The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Tianda Gay

East Carolina University

Dr. Shelia Tucker, Department of Business, Vocational and Technical Education

October 25, 2007

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People


This paper explores the basic framework for balancing one’s personal life and professional life. Steven Covey’s #one best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, provides the reader with practical guidance and explanations for developing good character-based living. While the book can be a little preaching, it is helpful and insightful. For some, the book may even seem hard to grasp at first, so a second reading is recommended. The book itself, consist of 358 pages and is sectioned into four parts. Part one, Paradigms and Principles, provides the reader with an overview of the seven habits. Part two, Private Victories, covers habits one, two and three (Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind, Put Things First) and deal with self mastery. We need these habits for character growth. Part three, Public Victories, cover habits four, five and six (Think Win/Win, Seek First to Understand, Principles of Creative Communication) needed to develop teamwork, cooperation and communication. Part four, Renewal, covers habit seven (Sharpen the Saw) needed for continued growth. Covey ends each “habits” chapter with application suggestions. The suggestions provide the reader with ways to be responsible and effective for their own personal lives. Finally the author provides us with some final thoughts. So, let’s get ready to move from dependence to interdependence, keeping in mind that change is necessary and commitment is the key.

The Seven Habits

To truly grow and be an effective individual, one must begin with what Covey calls the “inside-out” approach. Covey gives several real, deep, painful problems that have no quick fix approaches. The problems are those that we are familiar with, such as losing a spouse, giving up your family life in exchange for a career, starting a new diet for the fifth time, or for whatever reason, never feeling happy about life ( Covey, p. 15-16). So, what is one to do? According to Covey, “we first have to change ourselves and we must change our perceptions ( p.18).” We must start by examining our own character, paradigms and motives. Covey drew this conclusion after an in depth study of the success literature published in the United States since 1776. He read numerous essays, books, and articles on self-improvement, self-help and popular psychology. He began to notice a pattern.

Literature dating back 50 years seemed to be filled with quick fixes, was superficial and temporary in solving chronic problems. On the other hand, literature during the first 150 years, focused on Character Ethics, “things like humility, integrity, patience, justice, modesty, courage, temperance and the Golden Rule ( p.18).” It is the Character Ethics that give us the foundation of success. However, shortly after World War II, success shifted from Character Ethics to Personality Ethics. Success became dependent on your personality, such as your behaviors, skills, techniques, public image and human interactions. As such maxims like “Your attitude determines your altitude,” Smiling wins more friends than frowning, “and “Whatever the mind of a man can conceive, and believe, will achieve it ( p.19).” Both Character Ethic and Personality Ethic are examples of social paradigms or perceptions. Better yet, both are like a map helping us to arrive at a certain location or destination. Covey argues, “what if we are using the wrong map?” What if I use a Charlotte street map while in Detroit? I would be lost, and feeling very frustrated. The same could hold true for our personal lives. What if we are using the wrong map or theories. You’ve tried hard in changing your behavior and even harder in changing your attitude, but you were living by the wrong perceptions. You’ve used the wrong interpretation. As a result, you end up making wrong turns, getting no where fast. You still feel lost and defeated. So, how do we shift paradigms in order to become effective and develop a new level of thinking? According to Covey, we develop habits that lead to personal and interpersonal effectiveness while moving from independence to interdependence (p. 49).

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People takes us into the habits that will help achieve a private victory by being more personally effective and independent.

Covey’s Habit (1) is to be “Proactive.” As human beings we are responsible for our own lives. Reactive people are driven by circumstances, conditions, the environment and feelings. Proactive people are driven by carefully considered, selected and internalized values. We must

use our resourcefulness and initiative to work toward personal goals. If we take on initiative, we are taking the responsibility to make things happen. Each person has a circle of influence and a circle of concern (pp. 81-85). Where do we focus our energy or concerns? Proactive people place their efforts in the “Circle of Influence,” while reactive people operate in the “Circle of Concern.” Worrying about things outside your circle of influence isn’t productive, whereas working withing your circle of influence is productive. Further, the more effective you become, the more your circle will expand. However, one should keep in mind that while we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions. Consequences are governed by natural law (p. 90). Consequences are outside our circle of concern. Covey uses an example of a fast-moving train to get his point across.

“We can decide to step in front of a fast-moving train, but we cannot decide what will happen when the train hits us (p.90). We must learn to live in harmony with principles, as such will bring positive consequences. Also Covey makes it clear that we must keep our commitments not only to those we make them to, but to ourselves as well. As this, develops integrity.

