Sunday, April 5, 2009

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 

By Stephen R. Covey 

Review by Bill Doughty

This is more than a book review. That’s because the ‘7 Habits’ is more than a book...

Covey calls his groundbreaking work a “companion in the continual process of change and growth.” He challenges readers to take his “companion” with them on life’s journey, integrating his seven habits at home and at work to build relationships, strengthen leadership and chart a course.

No wonder The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was selected for the CNO’s recommended reading list. Covey’s insights about character often dovetail with senior leaders’ strategic guidance; the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment; and Navy Ethos. In fact, he spends a lot of time talking about courage. “High courage and consideration (of others) are both essential to win/win,” Covey says. 

Think of the best leaders you’ve known, the most respected colleagues and co-workers. Chances are, they have a win/win approach to leadership (more about that later). . . 

Using diagrams and models Covey takes us through the interlocking pieces of his 7 habits. 

Habit 1, “Be Proactive,” is all about empowerment, the ability to control your environment – making good choices and determining the course you will navigate. 

Habit 2, “Begin with the End in Mind,” gets deeper into character and values, recognizing that people who have a sense of purpose are indeed highly effective. For Sailors, Marines and civilians serving in the Department of the Navy, the CNO’s Guidance for 2009 reinforces the Maritime Strategy as the Navy’s purpose – “sustaining combat readiness, building a fleet for the future and developing 21st Century leaders.” The Maritime Strategy, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” puts the ‘operative’ in ‘cooperative’ for “Security, Stability, Seapower.”


Habit 3, “Put First Things First,” discusses organization and implementation or, as CNOs and Fleet Commanders have put it, “focus on execution.” Covey says that principle-centered leadership comes from practicing the principles of personal management, and draws this distinction: “Management, remember, is clearly different from leadership. Leadership is primarily a high-powered, right brain activity. It’s more of an art; it’s kind of a philosophy.” He shows us that we have to manage our lives and our selves before we can lead others. 

Habit 4, “Think Win-Win,” begins the evolution to independence and eventually to the ultimate goal, interdependence. Here it’s all about cooperation, teamwork, and consideration for others – creating a paradigm of high trust and a vision that is positive and proactive. 

Habit 5, “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood,” is Covey’s very powerful communication message about the importance of listening, summed up in the popular maxim: “People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.” 

Habit 6, “Synergize,” talks about the creativity that comes from bringing all the habits together to open new possibilities for us, our parents and children, and our leaders and coworkers. Covey thinks this can change people and society itself. “Could synergy not create a new script for the next generation – one that is more geared to services and contribution, and is less protective, less adversarial, less selfish; one that is more open, more trusting, more giving, and is less defensive, protective and political; one that is more loving, more caring and is less possessive and judgmental?”


Habit 7, “Sharpen the Saw,” is the habit of balanced self-renewal, completely in line with the Navy’s emphasis on continually training, maintaining, educating, and learning. These are the basics of the seven habits in what Covey calls his “companion.” For many readers, this is not new information, but it can reinforce and strengthen already good habits. 

Personally, I re-read one or two chapters from time to time, once after a 2007 podcast of “Talk of the Nation – Science Friday” with Ira Flatow on National Public Radio.  The show’s topic was “Can Thoughts and Actions Change Our Brains” – a fascinating discussion of some pioneering work in neuroscience called neuroplasticity (changeability of the brain).

In essence, science is showing how our brain can change in response to our life experiences and even the very thoughts we think. 

Behavior can change the way our brain works – even structurally. Whether it’s called “mind over matter,” “the power of positive thinking,” “the power of prayer and meditation” or “cognitive behavior therapy (CBT),” it is thinking about thinking in a different way for a better outcome. CBT might as well be called “Covey’s Better Thinking.” 

Neuroscientists are proving that cognitive behavior therapy can help people suffering from depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Check out the great discussion about PTSD and traumatic brain injury, mentioning neuroplasticity, in a Bloggers Roundtable discussion on PTSD from Jan. 2009.)

CBT can even help with brain motor cortex functions in stroke victims. Interestingly, the development of neurons occurs in patients who are self-motivated, not forced . . .  which brings us back to managing ourselves and leading others. 

Nearly everyone can benefit from knowing we can have a lot of control over our own destiny. New discoveries in neuroplasticity reinforce the importance of a positive worldview and the value of education and reading . . . which brings us back to the Covey “book.” 

Covey’s philosophy really is more than a book. It has become synonymous for open and trusting management systems and with how individuals can make good choices about behavior and lifestyle, based on a win-win model of leadership and a positive view of the world . . . which brings us to Covey's blog, a good 7th habit tool.

Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is in the “Management and Strategic Planning” section of the Navy Professional Reading Program Guide


Keith said...

I just read this book a couple weeks ago. I also took the class. As a retired CPO, I wish I had read something like this years ago. Sure helps to pkeep everything in perspective.

- Jack said...

It seems that to change the brain, as indicated in the research you sight, you must first change your mind. Changing your mind is deciding which thoughts you are going to keep and the ones on which to concentrate (Habit 5).

It then appears that our lives are not so much the product of our environment but the decisions we make in our reaction to our environment. If we choose to change our thoughts regarding our reaction to our environment we then empower ourselves (Habit 1) to control our lives (Habit 2).

When we order our thoughts to enhance our lives (Habit 3) according to what is important to our family and then focus on others and seek a mutual good (Habit 4) because we cannot live our lives in isolation and be productive, we find our lives empowered not only for ourselves and our families but also to those with whom we interact in the course of our day (Habit 6).

Each interaction changes the fabric of our thoughts and those thoughts brought in line with the common good (teamwork) from all parties continues to evolve and strengthen in cultivation of the accomplished mission (Habit 7).

Changing our minds can change our brains and change our lives.

I'm just sayin' ...

Anonymous said...

Read the book and took the class years ago. Your book review reminds me that there are parts that I need to re-read. I don't see any refresher courses being offered. COMPACFLT's Professional Development and Diversity library just got in the audio version of the book. Will make sure to check it out.

Bill Doughty said...

Thanks for the great comments!

Jack, I really appreciate your perspective and the way you tie all the "habits" together. It really generated some classic nature/nurture discussion around our water cooler.

I'm just listenin'...