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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

A Summary of the Ideas of Stephen R. Covey


Nina Jensen, Bank Street College ninajensen@bankstreet.edu

Underlying Covey’s approach are fundamental principles or “natural laws” that are part of every
enduring society. The root of human effectiveness is to be guided by these deep principles such
as fairness, honesty, integrity, respect for human dignity, service, excellence, patience, potential
and its nurturance and encouragement, openness to difference and change, and growth. Covey’s
first three habits are focused on building strength from within to form a strong, independent,
principle-centered character. These habits form the basis for habits 4 through 6, which focus on
effective interactions with others, or interdependence. Collectively, these habits require you to
use your unique human endowments of imagination, conscience, independent will, and self-
awareness.

1. Be proactive. Through self-awareness and imagination, resourcefulness and initiative,


we have the freedom and power to act in the space between stimulus and response—to
project ourselves into other or changed circumstances. When confronted with a
frustrating situation, shift from a reactive, deterministic, blaming paradigm to a proactive
view. Focus your efforts within your circle of influence, the areas in which you have the
ability to effect change (starting with your own attitudes, actions, and habits). Increase
your circle of influence by compensating for deficiencies rather than criticizing them,
developing strengths, being a better listener, a more cooperative employee/team member.

2. Begin with the end in mind. We do most things twice, first in our minds and then in
reality. Develop a personal mission statement, a proactive statement of what you will be
and do that is based on your deepest values and principles, providing a moral compass
and giving a sense of purpose to your life. Consider the important roles in your life and
set goals for each role. Think through your priorities. Envision your potential by
visualizing in your imagination how you will act in challenging situations. Identify and
develop the understandings and skills you will need to match your self-image, to achieve
your goals.

3. Put first things first. By practicing effective self-management, we can live congruently
with our personal mission, vision, and values on a daily basis. Organize and execute
around priorities that are focused on significant relationships and results. Every week, set
2-3 goals for each important role in your life and schedule time for them on your
calendar. Keep a balance between your health, work, family, and friends.

4. Think win/win. Win/win interactions are built on a foundation of mutual respect and
trust, arrived at through cooperative negotiation, and lead to mutually beneficial results.
A win/win approach requires a mentality of abundance (plenty for everyone) rather than
zero sum (fixed amount). Four key steps to arriving at a win/win agreement are: 1) See
the problem from the other party’s perspective and articulate it back to them; 2) Identify
key underlying issues and concerns (not positions) involved, especially goals and agendas
common to both parties; 3) Determine what results would constitute a fully acceptable
solution; 4) Identify possible new options to achieve the results.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The ability to listen empathically (to
emotional as well as rational content) is key to building effective interpersonal
communication. This must be done with integrity, building on an existing foundation of
trust. Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart to understand from the other person’s
perspective. Be prepared to change your own perspective, to be influenced by the
interaction. Avoid making judgments and talking from your own perspective, motives,
and experiences, especially when emotions are being expressed. Only after you have
thoroughly understood and the other person is ready to listen, express your own ideas
within the context of a deep understanding of the other person’s concerns and paradigms.

6. Synergize. Synergy is the essence of principle-centered leadership, the culmination of


practicing the previous 5 habits. In a synergistic working relationship, the resulting
whole is greater than the sum of the contributions of the individuals. When team
members value diversity and are open to each other’s differing perspectives and
contributions, building on each other’s strengths and compensating for weaknesses,
tremendous energy and creativity are released. Because of the unpredictability of the
process and results, a high degree of personal security, trust among team members,
tolerance of ambiguity, and a spirit of adventure and discovery are needed along with
excellent communication skills. Force field analysis is a synergistic approach to problem
solving in which you identify restraining and driving forces, determine which forces are
in your field of influence, and brainstorm ways to strengthen driving or positive forces
and to weaken the effect of restraining or negative forces. A win/win approach and
empathic listening skills are important elements to bring to this process.

7. Sharpen the saw. Balanced self-renewal involves consistently exercising all four
dimensions of our nature: physical (exercise, nutrition, stress management); mental
reading visualizing, planning, writing); social/emotional (service, empathy, synergy,
intrinsic security); and spiritual (value clarification and commitment, study, and
meditation). Self-renewal is synergistic in that focus in one area may have positive
results in other areas, but no area can be neglected. Self-renewal is the process that
allows us to move on an upward spiral of growth and change, of continuous movement.
We learn, commit, and do on increasingly higher planes.

Covey, Stephen R. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effecive People: Restoring the Character
Ethic. New York: Simon & Schuster.