Habit (2) is to “Begin with the end in mind.” Covey starts with an example of considering your death. “What do you want people to say about you at your funeral and how will you be remembered? While some readers may not be motivated by this scenario, others may be. Regardless, the point is to start with the end in mind. In order to do this, it is suggested that we develop a personal mission statement. A personal mission will give us a sense of values, directions and the ability to set goals. Also consider the fact that one may be efficient, but are they effective? Habit two looks at the creation of leadership and management. According to Covey, leadership is the first creation and deals with doing the right things. Management is the second creation and deals with doing things right. Covey says that many people climb the ladder of success only to find the ladder leaning on the wrong wall. By putting the end in mind, we can visualize what ladder to climb and be able to place it on the right wall. Covey makes his point based on peak athletic performers. They visualize the position of where they want the ball to land before they hit the ball. In order to apply this to our personal life, Covey, suggest that we create an internal “comfort zone.” When we get into a situation, it won’t scare us. Thus, we find our center. Covey, asks, what is at the center of your life? Is it, family, spouse, money, work, possessions, pleasure, friends, enemies, church, or self? Whatever is at the center of your life will also be your source for wisdom, power, security and guidance. While no one can make that choice for us, our lives need to be centered on the correct principles of deep fundamental truths. Covey ends habit two by having the reader write a mission statement for his/her life.

Habit (3) is to “Put first things first.” In order to do this, we first must understand that there are many things we feel we have to do, but we don’t do them. This is because they are not urgent. In order not to continue doing the same old thing, we must realize that some things do have a significant, positive impact on our life, while others may not. Those that aren’t urgent can be delayed. Covey then points out the importance of productivity and time management. We should organize and execute around priorities. In order to learn this habit, Covey provides us with a list of examples of the way people might see their various roles (p. 163). For example, one’s roles might be as an individual, spouse, parent, manager, United Way chairperson and a member of the School Board. Covey then provides us with a sample weekly schedule based on our roles, goals and order of priority (pp. 166-167, 180-181). Along with organizing and prioritizing, Covey suggests that we learn to schedule and delegate. He concludes the importance of independence with habit three and moves into interdependence with habits four through seven. Interdependence is the key to working with people and being part of a team. With interdependence, we have the abilities to be good leaders, effective managers, think maturely, and be good producers.

Habit (4) is to “Think win/win.” According to Covey, there are six paradigms to human interaction: Win/Win, Lose/Lose, Win/Lose, Win, Lose/Win, Win/Win or No Deal. With Win/Win, solutions and agreements are mutually beneficial. Win/Lose, uses power, position, and personality to get one’s way. Lose/Win people are quick to please and appease. They will either give up or give in. Lose/Lose is a result of two Win/Lose individuals who will not give in to the others concerns. Win says, win at all cost because other people do not matter. Win/Win or No Deal is to agree to disagree. There is no solution that will benefit both parties. Covey points out that many people think Win/Lose. Simply put, if I win, then you lose. This type of thinking has been programmed into society causing many to focus on power and credentials. Such thinking will drive people away and cause for ineffective relationships. To be successful we should learn to leverage the strengths of others. To do this effectively involves being able to find Win/Win deals.

Habit (5), “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” relates to our listening skills. Most people don’t listen, but rather wait to talk. If we aren’t listening, then how can we discover Win/Win deals? Listening should not be selective listening, nor should we pretend to listen. Only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say, another 30 percent by our sounds, and 60 percent by our body language ( Maude). Because we listen autobiographically (from the perspective of our own paradigms), we tend to respond in one of four ways: we evaluate, probe, advise and/or interpret. We are trying to figure people out based on their motives and behavior. This is the language of logic and not sentiment. Real listening is empathic. It is listening with your eyes, ears and heart. It is the most powerful, because it calls for openness and trust. Covey stresses, that listening is using both the right and left brain. We should listen for understanding, listen for meaning, and listen with feelings. Of course, Covey is not the first to write about the importance of listening and the need to be understood. There have been many others, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, when he implored, “Lord grant that I might seek not so much to be understood, but to understand (Maude).

Habit (6) is “Synergies.” To synergies means, “a mutually advantageous conjunction where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts or a dynamic state in which combined action is favored over the sum of individual component actions (en).” Covey writes, “it is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part (p. 263).” Synergy is valuing the differences in people and how they see the world. That difference can be a source of insight. Covey says: "Valuing the differences is the essence of synergy. It is valuing the mental, the emotional, the psychological differences between people. And the key to valuing those differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are

(p. 277)." It is possible and very real for two people to disagree and both are right. Thus, “when you introduce synergy, you use the motive of Habit 4, the skill of Habit 5, and the interaction of Habit 6 to work directly on restraining forces (p. 280).” By doing this we are able to create new insights. People become involved in the problem to the point of making the problem important enough to become part of the solution. As a result, the whole can move forward. New goals and shared goals are created. Covey concludes habit six by telling us to sidestep a negative synergy, don’t take insults personally, look for the good in others, and that in order to get others to express their feelings and thoughts openly, we must do the same.

