This is a classic leadership book by Stephen R. Covey, originally published in 1989. Since that time, it has sold more than 20 million copies in 38 languages and various formats. The book continues to be a bestseller today. There are several versions of the book and related books by Covey; the latest is the 25th anniversary edition, which is 432 pages in length. Covey died in 2012.
Several years ago, someone told me that this was a rather difficult book to read. That comment influenced me not to read the book, even though I have read dozens of other leadership and personal development books since then. Recently, a team member completed a class on the 7 Habits and was profoundly impacted. After talking to her, I decided to listen to the audiobook, which was read by Covey.
Below is high level summary of the 7 Habits and a few corresponding comments by Covey from the book:
1. Be Proactive (take action and be responsible)
“Taking initiative does not mean being pushing, obnoxious, or aggressive. It does mean recognizing our responsibility to make things happen.”
2. Begin With The End in Mind (consciously plan out and visualize your actions)
“This habit is based on imagination – the ability to envision, to see the potential, to create with our minds what we cannot at present see with our eyes…”
3. Put First Things First (Organize and execute around priorities)
“Create a clear, mutual understanding of what needs to be accomplished, focusing on what, not how; results, not methods. Spend time. Be patient. Visualize the desired result.”
4. Think Win-Win (in negotiation, seek solutions that help both yourself and the other person)
“Win-win is a frame of mind that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-Win means that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying.”
5. Seek first to understand, then be understood (in communication, listen actively before you talk)
“’Seek First to Understand’ involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.”
6. Synergize (in work, open yourself to others to work effectively in teams)
“Synergy works; it’s a corrective principle. It is the crowning achievement of all the previous habits. It is effectiveness in an interdependent reality – it is teamwork, team building, and the development of unity and creativity with other human beings.”
7. Sharpen the Saw (relax, rejuvenate, and revitalize yourself)
“This is the habit of renewal…it circles and embodies all the other habits. It is the habit of continuous improvement…that lifts you to new levels of understanding and living each of the habits.”
This is not a book to read once and put away. It’s more a way of life. I can see the value of taking a class on this material. Covey’s principles sound simple, but they are difficult to consistently put into practice. He offers many helpful illustrations throughout the book to bring the concepts to life. It will be helpful to people in all relationships – in the marketplace, families, church or non-profit organizations, etc.
He introduces unique terminology that has since become part of common workplace language, reminding me Jim Collins doing the same in his influential book Good to Great. One point that he made when discussing empathic listening has stuck with me. He stated that he believed that 60% of communication is body language. In my workplace, many of our meeting participants are attending online, so body language cannot be observed. I wonder what the impact will be on effective meetings.
I listened to the audio book version, which was the first unabridged edition released. It includes an “Afterward” in which Covey addresses the most frequent questions he has been asked about the book over the years, along with key learnings about the habits. This is not a quick read, but I believe if you invest yourself in this you will find significant benefit.