Date: 25/02/2016 | By: Liz Painter

In this blog, BizSmart founder Kevin Brent takes a look at the principles which Stephen R. Covey introduced in his best-selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”:

Covey’s ideas struck a chord with me many years ago, and I want to cover some of these in this blog post. If you’d like to revisit this topic in greater depth,

Taken together, these leadership habits have the power to transform the way we lead our personal and business lives. They are not, however, a quick fix list of ‘tactics’ or tricks and techniques. Rather they are a set of principles that will enable you to be a more effective leader over time.

Ultimately, what we are – our character and our values – communicate more than what we say or do. Individuals and businesses with strong character and values are more effective in the long run than those without.

Before we get into the 7 habits themselves, there are a couple of concepts we need to understand first – paradigms and habits.

Firstly – Paradigms

To be able to understand these principles we first need to be aware of the importance of the ways we view the world or our paradigms.

If we really want to change our own and other people’s behaviours, we need to change the way they picture themselves and their roles – this is what Covey calls a paradigm. I was listening to an excellent talk by Rob Holcroft of SuperHumans the other day and he put it in this way – simplistically speaking there are four windows or lenses through which we can view the world:

I’m OK. You’re OK.

I’m OK. You’re not OK.

I’m not OK. You’re OK.

I’m not OK. You’re not OK.

Imagine how you would treat someone differently depending through which of these windows you were looking through. Let’s take the top right – if I’m looking to get something done at work through this window, I’m probably going to be very directive or even arrogant in my approach. I’m unlikely to take the time to understand the other person’s point of view. And how would the person react? Well, it will depend on their window.

So there are a couple of take-aways here:

“1. Our attitude and our behaviour are a function of how we see the situation. It isn’t what happens to us that affects our behaviour; it is our interpretation of what happens – our behaviour is a function of how we see the situation.

2. We do not have to react to a situation; we can choose how we respond depending on how we see it – based on values rather than on feelings.”

Secondly, we need to understand habits.


So what is a habit? The kind of habits we are interested in here are habits of effectiveness. They are based on principles or values that most rational people would accept as making sense. But having a value or principle alone is not enough to make it a habit – to do that we need to make it something we live by.

In order to adopt it and make a value into a habit, we need to know what to do to adopt it, we need to know how to do it, and we need to accept and understand why we should do it and want to do it. So creating a habit is the overlapping of three circles – the overlapping of Knowledge (the what to do), Skill (the how to do) and Attitude (the why or want to do). For something to become a habit, we need all three. If any one of the three is missing then it will not become a habit that we ingrain in the business.

So simply stating ’Customer Experience’ is a core value of our business is not enough – we need to make sure everyone knows what to do (which should include measuring it), knows how to do it and wants to do it or understands why they should do it. If any one of these three is missing then it will not become ingrained in the business as a habit

The 7 Habits

  • 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 (ugh!)
  • Habit 7 Sharpen the saw

The first three habits are what might be described as ‘Character’ habits. The second three are what might be referred to as ‘Personality’ habits.

Much of today’s management training deals with ‘Personality’ habits. These are tricks and techniques on how to understand the way people think and behave, and how to use that understanding to get to where you want, for example with DISC personality profiling. This technique helps you to understand dominant, influencer, steady and conscientious personality types and how they like to be communicated with.

These tools are powerful if used in the right way. If our underlying character habits and ethics are not strong, 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.

These 7 habits are not a quick fix. It will take time to take them on board and shape the way you think and act – but they will have a lasting impact on your personal and business life.

Habit 1: Be proactive

Reactive people don’t take responsibility for their own lives. They feel victimised, a product of circumstances, their past, and other people. They have a tendency to be negative and blame others.

They use language like: I cant… if only… if I had… it’s the way I am… it’s always been like that… it won’t work… I won’t pass because my teacher is rubbish!

