it comes along, making the best of something we perceive. Proactive suggests that you are, instead of idly scanning the radio dial of life and possibility, seeking for particular opportunities, perhaps even making them.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Attendees of the 7 Habits seminar got feedback from themselves, family, friends, co-workers, supervisors, direct reports, etc. Based on this, they were able to see how they scored on the 7 Habits and inevitably Habit 3 - Put First Things First - was the lowest score. Most people thought that this showed a lack of discipline and vowed to work harder; they might have been right. I think that often our procrastination and poor priorities result from taking short cuts on this habit, though. Tony Gwynn's college coach once said of Gwynn's dedication to hitting, "I sometimes think that we confuse work ethic with love for what we're doing."
What do you want to accomplish? What matters to you? What unique intersection of need from other people and ability from you is going to guide you to your own contribution? What matters so much that you would need work hours as a means to tell you when you have to stop rather than when you get to stop? What is the end you have in mind that tells you what otherwise good opportunities to ignore and what doesn't deserve time, meditation, or effort and what does? If you're not clear on this, the next 5 habits won't do much for you.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Covey popularized the notion of big rocks. You'll never have enough time, so the trick is to make sure that you carve out time for a few really big accomplishments and let the little things fit in around it, like sand and pebbles fitting in around the big rocks. Curiously, if you try to accomplish a lot, you might find yourself less clear about what you actually accomplished. This goes back to your end in mind; what few big accomplishments do you want to look back on? What are you doing this week to get closer to that?
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
The first three habits will get you to a point of independence, beyond defining your life in reaction to what is going on around you or in reaction to what just happens. The next three habits get you to a point of interdependence, focusing on the relationships that define your personal and work life.
You might be a win-lose personality, wanting to beat the people around you in terms of arguments, possessions, market share, etc. Or you might just be a win personality, not caring whether the other people around you win or lose but merely focusing on getting your own win. Worse, you might be a lose-lose or lose-win personality, someone destructive or a martyr.
You have to have courage to go for a win. You have to have consideration to want the other person to win. With both, you can get into the space of win-win, starting with the notion that a relationship, a transaction, a situation can result in a win for each person in it.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand and Then to be Understood
Before you can state what you want - what your win is - you must first be able to clearly state what their win is. To do that might require lots of work or simply a few minutes of listening. Before you can be heard, you need to hear them. Hear their emotion, hear their position, hear their context.
When you are done listening, you can then state your win in the context of theirs. A few things are possible. Your wins may have nothing to do with each other, in which case you might have no basis for a relationship or a transaction. Or your wins are in conflict, in which case you may need to compromise or even design some larger solution that allows your wins to be jointly met, which brings us to the next habit.
Habit 6: Synergize
Synergy means that we've got system properties at work. Two lonely people can be combined into one happy couple. Sometimes wins can be better met jointly than in isolation. And most of society is testament to the power of synergy, from families to nation-states and trading partners. If you have an end in mind, chances are pretty good that this will involve other people; if you want any chance of achieving that end in mind, you'll likely need to tailor that end to match the visions that other people are carrying around in their head. Seeking first to understand might give you the opportunity to influence your own vision as well as theirs, shaping it into some workable plan.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Finally, we don't indefinitely stay at the same level of commitment after one revival meeting, the same level of fitness after one workout or the same level of refreshed after one nap. The various ways of being human - the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual - all need continual regeneration and exercise. To create a proactive life suggests that you've got the resources for doing that; without pausing to sharpen the saw, you'll exhaust your resources prematurely.
Stephen didn't invent the idea of an intentional life but he did provide us with a wonderful framework and tools for becoming more effective at creating one. Intentionality aside, though, I just felt lucky to have worked for him. He was a good man who made the world better for thousands of people he had never even met. Now that's a life.