Which Habit Matters Most in Your Effectiveness


He was 79 when he fell from his bike on a steep road this past spring. Although he lost consciousness, there didn’t appear to be lasting damage.  But he fell ill at a family gathering in Idaho and died peacefully — a week ago today — surrounded by his wife and nine children.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleI met with Stephen Covey twice.  His gaze was riveting.  He wove attention, empathy and awesome sales skills in an effort to sell Franklin-Covey to my wife-governor.  The other time I met with him he was good enough to give me a 30-minute interview for my radio show.  He was about 70 then and had rushed from an 18-hour flight to give a 90-minute presentation.  Exhausted, he could easily have postponed or canceled, but he lived up to his commitment and fittingly , we talked about trust.   He had spoken that day about how a native tribe gave him the name bald eagle. His baldness bespoke transparency, as if he were saying “Here I am; no hiding; no fuss.”

Gratefully, his books live on, as he was:  available, common sensible, and incredibly dependable.  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People remains the most empowering book I have ever read. I return to the book and to the principles regularly. I’m not the only one.  It’s at #21 on the Amazon list, with an overwhelming number of 5-star reviews.

Covey is deep in thought and spirit. If you haven’t read 7 Habits I urge you to pick it up, or dust it off.  Here are his 7 Habits; what’s your favorite?

1.  Be proactive.
2.  Begin with the end in mind.
3.   Put first things first.
4.  Think win/win.
5.  Seek first to understand.
6.  Synergize.
7.  Sharpen the saw.

Do you have a number one, as you

Lead with your best self?


  • I refuse to be made to feel like a slacker by those who do not understand the importance of #7. When talk turns to a planned vacation of mine, I’m frequently met with statements like “It must be nice!”, “I wish I had time to get away!”, or “I haven’t had a vacation in three years!”. The unstated implication is that if I took my job as seriously as I should or if my job was as important as theirs, then I would not be spending a week or two at a cabin in northern Michigan.

    The truth, as Stephen Covey realized, is that we all must take time to “sharpen the saw” if we want to be highly effective. I sharpen my blade by sitting and staring at Lake Michigan with a hot cup of coffee at dawn and a cool glass of lemonade at dusk. And I think of nothing, nothing at all.

  • My favorite of the seven is “Begin with the End in Mind.” In our new self-coaching guide for career women, Chapter 17, “Start with the End in Mind,” credits Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits where he urges his readers to decide what they are going to do with their lives and then work toward their goals with their time, talents, energy level, and all available tools.

    All things are created twice, first through your imagination and then by putting the steps together to bring about the reality. Taking the time to outline the criteria for our ideal life is the key to living fully. When we take the steps to reach our goal, we are creating a life by design, not default.

    This is a very enjoyable process! First, we must establish our basic criteria—identify our hopes, dreams, wishes, goals. Then we must paint a picture of our future in our minds. There is nothing to fear since the scene can be adapted or modified at any time. Putting our desires on paper makes them appear more concrete and attainable.

    More at: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/098358656X/

  • “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is definately the one that I use with greatest results in both my personal and business life. Really listening and making sure that the other person is totally understood before beging to state my own needs sets up a totally different dynamic, and makes everyone more open to options.

    “Sharpen the saw” is the one with which I have the most difficulty.

    Steven Covey’s greatest legacy was bringing these concepts together (he was the first one to say that they are not his inventions…they are universal principles and therefore found in all cultures) and to place these deep concepts into a framework and give them a jargon all their own. Now if I say “seek to understand…” to a collegue before meeting with a new customer we both know instantly what the approach will be. That is the “simplicity on the far side of complexity” that he often refered to.

  • Pick one? Sigh.

    “Be proactive.”

    With that almost everything else happens. I can proactively choose to sharpen the saw, I can proactively think – and act – win/win, I can proactively seek first to understand and synergize and put first things first and being with the end in mind.

    Covey understood that we need to continue to remind ourselves about these approaches. Your advise, Dan, to dust it off is a good reminder that I haven’t read it in a long time. And I shared your column with my colleagues today – I had planned to send an obit about Covey but your essay is even better with its call to think and act.

  • Gotta go with “Synergize”. I love this habit because it is the habit that requires more than one person to work. When I lead or participate in a team that has reached true synergy the feeling is hard to put into words! There is just an electricity in the air and you are exhausted when the task is completed. 1 + 1 can equal 8 or 1600……….the power of the one is the many!

    I had the privilege and honor to meet Dr. Covey twice including his unveiling of the eighth habit in Utah and am fortunate to be a Seven Habits facilitator. On reflection of Dr. Covey’s passing I wondered what his conversation with God must have been……..I am sure God said “Stephen I really enjoyed your book and I am so glad to see that you took some of the concepts from my book and put a modren twist on them so millions of people would read about them”.

    God bless you Dr. Covey and rest in peace………job well done!!

  • I love all the comments! I felt swayed each time. Scott, given our frenetic times, it’s hard to argue with sharpening the saw. You are right about the bias that’s always to work harder, harder, harder.

    Cathy, I loved your logical approach: start with “be proactive.” If you have that mindset you’re prepared to do all the others.

    I think I’m partial myself – along with John Agno – to begin with the end in mind. I think it’s one of the most amazing things about being human is that we get to choose, and yet it’s almost always the hardest.

    Claudette, from a personal standpoint, I’d agree with your choice. Although “end in mind” and the other habits help in personal (including business) relationships, I think this attitude of seeking to understand the other first has been most powerful in my life. And forgetting to do so has generated the most pain.

    Larry Collar, “synergize” is you!!! You were always a great teammate and brought that passion for what happens when 2 + 2 is 5.

    Covey gave us all a wonderful common ground, didn’t he?!!

  • Yes, he did! I did not hear he had passed until I read your post. We will dust off our copy and review his pearls of wisdom!

    As a teacher, it is hard to pick a habit that is my personal favorite. It really depends on the time of year. Because it is summer, I choose ‘sharpen the saw’. This is the time of year when I have the time to learn more about my craft.

    In the beginning of the school year, I would say ‘begin with the end in mind’ because if I don’t my students and I won’t have much direction or success.

    Soon after, synergy follows with lots of teacher collaboration for our students.

    During the middle of the year, when the pressure of state standardized testing reigns supreme, I always mutter a reminder to ‘keep my eye on the ball’, so put first things first.

    At the end of the year, when my students tell me why they will not have time to read over the summer, I breathe the mantra ‘seek first to understand’. And then I quickly try to find a win/win solution!
    And every great teacher must be proactive to survive and benefit their students. I agree with Cathy that the best way to honor Covey is to share his 7 Habits with colleagues. Invaluable!

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