In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey distinguishes two major social paradigms that have embodied the search for success and the “fundamental principles of human effectiveness” since 1776: the Character Ethic and the Personality Ethic.
According to Stephen R. Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in the United States, from 1776 to WWI, leadership culture was based around building character. It was said that Character Ethic was the foundation of long-term success: leaders were thought values and habits to develop their basic character.
However, from World War I to Today, leadership and success teachings have been promoting Personality Ethic. Personality Ethic provides quick fixes to help an individual deceive their way to the top, to success and to leadership positions. Personality Ethic teachings work short-term, don’t fix issues but just disguise them.
Moreover, Covey claims that we possess several paradigms or maps of how we see things and a map of how things should be which comes from our values. These maps are the basis of our attitudes and behaviors. Paradigms, which are our frame of reference or assumptions, are affected by our conditioning through life, by the influences of our friends and family, of our institutions, our culture, of our historical backgrounds, systems of beliefs, life experiences.
As a result, our attitudes and behaviours are congruent of our paradigms. So therefore, attempting to change only our attitudes and behaviors, as instilled by the Personality Ethic movement, is completely useless and is short-termed. In order to implement change in our character or a “paradigm shift“, it is then necessary to directly assess our paradigms, to examine them, to test them against reality, to listen to others and to be open to their perception.
The term “paradigm shift” is coined from the Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. It means breaking with tradition, old beliefs, old assumptions, old paradigms. Paradigms shift can be toward a positive or negative direction, “instantaneous or developmental” and “create a powerful change”.
Throughout The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey suggests that we shift our paradigms back to the Character Ethic, that we start shifting our thinking from the inside and introduces seven habits to enhance personal and interpersonal effectiveness.
The Character Ethic is a general and fundamental truth, universally applicable, unchangeable and unarguable laws and “principles that govern human effectiveness”, that are “bigger than people or circumstances”, that innately exist in all human beings, are common to all civilization and that triumph time and time again.
Acquiring Character Ethic is the basis of high level of trust in companies, is a long process that should be natural ad cannot be a shortcut. First step to the process is admitting your ignorance or lack of knowledge.
What is a habit?
Character is the composite of embedded habit, and it is necessary to solve the problems we face from the inside out because private victories exceed public victories.
A habit is the intersection of knowledge, skills and desire and is a natural force like gravity. Breaking a habit can be a painful process, demands effort and technique, should be motivated by a higher purpose, a willingness to sacrifice our current desire for a future and unseen desire.
What are the seven habits?
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People moves us on the maturity continuum. It brings us from a state of dependence where we need others to accomplish something for us, to a state of independence where we are self-reliant, self-motivated, derive our self-worth from within and are freed from external dependence, to a state of interdependence where we are self-reliant and competent in our own right but able to work with others, and believe that together we accomplish more.
In addition, the seven habits are habits of effectiveness, a balance between the production of a desired result and the investment in the ability to produce or in the physical, financial and human, asset that produces. Covey believes that to achieve effectiveness , we must strike the P/PC balance, where P stands for Production and PC for Production Capability.
The 3 following habits are the habits of Private Victory. These habits are used to become more confident, to know yourself deeper and to acknowledge your contribution capacity, to define yourself from within instead of using society’s point of view to define yourself. Stephen R. Covey encourages us to develop the habits of being proactive, keeping our future goals in mind and of creating our vision.
HABIT #1: Be proactive
In management literature, being proactive means taking initiative. Here, it also means being responsible for our lives and our decisions, being able to choose a response when faced with a stimulus.
Proactive people, unlike reactive people:
- Are unaffected by their physical environment and are value driven. Their performance and attitudes remain constant whether it rains or shines.
- Are unaffected by their social environment. they don’t build their emotional lives around people weaknesses and don’t allow those weaknesses to control their lives and decisions. Instead they surrender their emotions to their values and don’t allow reactive language to affect them.
- Take the initiative. Act before being acted upon, provide solution to a problem and enable growth and opportunity.
- Look to focus their time and energy on areas that they can control or influence. Indeed, they don’t focus on others weaknesses and problems and uncontrollable events.
