This landmark book launched Stephen Covey's book, tool, and consulting empire. His teachings have demonstrated the power and applicability of his 'highly effective practices' to businesses and individuals throughout the world. His emphasis is oriented around what he describes as a 'character ethic', under which individuals base their actions on principles such as integrity, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule; his approach is contrasted with what he describes as the traditional teachings of the last 50 years, which instead focus on a 'personality ethic' that emphasizes public image, skills and techniques, and attitudes and behaviors. Covey emphasizes that both types of approaches are important, but argues that the character ethic characteristics are by far the more important of the two.
According to Covey, our character is a collection of our habits, which play a powerful role in our lives. Habits consist of knowledge (recognizing what to do), skill (providing the ability to do it), and desire (the motivation to do it).
Covey organizes his principles into three groupings. The first, dependence, is the paradigm under which we are born, and consists of us relying upon others to take care of us. The focus of the habits in this grouping is self-mastery. The habits associated with this self-mastery are:
- Be proactive - Highly effective people make the decision to improve their lives through the things they can influence rather than by simply reacting to external forces.
- Begin with the End in Mind - Transform a mission and principles into a long-term set of goals for action.
- Put First Things First - Establish an appropriate balance between production and building a production capacity. Identify the key roles you take on in life and make time for each of them. He describes 'Stewardship Delegation' as a process of establishing clear, up-front mutually understood expectations, and resulting commitments, by documenting 5 key areas: desired results, guidelines, resources, accountability, and consequences.
The next three habits focus on independence, the paradigm under which we can make our own decisions and take care of ourselves:
- Think Win/Win - Seek agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial. Recognize that if 'Win/Win' cannot be achieved, it may be better to settle for 'No deal' than make one which is unfair.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood - Try to understand others before you offer your own views. Put yourself in the perspective of other people, listening emphatically for both feeling and meaning.
- Synergize - Thoughtful communications finds ways to leverage individual differences and create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, especially when built on mutual trust and understanding.
The final habit focuses on interdependence, the paradigm under which we cooperate to achieve something that connot be achieved independently:
- Sharpen the saw - Invest in production capacity as well as production, and maintain a balance between physical, mental, social/economic, and spiritual dimensions.
This is a great read for anyone looking to improve their leadership skills, ability to deliver results, and overall approaches to life.