The 8th Habit:  From effectiveness to greatness

Reviewed by: 
Stephen Covey
Simon & Schuster
Gill McKay, Director, Extensor Limited

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It is 18 years since Stephen Covey published his seminal work “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, which was a hugely impactful book, selling millions of copies across the globe. In that book, Dr Covey showed us how to become as effective as we possibly could be. In the 8th Habit, he opens up more potential for us all – by moving from “effectiveness to greatness”. The world today is different, with more challenge, ambiguity and complexity and while the 7 Habits form a strong basis upon which to start, it is this next step – the 8th Habit –that will take us to true fulfilment in what Covey describes as the age of the knowledge worker.

I learned a lot from his previous books, particularly the 7 Habits, and approached the 8th Habit with real enthusiasm. Unfortunately I found it a much more difficult read which, although it contained some good tips and new and metaphors, did not deliver on its initial perceived promise.

The book’s synopsis promises that The 8th Habit is the answer to the yearning for greatness, the organisation's imperative for significance and superior results, and the human’s search for its "voice". I believe there are some handy tips to be found in the book, but it is a much less intuitive read than his previous works.
The book is divided into two sections.  The first focuses on “finding your voice” and the second on “inspiring others to find their’s”. Here is a synopsis of both parts:

Finding your voice

The essence of this habit is that you will find your voice when you can say you are 100% involved with what you are doing in your life, so that your body, mind, heart and spirit are all engaged in whatever is important to you. To find your voice, you need to examine your natural talent, what you absolutely love to do, what really interests you.  And you must listen to the confirming inner voice of your conscience that tells you what is the right thing to do.

We can discover our voice because of the 3 gifts we are born with:

Gift 1: The freedom to choose

Gift 2: The natural laws or principles – those that dictate the consequences of behaviour. Positive consequences come from fairness, kindness, respect, honesty, integrity, service and contribution

Gift 3: The four intelligences – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Covey talks about great achievers expressing their voice through the use of their intelligences; for example:

  • Great achievers develop their mental energy into vision
  • Great achievers develop their physical energy into discipline
  • Great achievers develop their emotional energy into passion
  • Great achievers develop their spiritual energy into conscience – their inward moral sense of what is right and wrong and their drive towards meaning and contribution.

Moral authority makes formal authority work towards positive ends. Hitler had vision, discipline and passion, but was driven by a mad ego. Lack of conscience and understanding of “Gift 2” was his downfall. We must control our ego and let our conscience guide our moment to moment behaviour. As we develop the 4 intelligences, we will find our voice.

Covey says that the reality in business today is that there are many people who have not found their voices or have lost their voices. We see this every day – people go to work to serve their “bodily” needs, but do not really put their creativity, talent and intelligence into the job. Very true – and losing your voice is a good metaphor for understanding – the question of course is; how do we get our voice back?

Inspiring others to find their voice

When you have found your voice, you can begin inspiring others to do the same – this is really about leadership. Great leaders have always inspired people to be self aware, to find themselves and to find their voice – that is the essence of greatness. People and organisations who have truly found their voices go on to become great.

Leadership greatness is about 4 things; modelling the 7 habits, pathfinding, aligning and empowering.  Pathfinding is about “one voice”, shared vision, values, uniting diverse people into one shared voice, creating order without demanding it.  The voice of execution requires you to practice alignment so that the values and strategy are consistently executed without relying on the leader’s continuing presence. Covey goes on to reiterate a point previously made by John Kotter, that  most organisations are over managed and under led, and the empowering role of leadership means creating agreements about goals that align with the company’s vision and then holding people accountable for results. He states that true empowerment is the natural result of both personal and organisational trustworthiness, which enables people to identify and then unleash their potential.

Organisational greatness comes from a vision, mission and values that bring clarity, commitment, translation, synergy, enabling and accountability. Covey says that an organisation with great leaders (who live the 4 leadership roles of modelling, pathfinding, alignment and empowering) and great people (who have discovered their gifts and their voice) has hit the “sweet spot” – where the greatest expression of power and potential happens.  He leaves us with 4 essential disciplines which, if practiced consistently, can vastly improve our ability to focus on and execute our top priorities:

  • Focus on what is important – focus only on a few crucial goals
  • Create a compelling scoreboard – people play differently when they are keeping score
  • Translate goals into specific actions – weekly and daily tasks
  • Hold each other accountable, all the time.

The 8th Habit contains summaries of the material from his other books, however, somehow is more difficult to read. It reads more as an encyclopaedia of Covey’s work, rather than the intuitive flow of the attributes that make a person great.  If you have not already read the 7 Habits, I would strongly recommend you to read it before tackling this book.  It is better written, easier to follow and each of the habits are described in a way which makes them easier to understand in the context of each of the other habits.

The book does contain some good ideas and some new language to think about self development and leadership, but for me was less of a cathartic experience than The 7 Habits.

In summary, The 8th Habit is an interesting read, but it does not measure up to the quality of Covey’s original work.

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