The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 

By: Stephen R. Covey



The Wall Street Journal has called this book “the most influential business book of the century” and it’s certainly one of the most recognised. Despite being written a number of years ago, it still remains an insightful and thought-provoking reference for today’s leaders. Join us for the next ten minutes or so while we revisit the ideas of the late Dr. Stephen Covey and their alignment to today’s world.

At the nub of Covey’s habits is a progression through dependency. He implies there are three progressive levels.

Dependence is the paradigm of third party care. You support me and tell me what to do and think. If things go wrong, you’re to blame.

Independency is the paradigm of me. I’ll look after myself. I’ll decide what to do. I’m responsible.

Interdependency is the paradigm of us. Let’s work on this together. Two minds are better than one.

Life is interdependent. If I’m interdependent, I am self-reliant and capable, but I also realise that you and I working together can accomplish far more than I could accomplish alone.

Covey’s first three habits focus on the move from dependency to independency. Habits 4 to 6 support the move from independence to the advantages of interdependency. The seventh habit keeps us there.


What is proactivity? By Covey’s definition, it’s more than taking initiative. It’s about assuming responsibility for ourselves. We take the responsibility to make things happen. Highly proactive people recognise that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice based on personal values.

A great way to become more self-aware regarding our level of proactivity is to look at where we focus our time and energy. There are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about. Proactive people work on the things they can do something about – their Circle of Influence.

To take the first steps to proactivity:

Make a promise — and keep it.
Set a goal — and work to achieve it.

The power to make and keep commitments to ourselves is the essence of developing the basic habits of effectiveness. Start with small commitments within your Circle of Influence.


When we set out on a journey we usually have an idea of where we want to go. Unfortunately, for many businesses this is not the case. Covey puts it succinctly: it’s really easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success…only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. It is absolutely possible to be busy — without being very effective.

If we want to have a successful enterprise, we need to clearly define what it’s trying to accomplish. We develop the product we want to provide, we identify our target market, then organise finance, R&D, operations and marketing to meet that objective. Depending on how well we have the end in mind will govern whether or not we succeed.

If we don’t take that control, we allow other people and circumstances outside our Circle of Influence to shape our destiny.

Covey suggests an effective way to begin with the end is to develop a personal mission statement, focussing on what we want to be and to do and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based. It becomes a personal constitution, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.

Start a collection of notes, quotes, and ideas that you may want to use as resource material in writing your personal mission statement. Break the statement down into the specific role areas of your life and the goals you want to accomplish in each area.


Putting first things first is effective management. Many tasks and activities in our lives can be urgent. Many can also be important. But not all. Urgent means it requires immediate attention. Importance, on the other hand, has to do with results. If something is important, it contributes to our mission, our values and our goals. Effective management deals with things that are not urgent, but are important. There are four key facets of effective management set out by Covey:

  • It’s principle-cantered.
  • It’s conscience-directed.
  • It defines our unique mission, including values and long-term goals.
  • It helps balance our life by identifying roles, and by setting goals.

The starting point is therefore a commitment to start organizing, meeting the four facets above and creating the fifth facet: a commitment to do it regularly.


Win/Win is not a technique; it’s a philosophy of human interaction. Thinking Win/Win is the core of interpersonal leadership. It consists of mutual learning, mutual influence, and mutual benefit. The principle of Win/Win is fundamental to success in all of our interactions. Character is the foundation of Win/Win, and Covey describes three traits.

INTEGRITY The value we place on ourselves.

MATURITY The balance between courage and consideration.

The belief that there is plenty out there for everybody.

Win/Win can only survive in an organisation where Win/Win is embedded. If we talk Win/Win but reward Win/Lose, we’re the ultimate losers. For Win/Win to work, the planning system, the communication system, the budgeting system, the information system, the compensation system… all have to be based on the principle of Win/Win.

So let’s identify a relationship where we’d like to develop a Win/Win agreement. We need to step into the other person’s shoes, and write down how we think that person sees the solution. Then list, from our own perspective, what results would constitute a win for us. Does it fit? Approach the other person and ask what they think. Is it enough of a starting compromise?


The key to effective interpersonal communication is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. According to Covey, when another person speaks, we listen at one of four levels: We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all.

We may practice pretend listening.
We may practice selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation.
We may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said.

…but very few of us ever practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening, empathic listening - listening with intent to understand.

Empathic listening is powerful because it gives us accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting our own perspective and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, we’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart. How do we do it? According to Covey, empathic listening, involves four developmental stages.

The first and least effective is to mimic content. Just listen to the words that come out of someone’s mouth and repeat them. The second stage is to rephrase the content. This time, we’ve put his meaning into our own words. Now we’re thinking about what he said, mostly with the left side, the reasoning, logical side of our brain.

The third stage brings our right brain into operation. We reflect feeling. Now we’re not paying as much attention to what he’s saying as to the way he feels about what he’s saying. The fourth stage includes both the second and the third. You rephrase the content and reflect the feeling. As we seek to understand, as we rephrase content and reflect feeling, we give him room to express and work through his own thoughts and feelings.

Now that you have listened and understand the other person’s perspective, it’s time for you to be understood. To be understood is simply the reverse. Place your point of view in a way that the other party can review it within their own context and situation.


What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

When we communicate synergistically, we are opening our mind and heart to new possibilities, new alternatives and new options. Synergy is exciting. It’s amazing what open communication can produce. According to Covey, the possibilities of truly significant gain, of significant improvement are so real that it’s worth the risk that openness entails.

Valuing the mental, emotional and psychological differences between people is the essence of synergy. The key to valuing those differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.

We need to value the differences in our perceptions, value each other and believe the possibility that we’re both right. Life is not always binary — there are almost always third alternatives.

When we see only two alternatives (ours and the “wrong” one) we need to look for a synergistic third alternative. If we work with a Win/Win philosophy and seek to understand, we can find a solution that will be better for everyone concerned.

To put synergy thinking in to action, engage a person who typically sees things differently than you do. Consider ways in which those differences might be used as stepping-stones to third alternative solutions.


Habit 7 is personal professional development. It’s all about enhancing the greatest asset we have – ourselves.

“Sharpen the saw” means exercising all four dimensions of our nature: Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Social/Emotional, regularly and consistently.

The physical dimension involves caring effectively for our physical body: eating the right kinds of foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis.

Renewing the spiritual dimension provides leadership to your life. The spiritual dimension is your core, your centre your commitment to your value system. It’s a very private area of life and a supremely important one. Exposure to the things that inspire and uplift you are critical, as is immersion in great literature or great music.

Most of our mental development comes through formal education. But as soon as we leave school, we lose that discipline. We don’t do any more serious reading, we don’t think analytically, we don’t write… instead, we watch TV or mindlessly browse Twitter and Facebook. Continuing education is key and proactive people can figure out many, many ways to educate themselves and keep their minds sharp.

The social and emotional dimensions of our lives are tied together because our emotional life is developed out of our relationships with others. Renewing our social/emotional dimension does not take time in the same sense that renewing the other dimensions does. We can do it in our normal everyday interactions with other people. But it definitely requires exercise. We may have to push ourselves to get out and meet people beyond social media.

So there you have it: six habits and a seventh renewal process. They’re Covey’s key to becoming highly effective and they work. Millions of readers can’t be wrong. Will you start today?

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