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The Seven Habits of Higly Effective People:Restoring the Character Ethic
Apr 1, 1996

Effectiveness and efficiency have long been two of the more popular words used in Western business literature to impress an audience and gain an intellectual edge in interactions. According to the New Webster's Dictionary, effectiveness is 'causing or [being] capable of causing a desired or decisive result', and efficiency is the 'degree of effectiveness with which something is done, or of the person who does it'. The author has chosen to write about 'The 7 Habits' of effective and not efficient people because he wants to motivate people to set objectives in their lives and pursue their objectives in all their actions. Efficiency without effectiveness yields a perfect hit on the wrong target, while effectiveness without efficiency may result in less accurate accomplishment on the pre-deter-mined goal. He says the following (p. 101) about effectiveness: 'Effectiveness - often even survival - does not depend solely on how much effort we expend, but on whether or not the effort we expend is in the right jungle.'

In describing how an effective person should concentrate his or her efforts in the right jungle, Covey uses the concept of mission, a term from the study of management of long-term business strategy meaning a statement of a company's vision of what it intends to do and become. In the context of this book, Covey urges people to come up with personal mission statements. The objective-setting criteria used in making such statements should be based on long-term, changeless, and established rules. By way of example, the author points out the United States Constitution which has remained unchanged in its fundamentals for over two hundred years. Human nature requires a changeless inner core for people to be effective - it is much easier to hit a stable target than a moving one. (This might be one among many reasons why the Divine revelations (of which the Qur'an is the last) were sent down to guide mankind for centuries.)

The book is divided into four parts. The first part deals with personal mission or in the author's words principle-centred paradigm. He uses the term paradigm to mean a model, perception, assumption, or frame of reference. Paradigms are powerful because they constitute the lens through which we see the world. The principle-centred paradigm is based on the idea that there are principles or natural laws that govern human effectiveness which he calls GANLs or Generally Accepted Natural Laws. These laws are just as real and stable as the law of gravity in the physical world. They are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, even permanent and fundamental value, such as fairness, integrity, honesty, human dignity, service, quality, etc. He says that the more closely the principle-centred paradigms are aligned with the GANLs, the more accurate and functional they will become. What he does not explicitly conclude in this part is the origin of the GANLs. Although the manifestation or definition of the GANLs is said to be left to the reader, one who ponders on the author's approach and style will easily understand that he implies Divine revelation as the origin. In several instances throughout his book, Covey implicitly justifies the teachings of the Divine revelations which are fundamentally from the same Source in the different monotheistic religions. One who has a sound background in Islam, for example, would easily recognize the similarities. Covey explains himself somewhat at the end of the book under the rubric of A Personal Note. It is interesting to learn that the GANLs or fundamental, universal and intangible rules of social interactions can be justified by reasoning (as realized by Covey in his book) and these are welcomed by people who are hungry for ethics and a restoration of character in their lives.

The other parts of the book explain the 7 habits referred to in the title. They are, in the order the author prefers:

  1. Be proactive,
  2. Begin with end [i.e. your objective] in mind,
  3. Put first things first,
  4. Think win/win,
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood,
  6. Synergize,
  7. Sharpen the saw, or self-renewal.

Covey concentrates on the first three habits in Part 11. Successful accomplishment of Habits I, II and III is called by the author 'a Private Victory'. Habit I (being proactive) is recommended as the basic principle of the nature of effective man. Proactive people are driven by values - carefully thought about, selected and internalized principles - rather than by external circumstances and conditions, which characterizes reactive people. Proactive people take the initiative to act in accordance with their paradigms in their circle of concerns through the means that they can be influential with. He states that the very essence of developing proactivity is to make and keep commitments to ourselves and to set a goal and work to achieve it. Another interesting observation in this section is that proactive people focus their time and energy on things that they can do something about (Circle of Influence) whereas reactive people concentrate their efforts on things over which they have no control. The degree of proactivity is then determined by how much effort we expend on our Circle of Influence.

Covey has in fact - not surprisingly, seeing that he is an adjunct-professor at the School of Management - applied organizational success theories found in management literature to the 'management' of individual lives. In conformity with an academic text-book style, he lists application suggestions at the end of each chapter inviting the reader to put the preceding material into real life by doing the 'exercises'.

The introduction to Habit II (begin with end in mind) is dramatic: it invites the reader to visualize his/her death. Explaining that it is possible to be very busy without being very effective (active in the wrong jungle), the author goes on:

'The most fundamental application of "begin with end in mind" is to begin today with the image, picture, or paradigm at the end of your life as your frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else is examined...