- Constantly work on their habits, change from the inside-out.
- Take full responsibility for their short-comings.
- Are free to choose their actions but understand that they cannot control the consequences of these actions.
- Govern their behaviors with principles, acknowledge their mistakes, learn from them and correct them immediately.
- Have integrity: they make and keep their commitments and promises.
- Monitor their language and the language of the people around them.
- Identify past and potential experiences to which they have behaved reactively and play out scenarios towards a solution.
HABIT #2: Begin with the end in mind
For Stephen R. Covey, beginning with the end in mind means using the “end of your life as your frame of reference or criterion by which everything else is examined”, starting with “a clear understanding of your destination” to “know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right destination”. To begin with the end in mind:
- Use habit #1 to be proactive to change preexisting thought, shift your paradigm, examine your deepest values.
- Be aware and conscious of your limitless potential, of your uniqueness.
- Be imaginative enough to visualize the unseen.
- Be responsible and response-able.
- Do not violate the criteria that you have set for yourself.
- Lead yourself daily in order to execute what really matters.
- Develop a “personal mission statement or philosophy or creed” describing your aspiring character, achievements, contributions, values and principles. The personal mission statement becomes your guide and standard, provides you with a sense of mission, helps define your short-termed and long-termed goals and allows change because your core has now become changeless. Basically, developing a personal mission statement makes you much more effective because your energy, time and strengths are dedicated to areas that matter to you. Personal mission statements are not to be written overnight but might take several weeks because they require deep introspection. Also, they have to be written alone and reviewed many times before producing a final form.
HABIT #3: Put first things first
Stephen R. Covey believes that all things are created twice, by design or by default. The first creation starts in the mind where you envision the future and you plan for a destination. The second creation is physical: you bring what you visualize into reality and you take the best route towards your planned destination.
For Covey, leadership is the first creation and management is the second. Indeed, leadership creates the way, opens the pathway, provides direction and a destination. On the other hand, management clears the pathway by “writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up working schedules and contributions programs”.
To be able to physically create and implement your vision into reality, you have to:
- be proactive, understand that you are in control and are able to change your paradigm,
- envision your potential and your destination and be self-ware,
- have discipline to effectively carry out your plans, to stick to your values and to manage your time and life,
- prioritize, schedule, select goals and leave space for unanticipated events,
- delegate responsibility to skilled and trained individuals to focus their energy on high-leverage activities.
“Private Victory precedes Public Victory. Self-mastery and self-discipline are the foundation of good relationships with others”.
On one hand, Habits #1, #2 and #3 are habits of Private Victory and are about developing your inner self, your character and your core values.
on the other hand, Habits #4, #5, #6 are habits of Public Victory, help in improving your relationship with others and working successfully with others.
Using the Personality Ethic, we might have a superficial and duplicitous relationship with others. Difficulty in relationships translates into tolerable chronic emotional pain that can turn into psychosomatic diseases. The symptoms of these emotional pains cannot be treated with quick fixes and techniques from the Personality Ethic.
Nevertheless, the Character Ethic provides a foundation for effective interdependence. The interdependence paradigm teaches us to:
- seek to understand others and stimulate their deep interest or needs,
- attend to kindness and courtesies,
- keep commitments and promises to people in order to build trust,
- clarify expectations from the start to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts,
- manifest integrity by being honest, loyal to those who are not present, by treating everyone with the same set of principles,
- help others “feel secure and safe and validated and affirmed in their essential worth, identity and integrity”,
- handle problems and see them as opportunities.
HABIT #4: Think Win/Win
Stephen R. Covey identifies 6 paradigms of human interaction:
- The Win/Win paradigm. People with this paradigm seek mutual benefits in all human interactions, believe that life is a cooperation and not a competition, that a “person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others”.
- The Win/Lose paradigm. People with this paradigm don’t create synergy or cooperation, use the authoritarian or commanding leadership style and are accustomed to low trust and competitive environments.
