We look at management guru Stephen Covey’s theory of seven essential habits .
What do Edward de Bono, Peter F. Drucker and Philip Kotler have in common? They are all thought leaders whose work over the years has changed the way business is done across the world, making workplaces more efficient and work itself more logical.
A book that features theories of some of the major management gurus, Business Gurus That Changed the World is a must-read for anyone working in or studying business.
Stephen R. Covey was one of the well-known thinkers whose most prominent work is his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We pick a chapter from Business Gurus that summarizes his theory and, more interestingly, describes its validity today and how real companies actually use these concepts. Edited excerpt:
This is concerned with exploring ways to take control of events rather than being the victim of circumstance. Covey suggests testing if you have the proactive habit by noting how often you use these expressions. ‘That’s the way I am’ = There’s nothing I can do about it. ‘He makes me so mad!’ = My emotional life is outside my control. ‘I have to do it’ = I’m not free to choose my own actions.’
Begin with the end in mind
Here Covey recommends developing a personal mission statement and acquiring what he calls the habit of personal leadership so that you can keep steering in the right direction despite changing circumstances. Developing this habit allows you to concentrate most of your energies on activities relevant to your end goal, avoiding distractions, and in the process becoming more productive and successful.
Put first things first
The previous habit involves self-leadership; this one is about self-management: putting first things first. Leadership, Covey states, ‘decides what the first things are, and management is the discipline of carrying out your program’. Covey introduces the idea of tasks fitting into four quadrants, with ‘important—not important’ on one continuum and ‘urgent—not urgent’ on the other.
Covey’s complete description is ‘win/win—or no deal’. This is one of what he calls the ‘paradigms of human interaction’. The others—win/lose, lose/win, lose/lose are to be avoided. He recommends that your attitude should be, ‘I want to win, and I want you to win. If we can’t hammer something out under those conditions, let’s agree that we won’t make a deal this time. Maybe we’ll make one in the future.’ Win/win is based on the assumption that there is plenty for everyone, and that success follows a cooperative approach more naturally than the confrontation of win-or-lose.
Seek first to understand and then to be understood
The key word in mastering this habit is ‘listen’. Listen to your colleagues, family, friends, customers—but not, as Covey states, ‘with intent to reply, to convince, to manipulate. Listen simply to understand, to see how the other party sees things.’ The skill he advocates here is empathy. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully understand him, emotionally and intellectually.
Synergy got a bad press when it was used as the logic for overpriced acquisition strategies. The acquisition of HBOS, it was claimed, would give Lloyds ‘crucial advantages in funding costs and synergies’ and made ‘clear sense’ for Lloyds. Such was the view in September 2008, but three years later such benefits were less than evident. But Covey uses synergy in the sense that creative cooperation—the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts—encourages us to ‘see the good and potential in the other person’s contribution’. Developing this habit can produce a steady flow of 2+2 = 5+ type results.
Sharpen the saw
Covey illustrates this by telling a story supposing that you come upon a man in the woods sawing down a tree. ‘You look exhausted!’ you exclaim. ‘How long have you been at it?’ ‘Over five hours,’ he replies, ‘and I am beat. This is hard.’ ‘Maybe you could take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw. Then the work would go faster.’ ‘No time,’ the man says emphatically. ‘I’m too busy sawing.’ Habit 7 is taking time to sharpen the saw (you’re the saw). It’s the habit of self-renewal that makes all the others possible.