Consider Covey’s “Seven Habits” for Focusing Your Personal and Professional Efforts
Change hits a small business like sudden, summer, storm cloud. It frustrates employees, leads to customer complaints and often causes us to miss a pleasant warm meal at home with the family. Small business owners deal with change all the time. They put up with it, tolerate it and do what it takes to stay afloat amidst fast and constant change.
But what if we saw change as an energy source. What if we could learn to adapt to change, thrive on it and transform change into opportunities? Our view of change would be different. Wouldn’t it?
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey provides seven practical habits for taking conscious control of our lives and our businesses so we can begin harnessing the power of change. He claims that with these habits, we can develop the wisdom and power necessary for achieving success and fulfillment despite the churn.
And Covey has his followers. A survey conducted by Chief Executive magazine named Seven Habits the most influential book of the 20th century. Time magazine put Covey himself on its 1996 25 Most Influential Americans list. Basically, Seven Habits proposes a principle-centered approach to life. It defines seven habits based on principles like integrity, justice, courage, humility, temperance and patience. Those habits then serve as a new foundation providing guidance for running our life and business.
Think about what makes a small business owner successful. All businesses need to strike a balance between short-term day-to-day activities and maintaining a well-focused long-term vision. When any business starts, the owner uses entrepreneurship, expertise in the specific subject matter and skill to define a product or service customers will buy. They combine this with the ability to produce and deliver leading to income and profits.
Short-term and long-term are naturally balanced at first, but as time goes by, short-term daily concerns easily take over. They compete for our attention. And while we stay short-term focused, the environment around us continues changing. Trends affecting our businesses shift. New fashion and fads emerge. Technological advancements become mainstream. Fifteen years ago, who would have anticipated the impact of low-carb diets on the food industry? Who would have predicted how business casual attire would transform the fashion industry? And while these two changes occurred, short-term minded business were blindsided giving their competition a shot at their livelihood.
Let’s consider how Covey’s suggestions can help. Covey’s first three habits help us achieve private or personal victories. With them, we can recognize and take control of the choices we make. We define goals based upon the vision we set for ourselves and support that the vision with our choices. The habits help us identify changes quickly so we can make opportunities of them instead of just merely reacting to them.
Overview of the First Three Habits
Habit 1 is “Be Proactive.” When faced with a given stimulus, human beings are free to choose their response. We may not “feel” like we have a choice, but because of our ability to be self-aware, we can. Self-awareness enables us to identify a stimulus and hold off a reflex response. When cut off on the highway, we often choose to raise a finger, but we can choose to wave kindly or continue listening peacefully to our favorite radio station. We all have tendencies and programming ingrained into our psyche, but we have the freedom to choose our response instead of going with a gut-level reaction. That means building and maturing our self-awareness, studying and assessing options that may not have been visible to us, and consciously choosing the most appropriate response based upon the principles and goals we have set for ourselves.
The alternative is living reactively which can be quite enslaving. Reactively we live at the whims of our surroundings and circumstances. A bitter employee can trigger our anger. A disobedient child irritates us. Instead of working towards ours goals, we spend the day at the mercy of the world. Clearly, we are going to have difficult days. But if all our days follow the same hectic disordered way, we really need to assess our situation and decide to make choices that put us back in charge of our lives.
Habit 2 is “Begin With the End in Mind.” Everything that is created is created twice. We first imagine, conceptualize or envision it. Then we physically create or implement it. Buildings are drawn as blueprints first. Automobiles are designed on an engineer’s drawing boards. Without a clear vision or end goal in mind, a person or business can easily expend energy striving towards the incorrect goal. It’s like racing up a ladder leaned up against the wrong wall. You can step as fast as you like, but the faster you race, the faster you arrive at the wrong destination.
Covey quotes Warren Bennis’ who says, “Management is about doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” It’s tempting to focus heavily on short-term production issues. Our businesses would fail without it. But we cannot loose sight of our need to really think about our direction and make our actions follow it. The essence of leadership is the ability to lean the ladder on the right wall and rechecking where it sits while working hard on the climb.
Covey likens a business to a team of people cutting their way through a jungle. Managers are tasked with producing. They’re cutting through the undergrowth. The leader climbs the tallest tree a yells out, “Wrong jungle!” In a typical business, it’s easy to imagine overly efficient management quickly responding, “Quiet! We’re making great progress.”
Beginning with the end in mind means using imagination, conscience and self-awareness. This approach can lead to some interesting discoveries. It can help us discover how heavily scripted we are. We may discover tightly held principles we thought were our own, but are actually someone else’s – possibly imposed on us. It’s like an autobiographer discovering their content was plagiarized. They were actually living to someone else’s expectations at the expense of our own.
Covey recommends writing a personal or business mission statement to help us identify our center. In doing so, we can identify if our goals are principle-centered or otherwise. This center should provide us with necessary security, guidance, wisdom and power.
Habit 3 is “Put First Things First.” This follows from the other habits. Habit 1 enables you to say, “I’ve been following some bad programming. Through self-awareness, I can identify the things I don’t like and make choices to change that ineffective programming.” Habit 2 allows us to take that choice a step further. We can envision our future and create a plan. Habit 3 is the physical creation of that plan or vision. It is our practice of daily self-management in alignment with the vision established in Habit 2 based upon the self-awareness and choice-making we discovered as a part of Habit 1.
It is so easy to focus on the urgent. It’s right in our face. It has a deadline. We get a sense of accomplishment by addressing it. However, constant focus on the urgent can prevent us from focusing on the less urgent but often more important. The non-urgent important things are easy to brush aside. They have no immediate time sensitivity. If we have a tendency to procrastinate, we can easily avoid it until becomes urgent. Unfortunately, dealing with the important urgently in a rush usually produces ineffective results.
As a manager, we have the ability to delegate to others. If a producer can produce 1 unit in one hour, a manager through effective delegation can leverage others to produce 10, 50, possible 100 units in the same time. Learning to prioritize our responsibilities so we can properly lead and build someone else’s ability to manage is priceless. That continued focus enables us to increase our sphere of influence and increase our effectiveness.
With these three habits properly ingrained in our character, we can live a more balanced life and greatly increase our ability to attain the goals we set for ourselves. These goals might be strictly business or financially based. But it also enables us to prioritize our entire lives so running our business is a natural extension of how we run our lives, our relationships and our families.
I’d be kidding you if I told you all you need to know about Covey’s concepts are covered by this article. The book runs over 300 pages and provides so many different and interesting examples. The book also explains the remaining four habits which relate to our interaction with others. I encourage reading through that book in order gain the benefits of these essential concepts as you run your company and your lives.