This classic best seller for management, organisations and personal development encapsulates Steven Covey’s research on 200 years of success literature since his doctoral program. It is perhaps the most influential book for managers and organizations to learn the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, as the title suggest. It begins with the concept that people perceive the world differently, and we form our own paradigm – how we view the world with our own unique “lens”. Covey explains that paradigms are the source of our attitudes and behaviours. Part of achieving insight involves making a “paradigm shift” which causes us to perceive things differently. Our paradigms will affect how we interact with others, which in turn will affect how they interact with us. Covey argues that any effective self-help program must begin with an “inside-out” approach, rather than looking at our problems as “being out there” (an inside-out approach).
We must start by examining our own character, paradigms, and motives. Hence, character and principles are keys to success, effectiveness, and happiness in life. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People points out: “Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value.” The seven habits divided into two main groups: private victory (independence) and public victory (interdependence). Habits of Independence: Habit 1: Be Proactive We must use our resourcefulness to work toward our personal goals. Everyone has both a circle of influence and a circle of concern. Worrying endlessly about things outside of our circle of influence isn’t particularly productive. Working within our circle of influence is productive. Further, the more effective we become, the more our circle of influence will expand. Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind What do we want people to say about us at our funerals? How will we be remembered? To succeed, Covey suggests visualization. Every successful outcome is created twice; first one plan and second on implementation.
Habit 3: Put First Things First The key to putting first things first is to understand that we have many things we can do which will have a significant, positive impact on our lives. Covey stresses that we must balance Production (P) with Productive Capability (PC). We must keep the golden eggs, but also maintain goose. Prioritization is the essence of time management. Interdependence The remaining habits in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are habits of interdependence. Rather than being dependent upon other people, or trying to be totally independent, we learn how to be more effective by effectively working with others. Habit 4: Think Win/Win Thinking Win/Win means seeking mutual benefit in our human interactions. To be successful in the long run, we should learn to consider other’s win factors besides our own. Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood Most people talk more than they listen. Until we listen actively and seek to understand others, we would not be understood. Active listening is about sensing the three modes of communications, i.e. visual, vocal and verbal. Habit 6: Synergize It means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Combining the strengths of each individual yields multiple outcome beyond expectations, simply ‘1+1>2’. Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw Just as a machine will wear out quickly if not properly maintained, the same is true for our own personal productivity. We must take care of ourselves. The four dimensions are physical, mental, social/emotional and spiritual renewals. To me, the first concept on paradigm is profound. I agree that when we change our perspectives, our attitudes and behaviours will change. To achieve enrichment in life, we need to understand our own paradigm, crystalize and anchor our principles. I have adopted these principles and find peace in self-awareness, social relationship and professional communications. Covey has successfully synthesised the successful habits of leaders, crystallised and organized them into two progressive segments. In line with child development from birth through death, one indeed grows from dependence to independence in early childhood to adolescence. We then mature to adults, where we progress from independence to interdependence.
The seven habits are indeed proven to be critical for any individual to attain private and public victories. Hence it is no surprise that whenever I business leaders within my network on which are some books they would read to enrich their management knowledge, this book is voted as the most influential book that changed their lives. I have personally adopted these habits in my personal and professional communications and testify their effectiveness. I have sharpened my strengths in strategic thinking and leadership by adopting the habits of ‘Begin with the end in mind’ and ‘Synergize’. For instance at the Polytechnic, I mooted the idea of Young GEMS(Go-the-Extra-Miles-for-Service) camp for upper secondary school students to build our prospects for future enrolment.
Upon approval from management for the Young GEMS camp, I formed a program team and successfully lead it to implement the camp through skilful synergy of the individual’s competence. This book has provided comprehensive coverage on the why and how of each habit. The only gap I see is that the context are US-based. It would be better if there is an Asian version with case studies of local enterprises and leaders, for the benefit of Asian readers. For instance, unlike Americans, Asians are generally weak in questioning skills to ‘seek to understand’ others. It would be helpful if there are some recommended strategies in questioning to gain insights of other’s perspectives. Also, Asians tends to individual and less apt to working in teams, particularly in appreciating individual strengths, expressing diversified opinions openly.
Asian case studies on ‘Win-win’ and ‘Synergize’ would certainly be helpful. There is no doubt that all seven habits are pivotal in today’s managers and organisations. I personally have benefited as an account manager in Hewlett-Packard Singapore Sales when I was sponsored to attend the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People one-week course. It has significantly increased my self-awareness, strategic thinking skills, time-management skills and revolutionizes my perspectives in life. I can testify that the Habits are practical prescriptions for building trustworthy and lasting relationships, hence empowering managers to be effective leaders who could develop the most conducive working environment that attracts and retains like-minded talents for the good of society.