Date: 04/03/2015 | By: Liz Painter

In this series of blogs you will discover a step by step approach for how to become a highly effective leader. You will learn principles and ways of thinking that, if you make into habits, will set you on the path to business success.

Kevin Brent is the founder of BizSmart Select, a group of selected businesses providing down to earth practical support and access to grant funding for business owners. Membership is by invitation only. We invite businesses we know personally and who share our values in supporting businesses. The individuals are all small and medium sized businesses owners themselves. Clients and members can then benefit from their trusted specialist support through monthly ‘lunch and learn’ webinars, discussion forums and direct relationships with the aim of supporting business owners in growing their businesses.

This blog is the fourth in a series of leadership blogs examining the leadership habits of highly effective people. The principles are based on the best-selling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen R. Covey and his ideas struck a chord with me many years ago.
In the first blog, we covered the importance of paradigms – the ways in which we see and understand the world around us. We learnt that our attitude and our behaviour are a function of how we see the situation. We do not have to react to a situation, we can chose how we respond depending on how we see it. If you missed the first blog you can find it here.

In the second blog we learnt about the importance of habits to instilling values throughout what we do. We learnt that a habit is the overlapping of Knowledge, Skill and Attitude – or What to do, How to do it and Want to do. Without any one of the three it is not a habit. If you missed the second blog you can find it here.

In the third blog we introduced the idea that taken as a whole, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective people help to make us more effective by taking us on a journey from dependency (where we are dependent on others for our success); through independence (where we are self-reliant) and onto interdependence (where we realise the power of working with and through others to achieve even greater success). If you missed the third blog you can find it here.

We finished the last blog by introducing the 7 habits and explaining that habits 1 – 3 are essentially Character habits and that 4 – 6 are Personality habits (more about 7 later!). If we are not strong on habits 1 – 3, then the danger is that the personality habits become manipulative and shallow. They can lead us into techniques and quick fix ideas. Ways of getting what we want, now.

• Habit 1 Be Proactive
• Habit 2 Begin with the end in mind
• Habit 3 Put first things first
• Habit 4 Think Win/Win
• Habit 5 Seek first to understand, then to be understood
• Habit 6 Synergise (uuch…!)
• Habit 7 Sharpen the saw

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Being proactive is about taking responsibility for our own life and behaviour. The opposite is being reactive – reacting to things around us and blaming failures on, for example, circumstances, on fate or on someone else’s behaviour.

Responsibility: the ability to choose our response. We don’t have to get defensive when someone challenges the price of our product or service – we can choose how we respond. We don’t have to accept that the economy is bad and therefore our sales will be bad – we can choose to try to do something about it.

Stephen Covey argues that effective people are proactive and take responsibility for their behaviour. They understand that their behaviour is a product of their own decisions based on values, rather than a product of their conditions based on feelings.

The language of reactive people; of people who feel their lives are determined by their environment, their conditions or their genetic make-up, is ‘can’t’. “I can’t do it – it’s just the way I am” or, “I can’t do it – there aren’t enough hours in the day”, or “I can’t succeed – I’m not as good as the competition”.

My eldest son has just started his ‘A’ Levels and he came home the other day to say he won’t do well at Physics because he has a bad teacher. When I challenged him he gave me lots of ‘evidence’ as to why he thinks the teacher is bad, and how others think so too. So is he going to go the next 2 years with this ‘reactive’ attitude and then when he does poorly tell me “I told you so”? I certainly hope not! We talked about how he could take responsibility for making sure he understands the topics, what he could do to support the teaching in the lessons – but will he prefer to do that or use the teacher as an excuse?

This is more than having a negative or positive outlook on life although there are parallels. It is more fundamental than that. People who really believe they can’t control their environment will feel increasingly out of control and victimised. They will be able to find evidence as to why they couldn’t succeed and point to all the reasons – convincing themselves more and more that ‘this is my lot’.

There are far more people like this than there are taking responsibility. Equally there are far more people in life who will give you the reasons why you can’t change something than why you could. If you are finding yourself being reactive, it is not easy to change overnight – although simply realising this can be the catalyst that is required.

I am sure we can all think of people who have battled against tremendous odds to succeed – the recent successes of many para-Olympians have shown us. Can we really believe that our troubles mean that we can’t succeed when we see people like this?

Those of you who know me well will know that I enjoy my motor racing. Through my racing I recently came across a young man who could so easily have given up. Dave Birrell was a soldier in Afghanistan and stepped on an IED, resulting in him losing both his legs. He is now developing a career as a racing driver! Why not take a look at his video here.

He could so easily (and nearly did) give up on any ambitions of a fulfilling life – but he didn’t. Don’t look for the reasons why you can’t do something, look for the reasons why you should and how you can.

Next time we will look at Habit 2 – Begin with the end in mind.