The 7 Habits of
Highly Effective People
Stephen Covey’s book is one of the phenomenona of modern personal
development writing. It has sold a million copies a year for the last
12 years, has been translated into 32 languages, and forms the
intellectual basis of a huge company.
It took Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and
Influence People 60 years to have the same sort of impact.
What lifted it above the mass of books that claim the secret to a
Firstly, it was timing. The 7 Habits came out just as we entered the
1990s. Suddenly, aspiring to be a ‘Master of the Universe’ in a
shoulder-padded world did not seem to satisfy, and people were ready
for a different prescription for getting what they really wanted out of
life. Covey’s message of ‘restoring the character ethic’ was so
old-fashioned it seemed revolutionary. Having previously studied the
success literature of the last 200 years for a doctoral dissertation,
Covey was able to draw a distinction between what he termed the
‘personality ethic’ - the quick-fix solutions and human relations
techniques which had pervaded much of the writing this century - and
the character ethic, which revolved around unchanging personal
principles. Covey believed that outward success was not success at all
if it was not the manifestation of inner mastery; in his terminology,
‘private victory’ must precede ‘public victory’.
The second, more practical reason for the book’s success is that it is
a compelling read both as a self-help book and a leadership/management
manual. This crossover status effectively doubled its market. It also
means that the reader interested only in personal development may not
like the management terms, diagrams and business anecdotes that fill
it. For a book that is so much about changing paradigms, it is
remarkably representative of the paradigm of business thinking. But
that should be a small price to pay for what is a brilliant life
re-engineering guide, enlivened by Covey’s personal and family
experiences. Covey may be Dale Carnegie’s heir in many ways, but his
classic is more systematic, comprehensive and life-expanding than any
of the modern self-help titles which came before it.
The 7 Habits puts effectiveness at a higher level than achievement.
Achievement is hollow unless what you achieve is actually worthwhile,
both in terms of your highest aims and service to others. Covey’s view
is that the personality ethic of 20th century self-help had helped to
create a high-achieving society that also did not happen to know where
it was going.
What are the seven habits? You will have to read the book to find out,
but many have said they are just common sense. On their own, yes, but
put together in the one package, in the sequence they are in, and with
the philosophy of principle-centredness to support them, they can
produce the synergy which Covey celebrates.
Through its use of the habit as the unit of action, The 7 Habits gives
readers the momentum to incorporate its teachings into daily life. We
are given the means for changing the little, in order to transform the
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provides
a useful, sequential framework for understanding much about the process
of Personal Development. Many highly successful people seem to have
naturally developed these principles of effectiveness.
Stephen Covey's principled approach is not a quick-fix prescription for
personal growth. But, says Covey, if you work hard at acquiring these
principles, if you learn them well, think about them deeply and teach
them to others, they will eventually become internalized. They will
lead to fundamental change because they will affect who you are - your
character - for the better.
Your personality was formed as the result of specific behaviours you
internalised as you grew up. These behaviours are not things we need to
think about, they represent little success strategies or ways of coping
with life that we have found to be helpful. If you take a look at what
Seneca said about human character, you will see how acquiring new
habits leads to a fundamental change of character.
The seven principles Covey presents are not his own original thoughts -
he does not claim to have originated the ideas but simply to have found
a framework and a language for articulating the timeless principles
embedded into the seven habits. The 7 habits are to be found, he says,
in all the major world religions. He believes the principles themselves
to be 'self-evident', that is, 'you cannot really argue against them'.
His view is that all highly effective people, and enduringly effective
organizations, have utilised the 7 habits, to a greater or lesser
extent, to sustain their success.
Covey says that the 7 habits are 'common knowledge' but, he adds, are
not necessarily 'common practice'. In fact, it could be argued that the
habits actually run counter to basic human nature. By our nature, we
are reactive creatures and we are inclined to act mainly out of
self-interest. But we are also as human beings capable of much higher
thoughts and actions and by working hard to internalize the 7 habits we
are able to develop a proactive attitude. By so doing, we can take
charge of our own destinies and we are capable of exerting influence on
other people for the collective good.
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