Over the last few years, I have become a strong follower of Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book and program. The company I served decided to send its senior leadership team to this training course. I complied, and went to the training, although was not optimistic going into the training that it would have any value. With so many different types of programs out there, I've always thought they were gimmicky and trying to sell you a quick "self help" that will solve all the worlds problems. After the week training, I was sold that this wasn't the case and this is a great program.
Much of the content in the book/program is common sense - things we really already know, but, don't think about. The book helps to frame concepts from a new perspective, making you really think about things you already "know", and in turn, learning more about it. The content focuses on 7 habits that one must master as they progress from dependence (the lowest level) through interdependence (the highest level where you are the most effective). The habits are: Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand, Synergize, and Sharpen the Saw. The real lessons to be learned within the content aren't in these steps as a checklist, however. The important take away is how to interact with people, how to approach relationships, and how to achieve your goals by aligning them with the goals of others.
One of the big takeaways early in the content is the concept of a matrix of importance versus urgency - breaking all of your tasks up by those that are urgent but not important, urgent and important, and unimportant but urgent, and unimportant and not urgent. Obviously the goal is to spend your time working on those items that are truly important, and recognize that there is a lot out there that is urgent but not important.
Another concept presented in the first section that is a hangup for many people is the idea of your circle of influence. Essentially, this means that if it isn't something you can control or influence, there is no reason to worry about it. So, you should focus your efforts entirely on areas where you can make an impact and have an influence. Something I find interesting in this is defining your circle of influence. For many people, their circle of influence is defined for them. They are simply told what their responsibilities are and what needs to be done. As one becomes a stronger leader, and gain higher levels of responsibility within an organization, they gain the ability to control their circle more. Further, they gain the ability to control the circles for those around them. A good leader will understand an area where they can have an impact, align themselves properly within that area to ensure it is within their influence, and then assist those around them who have the capability and capacity to play a role to align their circles with the needs.
The content focuses heavily on how to interact with other people. This concept begins with empathetic listening - the ability to really listen to understand what someone is saying. So often, people only partially listen, while they are really just thinking of what they are going to say next. This teaches the importance of understanding what the other person is saying, and fully listening to them to hear what they have to say. Understanding what someone is saying allows you to put yourself into their perspective. This is critical for being able to form a true win-win situation where both people can gain.
This blog topic is something that I could talk about for pages and pages. Instead, though, I might save individual topics for future blog postings. A couple of other concepts that I find particularly important are the ideas of the separation of stimulus and response, and that you can only influence people by changing yourself.
Covey's work has a lot of similarity with Dale Carnegie's work on How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie's work came first, and, no doubt, was an influence to Covey as he wrote his books. I personally think the Covey content is far better than Carnegie. Covey's seems to have so much more depth and importance. My feeling from reading Carnegie's book was that it was very self gratifying, it is structured around an approach of presenting a concept and then giving examples of how people who listened to him succeeded because they listened to him. I felt the book was all about telling you to complete certain actions in order to gain success. Further, success was defined solely on the basis of financial business accomplishments. Covey's work, however, uses stories and examples to present concepts and develop the basis for theories. His work focuses on becoming a better person who is better able to interact with the world around them. Its about self improvement - not just steps to win. Further, while the ultimate goal can be applied to business successes, it emphasizes making those around you successful as well. I highly recommend Covey's work to anyone.