The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Revisited

Originally published in 1989, and featured on the New York Times paperback best-seller list for more than four years, Stephen R. Covey's  book came recommended by a number of leading names in business and academia.  There is a timelessness to his message that warrants a periodic re-visit.  Appropriately sub-titled "powerful lessons in personal change" the book is replete with diagrams, charts, continuum bars, descriptive anecdotes, and numerous examples used by the author to effectively deliver his message.  Designed for ease of reference, even the appendices and indices at the back of the book are novel.

What distances this book from most other organization development work is the author's context of Character Ethic as opposed to the superficiality of what he labels the Personality Ethic that has typified business and public life during at least the last four decades.  Covey writes that there are basic principles of effective living and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.  He goes on to state that shortly after World War 1 the basic view of success shifted and became more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviours, skills and techniques, that lubricate the processes of human interaction.

For purposes of this book, the author defines "habit" as the overlapping intersection of knowledge (what to, why to), skill (how to), and desire (want to).  In harmony with the natural laws of growth, the Seven Habits provide an incremental, sequential, highly integrated approach to the development of personal and interpersonal effectiveness, he states.  They move us progressively on a maturity continuum from dependence to independence to interdependence. 

On the maturity continuum, dependence is the paradigm of you - you take care of me; you come through for me; you didn't come through; I blame you for the results.  Independence is the paradigm of I - I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose. Interdependence is the paradigm of we -  we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.

The Seven Habits

Habits 1, 2 and 3 deal with self-mastery. They are: 

 (1) Be Proactive, 
 (2) Begin with the End in Mind, and 
 (3) Put First Things First. 

They move a person from dependence to independence.  They are the "private victories", the essence of character growth.  Private victories precede "public victories".  As you become truly independent, you have the foundation for effective interdependence.  You have the character base from which you can effectively work on the more personality-oriented "public victories" of teamwork, cooperation, and communication in Habits 4, 5 and 6.  These are: 

 (4) Think Win/Win, 
 (5) Seek First to Understand ... Then to be Understood, and ...
 (6) Synergize.

Habit 7 (Sharpen the Saw) is the habit of renewal - a regular, balanced renewal of the four basic dimensions of life (mental; physical; social/emotional, and spiritual).  It circles and embodies all the other habits.  It is the habit of continuous improvement that creates the upward spiral of growth that lifts you to new levels of understanding and living each of the habits as you come around to them on a progressively higher plane. 

The balance of "production" and "production capability"

The Seven Habits are habits of effectiveness. Effectiveness lies in the balance of production of desired results, and the production capability to achieve those desired results; what the author describes as the principle of "P/PC Balance".  Correctly maintaining this balance is often a difficult judgment call; however, failure to do so will jeopardize either one or the other, or both of the elements in the ratio with varying degrees of personal and/or organizational dis-harmony.  An example that comes to mind would be the running down of an organization's human and/or physical assets (production capability) to inflate earnings per share (production) in the short term. 

Covey names the Seven Habits and the P/PC Balance, the paradigms and principles that constitute part one of the book.  In parts two, three, and four, he thoroughly goes into theory and practice of private victory, public victory, and renewal.  He then proceeds with a matrix, Appendix A, that outlines alternative ways you may tend to perceive other areas of your life, thereby providing options for behavioural change and personal growth.  Appendix B is a practical business-setting example and analysis of one of the quadrants in the time management matrix.  Then follows a problem/opportunity index with questions listed under general areas of concern and referenced to specific insightful subject matter in the book. 

This is a book you can read quickly - and one that you will want to come back to again and again for reference, as well as for a deeper appreciation of its subtlety.

The Seven Habits:  

  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Put first things first 
  • Think win/win
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the saw!

Reviewed by Ian Bullock
The Habits of Highly Effective People,
Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
By Stephen R.. Covey, 
Simon & Shuster, New York.

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