Just over 10 Years ago, my good friend and Coach, Peter Knight, introduced me to the works of Steven Covey, author of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’.

I wasn’t a big reader back then – unless it was a Calvin and Hobbs omnibus (especially Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons!) – so it took some work to get through the book. I remember Peter’s exasperation at the pace of my progress! Like all great coaches, he turned up the heat and I doubled my efforts!


And boy am I glad I did. It’s hard to articulate just how much of a positive influence Covey’s works (and Peter’s coaching – but that’s for another Blog) have had on my life. In particular, Covey cements one of my key beliefs that ‘effectiveness’ is more important than ‘efficiency’

Whilst the book may not be the easiest to read, it is one of those that is worth the effort. Having just re-read it, I thought I’d summarise Covey’s 7 habits.

The essence is that our effectiveness is a compilation of our habits, which are a compilation of our knowledge, skill and desire. Covey focuses on how to develop the most effective habits with an inside-out approach (character driven) as opposed to an outside-in approach (personality driven).

When teaching the 7 Habits, I tend to group them to demonstrate the power of these principals.

  • The first 3 habits focus on self-mastery: moving from dependence to independence;
  • The next three focus on collaboration and communication;
  • The 7th habit is about maintaining a balanced foundation for effectively using the other habits.

Habit One – ‘Be Proactive.’ This teaches us that change begins within – in other words ‘I am responsible for my own behaviour and choices’. Covey argues that whilst many things may be out of our control (Brexit?), we ALWAYS have a choice of how we react to them, and developing a sense of self-awareness gives us more control (what’s your Brexit plan?). By choosing our own priorities, it means putting an end to being reactive. Mastering this habit first is key as until you do, the other six will remain beyond your grasp.

Habit Two – ‘Begin with the End in Mind.’ Here Covey uses the analogy of a funeral to emphasise his point. He suggests you ask yourself, ‘What do you want to hear about yourself at your own funeral?’. In other words, what values are most important to you? By being very clear on what’s important to you, you can go out there and make what you want happen. Covey’s analogy shows this does not just apply to business (have you got a clear business plan showing what you want out of your business and where you want to go?) but equally to life. What is your life plan? What do you want to be remembered for? What is your legacy? It’s powerful stuff right?

Habit Three – ‘Put First Things First.’ Now that you’ve worked out that you are in charge of you (Habit One), and what you want (Habit Two), the third of the self-mastery habits is about identifying what matters most to you and putting these first. It is about creating and maintaining balance while keeping your most important values prioritised so you don’t lose sight of your mission.  Work out what is most important to you (family, your business, community, health, friends etc) and prioritise these over the less important. That way you will ensure you don’t  ‘major in minor things’ as Covey puts it.

Habit Four – ‘Think Win-Win.’  This is about mutual benefit. In order for any effective, long-term relationship to be beneficial to each party, it needs to be ‘win-win’.  This is not about compromise but rather committing to agreements that are good very everyone by collaborating and understanding.  It’s also about being very aware of non-beneficial outcomes – ‘win-lose’ (I’m OK you’re not), ‘lose-win’ (you’re OK, I’m not), ‘lose-lose’ (neither of us are ok) or just ‘win’ (I’m ok and I don’t really care about anything else) and being prepared to walk away or make a no deal. Highly effective people choose ‘win-win’ because it creates long-term interdependent relationships with no losers.

Habit Five – ‘Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood.’ This first part of this habit teaches us that highly effective people listen effectively, without filtering what they hear with their own biases, so that they can understand the other person’s view before presenting their own. Or as Peter taught me: ‘Diagnose before you prescribe’.  The second part of the habit is about communicating what you want: if you don’t know what you want in a negotiation (Habits 1-3), how will you let others know?

Habit Six – ‘Synergise.’ This Habit teaches us that trust and understanding in relationships can lead to a BETTER outcome, or a Third Alternative. In other words, seek solutions that are better and more beneficial than either of the original (opposing?) viewpoints would yield. It’s a case of the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, or ‘win-win’ on steroids.

Habit Seven – ‘Sharpen the Saw.’ It was Abraham Lincoln who said ‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.’ Covey uses the following example,

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to cut down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

Sharpening the saw is about taking the time to look after yourself if you are to be highly-effective. This includes regularly investing in yourself – physically, spiritually, mentally and socially/emotionally, to become better. You might be time-poor, but do you really have the time to NOT take care of yourself.

I can attest to the fact that it takes effort and focus to practice Covey’s 7 Habits effectively. I’ve been working at it for over 11 years and still have a way to go. However, these habits are a great foundation; something to reflect on and refer back to when things get tough or when I meander away from what is important to me.