Book Report: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

room full of people
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First published in 1989, Stephen Covey's best-selling business book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold over 15 million copies. 25 years later, we're revisiting the Seven Habits outlined in the book. The book was a staple of business classes for over a decade, and our review finds that it still well worth the read. 

Dr. Covey organizes his key findings in three categories:

Independence: The book begins with the idea that Highly Successful People are able to motivate themselves, prioritize, and see a project through to the end. To that end, Covey outlines the first three habits:

    • Be Proactive: This includes taking responsibility and understanding that your own decisions will determine your ultimate fate.
    • Begin with the End in Mind: Part of being independent involves developing a vision for your job and for your relationships. While it may sound basic, it's a good reminder that unless you know your destination, you're not going to be able to make Intentional progress.
    • Put First Things First: Manage yourself and your actions towards your ultimate goal. Prioritize and don't let distractions take you off course.

Interdependence: The middle portion of the book discusses the principle of interdependence. No one disputes that working with others is key to being successful in the workplace. Covey discusses three more habits that will promote teamwork:

    • Think Win-Win: “Win-win” has become a cliché in business circles, but the core principles bear out the idea. First, you have to develop an “Abundance Mentality”—a belief that there is enough for everyone. Whether that's the total value of a deal or just enough credit to go around for a completed project, you have to know that it's not a zero-sum game. Second, you have to have the integrity and maturity to state what you believe to be true and express your ideas with the thoughts and feelings of others in mind. By doing that, you can create solutions that are mutually beneficial.
    • Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood: Have you ever caught yourself, in the middle of a conversation, missing what the other person is saying because you're already mentally preparing your reply? If so, you know exactly what Covey is talking about in this step. Many communications go haywire because the people talking are both concentrating more on making the other person understand them than they are on just listening and processing the information given. Covey has great hints on overcoming the shortcomings we all have as listeners.
    • Synergize: Another term that has become a business cliché, synergy means that “two heads are better than one”. This tip deserves revisiting, though, because many people have lost the meaning. It does not just mean that putting like-minded people together into teams makes outputs better. The synergy Covey describes comes from an acknowledgment that there is value in differences. And, integrating the differences into a whole is what makes teams productive.

Continuous Improvement: The last category stands on its own in the book with one lone habit defined to help remind you that successful people don't sit still, they keep improving:

    • Sharpen the Saw: This habit covers those things that you should be doing to be your best. Even though it's the last habit covered, it's the bedrock for the rest of the book. Covey created a program for improvement in four separate areas of your life: Physical, Social/Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual. By exercising yourself in each of these four areas, you create growth and keep yourself fresh to tackle the other six habits every day of your life.

Reflecting on this book now in its 25th year of publication, it’s clear that Covey’s principles have held up well over time. Some business books are so era- or industry-specific as to outlive their usefulness. But for those looking for the basics on day-to-day ways you can increase your performance, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People still holds relevance and is recommended reading for business professionals to this day.

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photo credit: Dean Ayres via photopin cc

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