- The Lose/Win paradigm. People with this paradigm have no standard, no demands, no expectation, no vision, search for popularity and acceptance, are quick to please and appease, repress their emotions and feelings, and are easily intimidated by ego strengths of others.
- The Lose/Lose paradigm. People with this paradigm live by the “philosophy of the highly dependent person without inner direction”, who is miserable and thinks everyone else should be too.
- The Win paradigm. People with this mentality seek to win not necessarily wanting the other party to lose or win.
- The Win/Win or No Deal paradigm. If no synergistic solution is brought to the table that could satisfy both parties, then there is no deal. This paradigm provides emotional freedom.
Stephen R. Covey promotes the Win/Win paradigm and establishes that a Win/Win person possesses specific character traits: they have integrity, they have maturity which means that they are able to express their views with consideration to others, and they have the abundance mentality which means that they believe that there is enough for everyone.
Of course, not all decisions are Win/Win, but to know when to apply the Win/Win paradigm, you must understand the problem from another perspective, identify the other person’s issues and concerns, other acceptable results, and new possible outcomes for the situation.
HABIT #5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
To be able to influence and to develop effective interpersonal communication skills, it is better to diagnose a situation before prescribing or proving advice.
To understand another person’s emotional and intellectual paradigm, Covey instructs us to listen empathetically, without making assumptions, and warns us to not listen to reply, manipulate, control or sympathize.
Empathic listening takes time initially but saves time afterwards, is risky because you become vulnerable to influence. That is why we must develop a changeless core of principles, erected in Habits #1, #2, #3.
Furthermore, seeking to be understood requires maturity, an ability to present your ideas clearly, specifically, visually and contextually and an ability to consider all the facts and perceptions. To take preventive measures, schedules one-on-one before issues arise.
HABIT #6: Synergize
Synergy means that “the whole is greater than the sums of its parts”, and is used to create cooperation in our social interaction. To create synergy on a daily basis:
- value and respect social, mental and emotional differences to nurture people self-esteem and self-worth. Effective people acknowledge the limits if their perceptions, appreciate diverse interactions because they had to this person’s knowledge and understanding of reality, increase their awareness,
- build on strengths and compensate weaknesses,
- be open to new possibilities, alternatives and options,
- be open to learning and to other’s influence.
HABIT #7: Sharpen the Saw
Finally, Habit #7 sums up the entire book. Habit #7 is about investing, preserving and enhancing your preexisting assets and means exercising sound motivation and organisation in four different dimensions:
- The physical dimension is about caring for the health of our body by eating right and exercising.
- The “spiritual dimension provides leadership in your life”, is your core and your commitment to your value system.
- The mental dimension come from formal eduction, expansion of the mind.
- The social/emotional dimension that is centered on developing interpersonal leadership, empathic communication and creative cooperation.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a self-development book that has been on my shelf for longest while. It was written in 1989 but is still contemporaneous and can very much serve as guide to life, for personal and professional growth.
I avidly took notes in the perspective of actively applying every single tip and read it twice in order to capture the very essence of the book.
I recommend it to all leaders that are trying to integrate core values and to ingrain “good” habits into their character in order to experience success, to increase their effectiveness at work and to become the best leader that they can be.
I like that each paragraph are interconnected and that the author is personally implicated, is genuine with his approach and his drive to see us succeed and become more effective.
Covey calls out the books since World War I, promoting Personality Ethic, that provide quick fixes and band aids to deep-rooted problems. These books suggest techniques and principles to encourage leaders to put up a front and act like a leader would and not actually be a leader. Covey is also being very transparent about the dysfunction of the society these days, willing to manipulate and deceive their way to the top.
Finally, he reminds us that it is not all that shines that is glitter: the deception does not last very long and the leadership tower crashes because it has no basis and because the leadership house was built on sand.
If I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other — while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity — then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do — even using so-called good human relations techniques — will be perceived as manipulative. It simply makes no difference how good the rhetoric is or even how good the intentions are; if there is little or no trust, there is no foundation for permanent success. Only basic goodness gives life to technique.
You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut.
Self-mastery and self-discipline are the foundation of good relationships with others.
Stephen R. Covey