The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Learning to Manage and Live Life in an Effective and People-Focused Way
By Stephen R Covey

This is one of the best-known leadership books of recent years, and the key phrase in the title is "people-focused". Rather than tackling specific problems or making external changes to processes, systems and so on, Covey's approach helps you focus on developing yourself personally and your relationships with others.

First published in 1989, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People explains a useful set of guiding principles that help you change personally as well as professionally, and so become more effective.

Covey describes three distinct stages of personal growth that we move through as we develop these habits:

  • Dependence: This is where we start, dependent on other people. And without personal development, we would stay stuck at this stage.
  • Independence: Through personal development, we become more independent and take responsibility for our actions. Still, however, we are not fully effective.
  • Interdependence: At this stage, we develop the understanding that, although we are self-reliant, we still need other people to accomplish our goals. At the interdependence stage we embrace the idea of working together for better results.

The Seven Habits Explained

The Seven Habits help us move through these three stages of personal development. The first three take you from dependence to independence. The next three usher you along to interdependence, and the seventh is needed to reinforce the others.

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin With the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. "Sharpen the Saw"

How to Build the Seven Habits

The Seven Habits need to be developed over time. Remember that these are “habits” – that means you have to pursue them consciously for a while before they become part of who you are and how you interact with other people.

To develop these Seven Habits, we strongly recommend that you study Dr Stephen Covey’s book in detail, and that you make the effort needed to make them part of your life.

And as you read it and do this, bear in mind the following Mind Tools articles, tools and courses that support and reinforce the Seven Habits:

Habits 1 & 2: Be Proactive and Begin with the End in Mind

Supporting these habits, see our articles on:

By developing a personal mission statement and proactively setting and managing your goals, you will have a clear view of where you are heading. And to take this to its logical extent, see our "Life Plan Workbook" self-study course, which helps you think through what you want to do with your life in detail.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Managing your time is key to developing this habit and becoming more effective. Among the tools at Mind Tools that help with this are:

However we also have a full-blown time management section, and our Make Time for Success course teaches the 39 essential skills you need to take full control of your time and maximize your effectiveness.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

A key skill to develop is Active Listening. This will help you deepen understanding of others and so grow into the interdependence stage of personal development.

Habit 4 & 6: Think Win-Win & Synergize

Win-Win Negotiation and using synergy are some of the skills of a good leader. There is more about leadership in the Mind Tools leadership section, and you can learn the 48 skills needed to be a truly effective leader in our "How to Lead" self-study course.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

As you work on developing the Seven Habits, it’s good to keep evaluating where you are going and how you are progressing through the stages of personal development. It takes time to develop new habits, and developing new skills will help embed your habits, so you become more ever more effective. Subscribe to our free newsletter to receive new career skills every two weeks.

Key Points

Steven Covey's Seven Habits help you develop personally and so become more effective in how you work and relate with other people. Developing these habits can help you tackle your work and life challenges with new confidence. At the core of these habits are a deeper understanding of yourself and an appreciation of the fact that you need others in order to achieve your goals. Developing them will take time and effort. But it is worthwhile and will have a lasting effect on your personal effectiveness.

Click here to buy this book from Amazon.

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