by Steve Adubato, PhD

Stephen Covey passed away this week at the age of 79. Covey was a giant in the self-help world and the author of the best selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which sold over 20 million copies and communicated these habits in an easy-to-understand, practical fashion. In light of his passing, it is worth revisiting Covey’s “7 Habits” and attempt to put them in perspective.

--Habit 1: Be proactive. Covey believed that true leaders take responsibility for their behavior as well as the choices they make in difficult times. This habit isn’t simply about being aggressive or assertive. Rather, Covey advocated never blaming others when things go wrong, but instead looking at our own actions and how we can improve ourselves before looking at the actions of others.

--Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. It’s so simple, yet so powerful. Covey argued that creating a “mental vision” for where you want a particular project or initiative to end up is essential to deciding how you will conduct yourself. Consider business meetings. If we asked ourselves how we want our meetings to conclude, how much more effective would our meetings be? Covey’s brilliance was arguing that we should start with the end first.

--Habit 3: Put first things first. Covey said; “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Easier said than done. Too often we confuse activity with productivity. Covey wrote a wonderful book called, “First Things First”, which some people consider a book on time management, but in many ways is a classic case study on how to prioritize ones business and personal life. Great leaders decide on their priorities before they act rather than simply acting out of the need to seem busy and engaged.

--Habit 4: Think win-win. Instead of believing that in order for you to win, someone else needs to lose, Covey argued that there is an ever expanding pie or, as he called it, “a cornucopia of opportunity.” Covey believed that when you think “win-win”, you are better able to resolve conflict and find ways to solve problems as opposed to achieving your goals while creating unnecessary enemies along the way.

--Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. So many professionals argue that they are misunderstood. However, Covey said that great communicators and leaders work hard to make sure that they understand where the other person is coming from. By doing so, they are better able to have THEIR message understood. However, Covey warned, “Seeking to understand takes kindness; seeking to be understood takes courage. Effectiveness lies in balancing the two.”

--Habit 6: Synergize. The word synergy is often nothing more than jargon, but the way Covey used it was practical and profound. Said Covey; “Synergy is about producing a third alternative—not my way, not your way, but a third way that is better than either of us could come up with individually.” Covey was referring to the need for communicators and leaders to be creative negotiators that build powerful relationships with others.

--Habit 7: Sharpen the saw. Covey concluded that great leaders and communicators are never satisfied with the status quo. They are constantly working to improve themselves and those around them. They never say; “We are good enough.” Covey believed that all professionals need to continually challenge themselves, read more and ask more questions.