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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: A Review

Why is this personal development book one of my favorite leadership books? When my friends ask for recommendations about leadership books, I always mention Covey first. They might wonder why a book that appears to be about time management (it's not) would be my first choice. In this post, I'll share the reasons why I value Covey's book so highly, and I hope you will, too.

When I finally picked up 7 Habits, I was a young Marine Corps captain working in the Pentagon. It was my last ditch effort to be more effective in my job, which meant being more influential with my seniors (which, as a captain at Headquarters, Marine Corps was basically everyone). I was the most junior person on staff, who worked hard but had nothing to show for it. I desperately wanted to influence decision-making and policy formulation at the institutional level, but was failing on a daily basis.

First, Character. Who are we? How do we interact with others? Covey surprised me by beginning with ourselves - character, integrity, respect for self and others. I was surprised, but his words were powerful. Perhaps I'd found something special after all. Before we hope to lead others, we must first develop our own character; we must lead ourselves. Whom do people listen to? Whom do they follow? The ones with character and integrity. Focus here first.

Second, Mission Statement. Why are we here? What do we want people to say at our funeral? Covey encourages us to think ahead (in what some may view as a gruesome exercise) to our death. He takes us to the funeral, to the speakers who remember us when we are gone. What do they say? What does our spouse, our family, our friends and our colleagues say about us? What do we want them to say? If we dreamt big, how would we shape our lives. This becomes the basis for your personal mission statement - something that drives goals, priorities and values.

Third, Priorities and Focus. How do we spend our time? Most of us spend our time in Quadrants 1 and 4 - putting out fires and mindlessly scanning social media or watching television. We occasionally participate in Quadrant 3 activities. But how often do we spend time in Quadrant 2? Isn't this the area where most of us wish we had time, but somehow never do? Covey explains that we must make time for Quadrant 2 activities. These are the big projects that you've longed to prioritize. They are the papers you want to write, the new relationships you want to build. Herein lies the path to influence and lasting value. He encourages readers to spend the first part of the day on Quadrant 2 - no matter what - whether that's an hour or two hours or even three. For the first time, I understood why I had no influence in my job. I spent all my time in Quadrants 1 and 3, and no one seemed to appreciate anything I did. After switching my focus to Quadrant 2, my leaders started to notice me. Eventually, I had a seat at the table. Then, I was the one giving the briefings. Quadrant 2 is where the magic happens.

Fourth, the Habits. Covey breaks these into three categories. It should not be a surprise that Covey starts with the individual. Before one expects to lead others, one must lead oneself.

His first habit is to Be Proactive. Take action. Try something new. Do not wait for others to tell you what to do or to provide guidance. Be the master of your own destiny and you will inspire others.

Begin with the End in Mind. Know where you are going so that you might set your compass correctly and take the actions necessary to achieve your goals.

Put First Things First. Know your priorities. Understand that if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. There is only so much time in a day. Focus on your top 3-5 priorities.

Think Win-Win. Why must someone else lose if we win? Covey dispenses with this notion by demonstrating that others can win when we also win. Discover stakeholder interests; then win them to supporting your ideas by showing them how they win when you win.

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. My favorite habit. Too often, we are so focused on communicating our wants, needs, ideas, and all the reasons we are right. We forget that the other person has wants, needs, ideas and reasons for they are also right. Understanding others first enables Win-Win. It garners support for your ideas. It also leads directly to the sixth habit.

Synergize. Put it all together. Build and lead a team - whether or not you have the position of leader. Become a leader and people will follow. Your leaders will support you and all that time you spent in Quadrant 2 will pay dividends.

At last, Sharpen the Saw. The habits require practice. Until they become second nature, we must revisit them on a regular basis.

This post has been a very quick review of Covey's book. I hope it has encouraged you to secure a copy (whether through purchase or your local library) and dig in for yourself. I promise, the rewards will last a lifetime.

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