Book Review - 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey

Uncategorized Jan 28, 2020

Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, although first published in 1990, is absolutely relevant in 2020 and beyond. The 7 Habits are as important and just as effective in today’s online digital world as they were when they were first written. There is a good reason that this book is one of the great business and personal development books of the past 50 years.

Essentially the book challenges us to consider how we make assumptions about people and situations and by using the 7 Habits we can make better, more informed decisions.

Put simply, the book is about a ‘paradigm shift’ in our own thoughts.


“Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits.” “Habits … are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness … or our ineffectiveness.” Page 46

Covey defines habits as the intersection of 3 parts; knowledge, skill and desire. To build great habits you must know: What to do – The Knowledge, then you must know How – The Skills and finally you need the Why – The Desire or Motivation

He is unapologetic throughout the book about these habits being truly personal victories. You may want to read this book to be a better manager at work, (and it will certainly help you with that) but The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is about you. It is about moving you from dependence, through independence to interdependence.

“Interdependence is the realisation that I am self reliant and capable, but I also realise that you and I working together can accomplish far more than, even at my best, I could accomplish alone.” Page 51.

So lets look at the seven habits:   

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin With The End 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

Habit 1: Be Proactive

“Look at the word responsibility – ‘response-ability’ – the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognise that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

Being proactive starts in the language we use. The way we describe our tasks and responsibilities is either reactive or proactive: ‘I have to’ verses ‘I get to’.

 When we have the paradigm shift and realise that the vast majority of our choices throughout our days are our choices, no one makes us do anything, (even when our tasks are set by others we can still choose how we do it, or at the very least our attitude while we do it) then we can begin to be proactive in our thinking.

In moving towards being proactive, think about how your past experiences and beliefs are influencing your current actions. Think about your knowledge or beliefs. What do you believe about this person, what preconceived ideas or stereotypes are you applying, what reactive language are you using to define the situation. With that identified, you can start to work on the new skills that you need to be proactive.


Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind

Covey starts this chapter with the concept that all things are created twice. There is a mental or first creation, and then a physical or second creation. For example when building a house, the home is first dreamed about, and planned by an architect, then once the plans are drawn up the builders start to put brick upon brick and build the physical house. So with that principle in mind we can first create a mental picture of the end result we want to happen then go about creating the physical result – Beginning with the end in mind.

As I mentioned earlier, Stephen Covey is unapologetic in how personal this book is. He calls on the readers to develop their own personal mission statement. To focus on WHO they want to be, WHAT they want to achieve in life, and the VALUES which they will base their life upon. In doing this you are defining how you want to live your life. You are beginning with the end on mind. What is the personal legacy you want to leave? What do you want people to say about you, your character? A personal mission statement is the ultimate way to begin with the end in mind.


“An effective goal focuses primarily on results rather than activity. It identifies where you want to be, and, in the process, helps you determine where you are. It gives you important information on how to get there, and it tells you when you have arrived. It unifies your efforts and energy. It gives meaning and purpose to all you do.” Page 137

Habit 3: Put First Things First

“What one thing could you do (that you aren’t doing right now) that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal (or professional) life?” Page 146

 Leadership is deciding what the ‘first things’ are, management is the discipline to put them first and make them happen. Covey popularised Eisenhower’s Four Quadrant Time Management Matrix shown below:


The challenge here is to operate in Quadrant 2 on what is important but not yet urgent. Unfortunately we spend much of our time in Q1 or in Q3, because what is urgent takes our attention. The key to Habit 3 is to ‘Put First Things First’ to operate only on the most important tasks.


 “… if you were to fault yourself in one of these three areas which would it be- 1; The inability to prioritise? 2; The inability or desire to organise around those priorities? Or 3; The lack of discipline to execute around them? Page 157


Covey comments that most people say they lack discipline, but he suggest that is not true, what he thinks\ is the real problem is they have not internalised Habit 2. They have not got a clear and meaningful vision of the end result, so they are easily pulled around by what is urgent or screams the loudest.


“The key then is not to prioritise what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities” Page 161


As Covey closes the first 3 habits which he calls the Private Victory, and moves into the section called the Public Victory, he again calls on the reader to search their own personal thoughts and motivations, their integrity, their relationships and how they treat their loved ones. As one of the leading business development books of the past 50 years, this book is extremely personal. It is not possible to read and fully implement the 7 Habits without changing yourself. 


Habit 4: Think Win/Win

This chapter was a revelation for me. I had always been taught positive negotiation and in my sales training how to get the most out of a deal, but Stephen Covey turns that on its head in Habit 4 and in the most positive way.