The final habit discussed in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is, “Sharpen the saw.” This habit focuses on seif renewal. Habit seven is an analogy of habit three. Habit (3) Put First Things First, is to balance productivity with future productive capability. In other words, you must take care of yourself just as you do a machine. We cannot be productive if we don’t sharpen the saw, or maintain the machine. Covey breaks personal renewal into four dimensions:

“Physical Renewal,” covers topics such as exercise, nutrition and stress management. The physical dimension involves taking care of our body by eating the right foods, getting enough rest and exercising on a regular basis. Many of us put these activities off because we feel they are not urgent, later on, only to be faced with health problems. We therefore need to sharpen the saw in the areas of endurance, flexibility and strength. “Mental Renewal,” discusses the need to read, to visualize, write and plan. With many people, after they finish their formal education, they stop reading, writing, visualizing and planning. It is very important to continue our mental development. “Continuing our education and expanding our minds is vital for mental renewal

(p. 295).” “Character cannot be made except by a steady, long continual process (p. 297).” “Social/Emotional Renewal,” involves interacting with others to build our own sense of well-being, service, empathy and synergy.

Spiritual Renewal involves possible religion, study, meditation, clarification, and commitment. The spiritual dimension is our core, our center and our commitment to our value system. It is the renewing of the spirit that provides leadership to one’s life.

Finally, the concluding chapter: “Inside-Out Again.” Covey provides us with information on, “deep communication,” “inter-generational living,” and “becoming a transition person.” There are rules for each. Take deep communications for example. The first rule is no probing. Probing can be too invasive. In order to avoid negative results of probing, simply be empathic. The second rule is to stop when communications become painful, painful in that they stir deep emotional experiences. While it is good to talk about feelings, it is better not to trample on tender issues. Next, there is intergenerational living, which deals with bequest left on our children - family roots and wings. By understanding the role of scripting, we understand the transcendent power in a strong intergenerational family. An effectively interdependent family of children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can be a powerful force in helping people have a sense of who they are, where they came from and on what they stand.

"There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots, the other wings."

- Anonymous.

Lastly, what it takes to become a transition person. A transition person does not pass on negative scripts to the next generation. They change those negative scripts. One such example of a transition person was Anwar Sadat, the former President of Egypt. He was a powerful transition person for peace in the Middle East. Sadat said, "He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality, and will never, therefore, make any progress."

By combining deep communications, with inter-generational living and being a transition person, we create unity and oneness with ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, and our associates. Thus we become proactive, effective people, living with fairness, integrity, service and dignity.


Throughout the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Steven Covey points to principles as the focus. The book presents the principles as an approach instead of a set of behaviors. Covey introduces the first three habits as a “Private Victory,” intended to take a person from dependence to independence. Covey points out that we must be able to win our own private victories before we can move onto our public victories. Covey insists that for us to be effective winners in our personal lives and work environments, we must be Proactive. He emphasizes the original sense of the term "proactive" as coined by Victor Frankl. You can be either proactive or reactive when it comes to how you act about certain things. Being proactive is taking responsibility for everything in your life. When you're reactive, you blame other people and circumstances for obstacles or problems. A sequel to The Seven Habits is, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, published in 2004. The eighth habit is to find your voice and help others find theirs. Like the first seven habits, the eighth is intended to encourage and inspire.

Reflective Statement

After reading this book, I can understand why it was on the best sellers’ list. At first, I thought that it was a motivational self help book, only to realize that it isn’t. It has readers look deeply into relationships and behavior. The 'Seven Habits' are a remarkable set of inspirational and aspirational standards for anyone who seeks to live a full, purposeful and good life, and are applicable today more than ever. Covey offers insights into the importance of values, integrity, love, service, communication, and humanity, In order to really learn the seven habits or principles, I will have to read it several times. Reading through the book the first time only prepares you to learn about yourself. The book is a blueprint for personal development and for developing good character-based living. While the principles are easy to understand, they are not so easy to apply. This is because in order to become an effective individual, one must be willing to change their attitudes, perceptions and old habits. “The Seven Habits,” is full of wonderful ideas and relevant habits that can help us become effective. While the first half of the book offers practical guidance and explanations, the second half does not. I found it to be a bit preachy and patronizing. The second half may be considered high structured or academic for some, thinking the book only for business leaders. It is full of cliches and slogans and gives too much information for one reading. While reading the book, I did stop and call several dear friends and recommend that they read this book. I am glad I took the time to read this book and have already started shifting paradigms, especially about myself. I now realize that while it is okay to be independent, interdependence is far better.


Jones, W. What Legacy Are We Leaving Our Children? Retrieved October 14, 2007 /wiki/Victor_Franklfrom

Maude,M. ACFRE, FAHP , On Listening. Retrieved October 12, 2007

Official Covey Website. (2006). The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Retrieved October 17, 2007 from

/wiki/Victor_FranklSadat, Anwar. Quotation. Retrieved October 15, 2007 from


Synergy defined. Http://

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