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know-where you are going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.'

Covey then lists some motivational factors or 'centres of life' that a person might have, such as spouse, family, money, work, possession, pleasure, friend/enemy, etc. For instance, one extremely common centre to most people's lives is making money. This kind of people are always vulnerable to anything that threatens their economic security. After logically showing inner dimensions of each possible centre, he encourages centring our lives on timeless, unchanging principles so as to reach a fundamental paradigm of effective living. The method he suggests to make this shift is the visualization of one's own funeral which expands one's perspective. The analogy with the practice in most major religious traditions, not least in Islam, of meditating on the end of one's life hardly needs to be pointed out.

Habit III of Private Victory (put first things first), concerned with organizing and executing priorities, is developed from the most recent time management techniques.

People with proactive attitudes can easily focus on important but not urgent activities which is the heart of effective personal management. Reactive people, on the other hand, exhaust their energies on crises, pressing problems and deadline-driven projects, which are the main obstacles to managing one's time and energy properly.

Part III introduces the habits of Public Victory. People armed with Private Victory habits move from a state of dependence to a state of independence. It is the Habits IV, V and VI which convert one's state from independence to interdependence and which leads to optimum co-operative-ness, teamwork and communication among members of groups or organizations. The author's diligent explanation of Emotional Bank Account, described as the amount of trust that has been built up in a relationship, brings up a new perspective to intra-community GANLs for a healthy organization or group. Understanding the individual, attending to the little things, keeping commitments, clarifying expectations, avoiding gossip, defending those who are absent, etc., are just some of the 'deposits' to this account needed to achieve sincere and profound relations within an organization.

Habit IV lays the foundation of human interactions that should be carried out through mutually beneficial and satisfying agreements or solutions. Win/Win in this sense recognizes life as a co-operative not a competitive arena. Win/Lose manner of thinking, the most common among people, is fundamentally flawed. Covey argues that people with abundance mentality (the approach that there is plenty out there for everybody) think Win/Win, whereas those with scarcity mentality (the approach that there is only one pie out there) think Win/Lose. The author touches upon a very fundamental law for success in this life, both materially and spiritually: good faith or intention. Good faith is praised by religions over actions and all present man-made laws recognize the concept of bona fide (in good faith) arrangements. People with good faith always think and act Win/Win and they will always be the winners in the end.

Habit V (seek first to understand, then to be understood) is, according to the author, the single most important principle in the field of interpersonal communication and relations. As he does throughout his book, he cites real world examples from his own experiences to show that when one presents one's own ideas clearly, specifically, visually, and most important, contextually - in the context of a deep understanding of the other party's paradigms and concerns - one significantly increases the credibility of those ideas and the effectiveness of the interaction.

Habit VI (synergize) is simply defined by the author to mean that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He makes an analogy between ecology in physical nature and synergism in the nature of human interaction - everything is related to everything else. The essence of synergy in a group or organization is to value the differences, to respect them,to build on strengths, and to compensate for weaknesses. Covey points out that the more genuine the involvement, the more sincere and sustained the participation of individuals in analyzing and solving their shared problems. He also claims that it is this synergy that has led to the Japanese success in business.

Habit VII (sharpen the saw or self renewal) is the renewing of the following four dimensions of human nature: physical (exercise, nutrition, stress management), spiritual (value clarification and commitment, study and meditation), mental (reading, visualizing, planning, writing) and social/emotional (service, empathy, synergy).

This book reveals the recent global trend to inspire and motivate people for ethics and restoration of character in personal and professional lives. Rather than trying to provide a short-term, quick solution for the problem, Covey tries to concentrate on the fundamental questions of who we are, where we are coming from and where we are headed to. From a different perspective, the author proves, justifies and elaborates the necessity of complying with the natural laws, of which the source, as he implies at the end of his book is the Creator.

This review has touched only lightly on the similarities between the author's conclusions and the paradigm prescribed by the last Divine religion revealed fourteen centuries ago. Alert readers of the book with moderate and informed Islamic background will easily identify many more similarities and indeed specific correspondences in the texts of Qur'an and Hadith. The general point worth making is that a contemporary explanation of the universal and fundamental principles revealed centuries ago can still make a big impact on people's lives even in the countries where religion has long been neglected:

Covey's book has been a bestseller. This indicates that proper presentation of Divine principles in the modern world by word and example is welcomed and can encourage and motivate people, through a different path and approach, to revive their lifestyles in the light of true, sound, changeless and inspiring Divine principles.