The 7 Habits of Stephen R. Covey are really interesting guidelines for a starting – or even a seasoned – coach, mentor, teacher, consultant, manager, or actually for anybody that wants to live and work together with other people in a more conscious way! They seem at first sight quite easy to follow, but if you really want to follow and apply them rigorously, they require a high degree of awareness and perseverance. Actually, they are anything but easy… To be honest – and Covey acknowledged this – they are nearly impossible to follow at all times!
The habits which I personally find very important to live by are:
- “be proactive”, anticipating what the future brings, is so important and yet you notice that there are very few people who are always and everywhere proactive in their thinking and doing… Maybe one of the reasons why many people have been taught not to “be proactive” at work (or at home), is the fact that this kind of work is not noticed easily… A service guy that maintains the machine park to the extent that there is almost never a problem, also almost never gets a pat on the back of the boss because it is considered normal… While his colleague who sometime fails to maintain the machine park correctly but manages to solve the problem quickly in case of failure, often does get that pat on the back… I do not aim to say that it is understandable, because it is quite human, but it is actually quite harmful and costly for a company! In my work as a consultant “being proactive” means being well prepared for a meeting with (potential) customers, putting enough time in preparation, adequate and continuous learning and practicing to be able to apply that knowledge and those skills easily at the customer side…
- “first things first”, it is so easy to do some minor or fun stuff first with all due distractions and inefficiencies as a result… and ultimately giving little or no added value! We indulge all of us very quickly “delaying” or “procrastination”, a nice English word for the art of postponing. Covey advises to approach tasks from two dimensions: importance and urgency. His advice is to focus as much as possible on those tasks that are important but not urgent!
- “seek win-win” or finding a solution to a problem or situation that ultimately benefits everybody. It is so ingrained in our society to always strive to “win”, that it is difficult to realize that “win-win” is always better than “win-lose” or “lose-win” or even worse “lose-lose”! Rarely do we realize that there might be another way to achieve the same goal without ending up in a “win-lose”, “lose-win” or “lose-lose” situation. According to Covey, society strives for “win-lose” due to “the paradigm of scarcity.” Too often we are assuming that there is not enough of what we need … and therefore a “win-lose” seems to be the better solution. I refer to the famous metaphor where you can see two hungry donkeys that are tied together with a short rope … on both sides of the donkeys there is a pile of straw … but they pull both so hard in opposite direction, that neither one of the donkeys can eat the straw. Covey advises to always depart from of “the paradigm of abundance”, especially with regard to social and human values such as love, friendship, faith in each other, trust, support, courage … If the donkeys in their particular circumstance would depart from the fact that there is enough straw for both of them, then a “win-win” solution is very easy to obtain, that is first eat together side-by-side the first pile of straw on one side, and then the pile of straw on the other side. So yes, this habit is difficult one but doable and if you apply is consistently it give sustainable and profitable wins!
- “sharpen the saw” is the seventh habit and it is the expression that Covey uses to indicate that from time to time you need to take a step back and ask yourself how you can do things better… Not like the sweating and tired lumberjack who was extremely busy sawing down big trees… and when a forester was passing by, a bit surprised with what he was observing, asked to the lumberjack why he did not take some time to sharpen his saw? The lumberjack looked up quite surprised and sighed “Man, I do not have the time for that, I have to cut down all these trees here!” Yes, at some point it seems this example can apply to everybody. From personal experience, I have learned that sometimes you can be so busy, so sucked into your everyday activities that you do not realize you got shortsighted and that you – with the best intentions – are running in a street with no end … a street that brings you nowhere but it is a street that you know and which gives you a certain feeling of comfort. So “sharpening the saw” is perhaps the most important and most difficult habit! It also requires a lot of courage and determination! And nerves of steel when it does not immediately get better, or when it requires more time or effort than you had anticipated. Covey advises us to apply the habit of continuous and constant innovation and change in our daily lives in the four key dimensions of personal being: body, mind, brain, and heart!
Do you want to know more about the 7 habits of Stephen R. Covey, then google and you will find a lot of information, video and audio clips and much more on-line or you can buy his books!
Do you immediately want the essence – because you have no time to read and learn yourself – then you can download my presentation (PDF) on the “7 habits of highly effective people”!
If you have questions, email me and it will be my pleasure to read your question and get back to you.