Effective people are proactive and take responsibility for their own lives. They determine the agendas they will follow and choose their response to what happens around them

They use language like: I prefer… I will… I choose… I can be… I might be able to make it work if…

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

People who do not begin with the end in mind lack vision and have not developed a deep sense of meaning and purpose. They struggle when the going gets tough and tend to swap and change or lack direction.

Effective people begin with the end in mind; using correct principles and their deep sense of purpose to accomplish tasks in a positive and effective way. They live life and run their businesses based on self-chosen values and are guided by their core purpose.

Habit 3: Put first things first

People who don’t put first things first are people who are crisis managers. They are unable to stay focused on high-leverage tasks because of their preoccupation with circumstances, their past, or other people. They are caught up in the “thick of thin things” and are driven by the urgent. Those of you familiar with the ‘Urgent/ Important’ matrix will recognise this as the ‘fire fighting’ box.

People who do put first things first exercise discipline, and they plan and execute according to priorities. They also “walk their talk”. They schedule their priorities

Habit 4: Think win-win


These people have a scarcity mentality and see life as a zero-sum game. They have ineffective communication skills and low trust levels with others, resulting in a defensive mentality and adversarial feelings. They fight from their own positions and have a tendency to manipulate.

People who think WIN-WIN

Effective people have an abundance mentality and the spirit of co-operation. They achieve effective communication and high trust levels with others, resulting in rewarding relationships and greater power to influence. They can accept that no deal is an option – “let’s agree to disagree”.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

People who seek first to be understood put forward their point of view without attempting to understand others first. They blindly prescribe (out of their own autobiographies) without first diagnosing the problem.

“I don’t understand my teenage son – he won’t listen to me?”

Effective people seek first to understand through perceptive observation and empathic listening. These non-judgmental people are intent on learning the needs, interests, and concerns of others.

“I really want to understand/ let me see if I can understand…”

They demonstrate that they truly understand and they are then able to state firmly their own needs and wants. This needs strength of conviction – which comes out of habits 1-3. This is rarely an easy solution because in order to influence you have to open yourself up to be influenced.

Habit 6: Synergise

This is not the same as compromise – compromise is 2+2=3 – it suggests a solution that is less than either ideal.

People who don’t synergise will compromise, fight or flight (Win-Lose, Lose-Win, Lose-Lose). They believe the whole is less than the sum of the parts. They try to “clone” other people in their own image. Differences in others are looked upon as threats, or they give in to unbalanced demands.

Effective people know that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and they know to synergise. They value and benefit from differences in others, which results in creative co-operation and team-work. They understand things are rarely black or white – If presented with an either or situation they still ask “what or how else?”

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

Ineffective people WEAR OUT THE SAW

Ineffective people fall back, lose their interest, and get disordered. They lack a programme of self-renewal and self-improvement and eventually lose the cutting edge they once had.

Effective people keep the saw sharp and undertake self-renewal and self-improvement, which enhances all areas off their life and means they nurture the other six habits.

Summing up

So there we are – that was a brief run through of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Habits 1-3 are personality habits and lead to independency.

  • Habit 1 – Habit of Personal Leadership – Be Proactive
  • Habit 2 – Habit of Personal Vision – Begin with the End in Mind
  • Habit 3 – Habit of Personal Management – Put First Things First

Habits 4-6 lead to interdependent relationships

  • Habit 4 – Think Win-Win – Attitude of Seeking Solutions Where All Win
  • Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
  • Habit 6 – Synergise! A Solution Better than Either Side Proposed

And Habit 7 is about keeping your skills up to date and self-improvement.

Taken together, these leadership habits have the power to transform the way we lead our personal and business lives. Remember they are not, however, a quick fix list of ‘tactics’ or tricks and techniques. Rather they are a set of principles that if you really think about and adopt will enable you to be a more effective leader over time.

If you want to make them work for you, you will have to work at them – first at really understanding them and perhaps discussing with others to get beneath the surface, and then at adopting them into your daily lives.

If you want to know more, why not click here and listen to Kevin’s webinar!