Stephen R. Covey has based his foundation for success on the character ethics. This includes things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty and the golden rule. The personality ethic– personality growth, communication skills training and education in the field of influence strategies and positive thinking– is secondary to the character ethics. What we “are” communicates far more eloquently than what we “say” or “do.”
A paradigm is the way we perceive, understand and interpret the world around us. It is a different way of looking at people and things. To be effective we need to make a paradigm shift. Most scientific breakthroughs are the results of paradigm shifts such as Copernicus viewing the sun as the center of the universe rather than Earth. Paradigm shifts are quantum changes, whether slow and deliberate or instantaneous.
A habit is the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. Knowledge is the “what to do” and the “why,” skill is the “how to do,” and desire is the “motivation” or “want to do.” In order for something to become a habit, you have to have all three of the above. The seven habits are a highly integrated approach that moves from dependency (you take care of me) to independence (I take care of myself) to interdependence (we can do something better together). The first three habits deal with independence– the essence of character growth. Habits four, five and six deal with interdependence– teamwork, cooperation and communication. Habit seven is the habit of renewal.
The seven habits are in harmony with a natural law that Covey calls the “P/PC Balance.” Here P stands for production of desired results and PC stands for production capacity, the ability or asset. For example, if you fail to maintain a lawn mower (PC), it will wear out and not be able to mow the lawn (P). You need to maintain a balance between the time spent mowing the lawn (desired result) and maintaining the lawn mower (asset). Assets can be physical, such as the lawn mower example; financial, such as the balance between the principal (PC) and interest (P); and humans, such as the balance between training (PC) and meeting schedule (P). You need the balance to be effective. Otherwise, you will have neither a lawn mower nor a mowed lawn.
Habit 1– Be Proactive
Being proactive means taking responsibility for your life– the ability to choose the responses to a situation. Proactive behaviour is the outcome of conscious choice based on values whereas reactive behaviour is based on feelings. Reactive people let circumstances, conditions or their environment tell them how to respond. Proactive people let carefully thought about, selected and internalised values tell them how to respond. It is not what happens to us but our response that differentiates the two behaviours. No one can make you miserable unless you choose to let him or her.
Habit 2– Begin with the End in Mind
The most fundamental application of this habit is to begin each day with an image, picture or paradigm of the end of your life as your frame of reference. Each part of your life can be examined in terms of what really matters to you– a vision of your life as a whole.
All things are created twice– there are a mental or first creation and a physical or second creation to all things. To build a house you first create a blueprint and then construct the actual house. You create a speech on paper before you give it. If you want to have a successful organisation, you begin with a plan that will produce the appropriate end. Thus, leadership is the first creation and management is the second. Leadership means doing the right things and management means doing things right.
Habit 3– Put First Things First
Habit one says, “You’re the creator. You are in charge.” Habit two is the first creation and is based on imagination– leadership based on values. Habit three is practising self-management and requires habits one and two as prerequisites. It is the day-by-day, moment-by-moment management of your time.
Habit 4– Think Win-Win
Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Both sides come out ahead. In fact, the end result is usually a better way. If win-win is not possible, then the alternative is no deal. It takes great courage as well as consideration to create mutual benefits, especially if the other party is thinking win-lose.
Habit 5– Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
Seek first to understand involves a paradigm shift since we usually try to be understood first. Empathic listening is the key to effective communication. It focuses on learning how the other person sees the world, how they feel etc. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone. It is that you fully and deeply understand the person, emotionally as well as intellectually. Next to physical survival is the greatest need of a human being of psychological survival– to be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated.
Habit 6– Synergy
Synergy means that the whole is greater than the parts. Together, we can accomplish more than any of us can accomplish alone. This can best be exemplified by the musical group “The Beatles.” They as a group created more music than each individual created after the group broke up. The first five habits build toward habit six. It focuses the concept of win-win and the skills of empathic communication on tough challenges that bring about new alternatives which did not exist before. Synergy occurs when people abandon their humdrum presentations and win-lose mentality and open themselves up to creative cooperation. When there is a genuine understanding, people reach solutions that are better than they could have achieved acting alone.
Habit 7– Sharpen the Saw (Renewal)
Habit seven is taking the time to sharpen the saw so that it will cut faster. It is personal PC– preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have, which is you. It is renewing the four dimensions of your nature– physical, spiritual, mental and social/emotional. All four dimensions of your nature should be used regularly in wise and balanced ways. Renewing the physical dimension means following good nutrition, rest and relaxation, and regular exercise. The spiritual dimension is your commitment to your value system. The renewal comes from prayer, meditation and spiritual reading. The mental dimension is continuing to develop your intellect through reading, seminars and writing. These three dimensions require that time be set aside– they are quadrant II activities. The social and emotional dimensions of our lives are tied together because our emotional life is primarily, but not exclusively, developed out of and manifested in our relationship with others. While this activity does not require time, it does require exercise.