Writer’s Wednesday: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_PeopleOver the past couple of months I have been reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey, probably one of the best known and most recommended books within personal development and business books – and for good reason.

The main message of this book is find out what your values are, and lead your life according to those values. Much of the information covered has made it into mainstream culture and many other books (7 Habits was first published in 1989), and while much of the information was familiar to me it was still a great way to go in depth with the topics.

First 3 Habits; moving from dependence to independence

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Take responsibility for your own life and your choices. Take the initiative based on the values and principles you want to base your life on.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Know what goals you have for life, and what you want for each of your roles and relationships and keep these things in mind with your daily actions.

Put First Things First

Building on habit number 2, make sure that your daily and weekly tasks are prioritized according to what is most important to you, rather than what is most urgent.

Next 3 Habits; moving from independence to interdependence

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Fully understand that mutual beneficial solutions are ultimately better in the long run for everyone involved.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Listen emphatically, keeping an open mind, to really understand another person’s point of view, before trying to explain your own point of view.

Habit 6: Synergize

Team work combines people’s strength and allow the team to reach goals that no one could have achieved on their own.

Overarching Habit:

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Make sure you look after yourself in terms of physical, mental and emotional health so that you have the energy and ability to lead an effective lifestyle in the long-term.


It is character that communicates most eloquently. As Emerson once put it, “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.”

Paradigms are inseparable from character. Being is seeing in the human dimension. And what we see is highly interrelated to what we are. We can’t go very far to change our seeing without simultaneously changing our being, and vice versa.

The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves precedes making and keeping promises to others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves.

Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness… or ineffectiveness.

Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.

The PC principle is to always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.

One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms”—the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Viktor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.

Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.

We can make a promise—and keep it. Or we can set a goal—and work to achieve it. As we make and keep commitments, even small commitments, we begin to establish an inner integrity that gives us the awareness of self-control and the courage and strength to accept more of the responsibility for our own lives. By making and keeping promises to ourselves and others, little by little, our honor becomes greater than our moods.

If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster. We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.

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? In the words of both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

The most effective way I know to begin with the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement or philosophy or creed. It focuses on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based.

Integrity is, fundamentally, the value we place on ourselves. It’s our ability to make and keep commitments to ourselves, to “walk our talk.”

“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do,” he observed. “They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people. But it takes time and patience, and it doesn’t preclude the necessity to train and develop people so that their competency can rise to the level of that trust.

One of the most important ways to manifest integrity is to be loyal to those who are not present. In doing so, we build the trust of those who are present. When you defend those who are absent, you retain the trust of those present.

They may not at first appreciate the honest confrontational experiences such integrity might generate. Confrontation takes considerable courage, and many people would prefer to take the course of least resistance, belittling and criticizing, betraying confidences, or participating in gossip about others behind their backs. But in the long run, people will trust and respect you if you are honest and open and kind with them. You care enough to confront. And to be trusted, it is said, is greater than to be loved. In the long run, I am convinced, to be trusted will be also to be loved.

Integrity also means avoiding any communication that is deceptive, full of guile, or beneath the dignity of people. “A lie is any communication with intent to deceive,” according to one definition of the word. Whether we communicate with words or behavior, if we have integrity, our intent cannot be to deceive.

It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another thing not to admit it. People will forgive mistakes, because mistakes are usually of the mind, mistakes of judgment. But people will not easily forgive the mistakes of the heart, the ill intention, the bad motives, the prideful justifying cover-up of the first mistake.

Many people think in dichotomies, in either/or terms. They think if you’re nice, you’re not tough. But Win/Win is nice… and tough. It’s twice as tough as Win/Lose. To go for Win/Win, you not only have to be nice, you have to be courageous. You not only have to be empathic, you have to be confident. You not only have to be considerate and sensitive, you have to be brave. To do that, to achieve that balance between courage and consideration, is the essence of real maturity and is fundamental to Win/Win.

Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement, a form of judgment. And it is sometimes the more appropriate emotion and response. But people often feed on sympathy. It makes them dependent. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.

Again, I quote Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier—not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.”

Have you read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, and if so, what did you think of it? Any other books you would recommend?

As always you can find me on Goodreads.


  1. Thank you for posting this! I haven’t read the book, but I saw on fb you were reading it, and I went to Goodreads and browsed through the reviews. As I have lots to read for my PhD (and I don’t see much of an end to that for the time to come, but thankfully I enjoy it very much) and am very tight in money, I currently can’t read everything I’d like to – and this sounded really interesting! The more I appreciate the synopses you post here, along with your quotings. Thanks for that! 🙂

    I’ll pass this on to my friend who might be interested in this as well.


    • Cool, thank you so much for sharing Kath!
      I know the feeling of not being able to read everything you want to. Luckily, one of my favourite things about living in Dublin is access to excellent second-hand book shops with very very cheap books 😀 My bookshelf is expanding a lot…



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