The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Reviewed by: 
Stephen R Covey
Sagebrush Education Resources
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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Since it was first published in 1990, The Seven Habits has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and become one of the best selling books of all time. You can get a good feel for the impact this book has had by simply reading through some of the testimonial comments which fill several pages and which are provided by people as diverse as chief executives, academics, politicians and even musicians.

The appeal of the book lies in its universal applicability. It analyses the very essence of human effectiveness, be it in relation to your work or your private life.

Covey points out that as we grow and develop we also develop a picture of the world around us that we then try to measure everything against. However, these pictures or "paradigms" as Covey refers to them, can frequently be wrong. He offers many examples throughout the book of where this occurs but I am particularly fond of the this one which was an experience described by a sailor by the name of Frank Koch writing in "Proceedings", the magazine of the US Naval Institute:

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on manoeuvres in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, "Light, bearing on the starboard bow."

"Is it steady or moving astern?" the captain called out.

Lookout replied, "Steady, captain," which meant we were on a collision course.

The captain then called to the signalman, "Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees."

Back came the reply, "Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees."

The captain said, "Send, I'm a captain, change course 20 degrees."

"I am a seaman second class" came the reply. "You had better change course 20 degrees."

By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, "Send, I'm a battleship. Change course 20 degrees."

Back came the reply, "I'm a lighthouse."

We changed course.

Having established that things are not always as they appear to be, the book then goes on to look at the way we deal with life's challenges. According to Covey, the way we approach things is as a result of habits, with "habits" being defined as the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire . As a result of his research, Covey has identified seven "habits" that are typically exhibited by highly successful people, hence the title of the book. The book goes on to describe these habits through a variety of anecdotes and examples and provides suggestions on how we might modify our own habits to enable us to become more effective ourselves.

However, unlike many books that offer a simple set of rules for improvement, Covey is honest enough to point out that the seven habits are not a set of psych-up formulas. He describes how they are only part of the jigsaw needed to move us in our development from dependence to independence to interdependence . He liken this progression to a child growing: It begins life totally dependent on others and gradually becomes more independent as it grows older. Eventually it becomes increasingly aware that all of nature is interdependent and it discovers that the higher reaches of human existence have to do with relationships and society and that human life is also interdependent .

In terms of people's maturity, especially at work, this is best described as dependence being about "you" - "it's your fault", "you didn't tell me" or "you'll take care of it won't you?" Independence is the paradigm of "I", as in "I am responsible", I will sort it out", "I can cope". And interdependence is the paradigm of teamwork and cooperation, as in "we can do it" or "if we all work together we can combine our talents and come up with a better solution".

Understanding this transition is key to the development of leadership skills and something I personally consider to be particularly important.

Finally Covey looks at people's effectiveness in terms of the relationships they have with one another. He describes this in terms of an emotional bank account where you can only make withdrawals after you have made sufficient deposits. In other words, for interdependence to work, you have to "walk the talk" as actions speak louder than words.

The book is written in a very personal style with Covey illustrating the book with numerous examples from his own experiences as both a consultant and parent. By the end of the book you are therefore likely to feel that you know him rather well - regardless of whether this is positive or not. However, despite its familiar tone, the book's style makes a difficult subject easy to read and eminently understandable.

I have deliberately chosen not to list or attempt to paraphrase the Seven Habits in this review as to do so would not do justice to Covey's work. As it is, I feel that this review has barely touched on the surface of this remarkable book. It is a seminal work that I wholeheartedly recommend as something that you are likely to refer back to time and time again.

We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

- Aristotle -


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