I am not the best example of a Stephen R. Covey student, but he set a good example. I have read several of his books and listened to many of his tapes many times. I think a lot of people were similar to myself in that we wanted to follow his path, but just somehow didn't quite make it. Still I know I am better off for the effort and haven't yet given up. His death this past week has made me want to review what he had taught me. He left a legacy to benefit anyone who cares to make an effort to understand.
"The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" is one path to being more effective. Based on studying the characteristics and habits of people who got things done. Habits are the key. We all have them, but they aren't necessarily the healthiest of habits.
Running down the seven habits helps focus on how we could all get more out of life.
The first habit is to be pro active. Most of us react to whatever happens to us. We blame others if things don't work out. Covey feels you must make the decisions that affect you as much as possible and take responsibility for your actions.
The second habit is to begin with the end in mind. What this boils down to is to have a purpose in life with goals that are important to you. Most of us don't think about whether we have a mission in life or how we would like to be remembered. Covey highly recommends you give a lot of thought to what you want to have accomplished by the end of your life. That should be reflected in everything you do.
The third habit is an outgrowth of the second. As much as possible you should always be doing something towards what you have identified as important to you. Instead we spend much of our time dealing with problems that demand immediate attention or on things that really don't matter. Thinking this out (and I do try to do this each week) you should work towards your goals and when you are not able to do anything towards the most important one think of your next most important goal or think of some small step towards your highest priorities. I was surprised to realize that this doesn't require frantic activity 24 hours a day as Covey recognized that rest and regenerating yourself were just as critical as any task. If a matter is really urgent you cannot ignore it, but if you carve out more and more time for the really important you will need to spend less time on the urgent and the trivial.
Moving to the fourth habit comes a recognition that to get things done we have to deal with other people who have their own set of priorities. Whenever you feel you need to get something from another person you need to think what they could get out of helping you. Win-win is the goal. If one of you loses, even yourself the exchange is not in the long run successful.
The fifth habit is a very key one. We all want to be understood, feeling that if the other person understood you they would give you what you want and deserve. We are so wrapped up in this that we make little if any effort to understand their viewpoint. Stephen urges, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Encourage the other person to express their concerns and don't interrupt except to express understanding or encourage them to continue. When you understand them it makes it much easier to move forward. It is important to be understood, but much easier for them when they feel they are understood.
The sixth habit is to synergize. Working as a team we can accomplish a whole lot more than doing it ourselves. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
The seventh habit is to "sharpen the saw." Stephen uses this metaphor to point out that we need to have balance in our lives and need to renew our skills.
One basic idea of being more effective is to realize we live in an interdependent world. I have paraphrased his thought that when we are born we are totally dependent on others to survive. As we grow we gradually become more and more independent. Full growth occurs when we realize we have always been inter-dependent.
That idea seems very relevant with the political campaigns ranting about the issue. There is a strong streak in America (and to a lesser extent elsewhere as well) that the strong self made man is the ideal, the model for the rest of us. It is a self serving delusion of some successful people. One candidate talks about unleashing business and that any restrictions are very harmful.
Another candidate seems to feel that we can get more done if we work together. Many people feel that restrictions (ie. regulations) do more harm than good. Some people feel that we shouldn't hold back the strong people in any way and that those who aren't strong should not be allowed to mooch off the successful.
I am from the school that believes nobody got to where they are by themselves. Obviously it helps to have parents that passed on strong genes and healthy nurturing. It helps that schools (formal learning facilities) allowed you to develop knowledge and skills and perhaps stirred your imagination to see new solutions to old problems. It helps that many people combine their efforts to provide easy means for you to communicate and get around. For most of us we live in a relatively safe environment that lets us grow stronger. Today it can be helpful that we are much more conscious of and can take advantage of global interaction. At bottom is the need for someone to buy what you are selling. We are all selling something and many of are paid off with salaries, commissions, rents, etc. Some of us are selling ideas and they need believers.
There will be many people praising the contributions of Stephen R Covey. I just wanted to add that even a relatively unsuccessful blogger is better off for having read and listened to Stephen R Covey and firmly believe the world would be better off if more people followed his teachings.