What does more than 200 years of success literature teach us about highly effective people? Success is a habit. More precisely, success is the synergy of multiple habits. And, highly effective people have several habits in common. And, best of all, by adopting a small set of these habits, you can improve your personal effectiveness in exponential ways.
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey outlines a set of attitudes and habits that help you improve your personal effectiveness and leadership skills:
- Be Proactive. Act or be acted upon. Don’t wait for things to happen. Take action and exercise your initiative. According to Covey, the difference between those who take initiative and those who don’t makes the difference in effectiveness “about a 5,000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware, and sensitive to others.”
- Begin with the End in Mind. Figure out what you want to accomplish, before starting out. Get a clear picture of the outcome or end result that you want to drive to. Work backwards from this end in mind. Covey says, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means 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 direction.” According to Covey, begin with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice.
- Put First Things First. Habit #3, Put First Things First, is an exercise in self-management. It’s the day-in, day out, moment by moment exercise of becoming principle-centered. Habit #1, Be Proactive, is about taking charge. Habit #2, is the mental creation of your ideal end in mind. Habit #3, is the second creation, the physical creation. It’s really the art of practicing effective self-management. Your priorities and principles serve as the backbone. Covey shares two questions to put habit #3, Put First Things First, into practice. Question #1: What one thing could you do that if you did on a regular basis would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life? What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?
- Think Win/Win. Find a way for everyone involved to win. According to Covey, “Win/Win is a belief in the Third Alternative. It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.”
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. Don’t listen with the intent to reply. Listen with the intent to understand. It takes consideration and courage. According to Covey, “Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood requires courage.” Covey recommends practicing empathic listening, which means to listen until the other person *feels* you heard them.
- Synergize. The challenge of synergy is to apply the principle of creative cooperation. According to Covey, “The highest forms of synergy focus the four unique human endowments, the motive of Win/Win, and the skills of empathic communication on the toughest challenges we face in life. What results is almost miraculous. We create new alternatives – something that wasn’t there before.”
- Sharpen the Saw. Habit #7, Sharpen the Saw, is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you. According to Covey, taking time to sharpen the saw is the habit that makes all the other habits possible. Covey recommends renewing the four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.
While you can certainly practice individual habits, the real power comes from the synergy of the habits. They are “better together.”
Image by Varun Suresh.