What I realised is that in any situation (as Covey puts it) you can have one of six outcomes: Win/Win, Lose/Lose, Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Win, Win/Win or No Deal.

Simply put Win/Win is when all parties feel great about the decision and are totally committed to the action plan.

The others are: I win – You lose, or I Lose you Win. Which both leave one party unhappy.

Lose – Lose where both of us walk away worse off.

Win where we are oblivious to the other party, we don’t even think of them as losing.

Personally I had never considered the consequences of Lose/Win. I was taught that being humble and selfless was a good thing, but Covey suggest that anytime someone loses there is a price to pay down the track. In the next negotiation I may bring up my previous loss and pain and use it to manipulate the situation, or I may not want to negotiate at all. And that is where Win/Win No Deal comes in. No deal gives us the opportunity to both walk away if we can not find a solution in which we both win.

The big difference here is that it is not about negotiating middle ground, because then we both are giving something up, in fact we lose/lose. With Win/Win neither of us walk away unhappy and if we can’t find a Win/Win solution there is no deal. 

Covey has created five elements that must be very explicit in a Win/Win arrangement:

1; The desired results. (Not the method on how to get there)

2; Guidelines. (The principles policies and parameters in which the results will be accomplished)

3; Resources. (The human, financial and technical support required to achieve the goal)

4; Accountability. (The timeline and evaluation procedure)

5; Consequences. (What will happen as a result of the evaluation)

These elements give a standard by which people can measure their own success.


Habit 5: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood

This seems simple, but how often do we listen to reply, rather than truly listening to understand. With all the information we absorb on a daily basis we have become great at filtering unnecessary information out, the problem is that we often filter when we should really listen. The greatest gift you can give someone is your full attention.

Seeking first to understand is about understanding the full story, the emotions, the fears, what is driving a decision or a problem rather than just reacting to the symptoms. Think about the last large purchase you made, you may have met a few sales people along the way to your buying decision. Who did you trust the most? The one that wouldn’t stop talking, or the one who really listened. Covey calls this, ‘Diagnosing before you prescribe’.

The only way we can evaluate a situation is based on our experience of it, what we know, our past and our beliefs all colour how we interpret our world. The problem with that is we are so caught up in our own stuff that often we can’t genuinely hear the other person. The first part of habit five – Seek first to understand will take real practice, maybe even more than Covey outlines in the book, but it is essential.

Part 2 of habit five is ‘Then seek to be understood’.

“When you can present your own ideas clearly, specifically, visually, and most important, contextually – in the context of a deep understanding of their paradigms and concerns – you significantly increase the credibility of your ideas.” Page 257

I see so many business who say they have issues with staff and clients not listening, so they put everything in writing so that it is down in black and white and they can say, ‘Didn’t you read the …, its there in black and white!’ What Covey identifies in Habit five is that we need to ‘seek’ to be understood not just communicate.


Habit 6: Synergise

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”

Synergistic communication is about opening your heart and mind to new possibilities. It is about starting with the belief that together you can create something great. It is the highest version of Win/Win because through synergy the solution will be even better than either of the parties originally imagined.

For true synergy to occur requires a great deal of trust. It may not be possible in every situation and that is why Covey makes is Habit Six. It is crucial to have all the other habits in place to be able to set up an environment where creative synergy can take place.


Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw

Out of all the habits, this is possibly the most obvious but so often not practiced. It seems simple when Covey puts it in relation to having a sharp axe or saw to cut down a tree, obviously it is much harder work to cut down a tree with a blunt tool. Taking a few minutes to ‘sharpen the saw’ will save a lot of energy and time.

As I write this it is summer here in Australia and my reticulation system has 1 station that is not functioning properly, so to keep a section of my lawn alive I am talking the time 3 times a week to manually hand water that part of my lawn. How much time have I cumulatively spent watering compared to what it would take to simply fix the system? I need to sharpen the saw.


Habit seven is a personal challenge to look at the areas of your life and work that you need to step back from and asses. Look at how you could do things better, more efficiently rather than just continuing to slug your guts out.


I said this book was quite personal in nature. In this chapter Covey challenges us to consider our personal, mental and spiritual lives also. He asks what we are doing individually to renew ourselves. Bearing in mind that this book was written well before we had masses of email and social media, I think it is absolutely relevant today.


My final thoughts:

For a book that was first published in 1990, The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People is absolutely still relevant today. I would highly recommend grabbing a copy and implementing the seven habits in your life.


Author: Nathan Archer – Certified High Performance Coach

If this blog has helped you then maybe a coaching session may help you to focus and put some of the 7 Habits into practice. If you would like a free coaching session with me simply click here.





50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.