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Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: Stephen R Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"

Today, I'd like to discuss a book that many of you out there may have already heard of, if not read:  "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", by Stephen R. Covey (BTW, he's something of a big deal).

Most of my reading focuses on personal development.  I am a life-long learner and I stand humbled by the fact that, no matter how much I learn and strengthen my character, there's still so much more I can do to be a better person for others.  There's so much great content out there yet there is some junk as well.  No worries: this book is truly a must-read for everyone!

Here's why... 

Stephen Covey's works speak to the soul more than the mind and I like that.  He's about shaping the person so that the curse of knowledge can become a blessing.  This is something I've believed in long before I read any of his books.  As always, it's refreshing to know that we are not alone, even if we are severely outnumbered!

What makes the seven habits really speak to me is the fact that Stephen Covey completely goes against popular opinion.  Like me, he believes that the technical and more tangible skills we learn in life are the easy part but most overlook the stuff that really matters: developing on your "inner" self.  He goes even further by explaining the paradigm shift we all should embrace:  

The Character Ethic is based on the fundamental idea that there are principles that govern human effectiveness - natural laws in the human dimension that are just as real, just as unchanging and unarguably "there" as laws such as gravity are in the physical dimension.

Stephen goes on to explain how the Personality Ethic, the world as we know it, focuses more on secondary greatness, things that address the symptoms of human issues but not the root cause; furthermore, this broken system lacks authenticity, as another great influencer, Seth Godin, would say.  In contrast, focusing on primary greatness makes sure we are honest about our motivations and intentions, shaping everything we do into a more natural, authentic product.  In that manner, we get rid of the nagging feeling of forcing things, just to "play nice" or "be safe".

WHAT a powerful premise!

When it comes to exposition and creating urgency, Stephen Covey is virtually unmatched.  He also manages to tackle issues of spirituality and human nature while avoiding silly rhetoric and preachy undertones, much like I find Jim Rohn does.  It's all written in a language that speaks TO us, not AT us.  As if this influential man's message itself wasn't powerful enough, Stephen prefaces the establishing of purpose and scope of work (while bolstering his credibility and authenticity) with the following passage:

 As we loosened up our old perceptions of our son and developed value-based motives, new feelings began to emerge.  We found ourselves enjoying him instead of comparing or judging him.  We stopped trying to clone him in our own image or measure him against social expectations.  We stopped trying to kindly, positively manipulate him into an acceptable social mold.  Because we saw him as fundamentally adequate and able to cope with life, we stopped protecting him against the ridicule of others.

I hope that passage speaks to you the same way it does to me.  In just a few pages, Stephen R. Covey instills a sense of greater purpose in all his readers.  The concept of social expectations is of particular note.  Sharing ideas and opening up is tough enough without having others force their own agendas onto us.  Can we co-exist in a world full of contradictions and opposing opinions?  Stephen relates everything to his own life and makes you realize that we all have some work to do.  If this doesn't make you step back and re-assess your life, I don't know what will!

Really, the lessons in this book are a big part of the inspiration that caused me to finally just execute on a long-time dream: this web site.  I want to help people see that there is another way.  It's not necessarily a "better" way, but it is a more fulfilling, honest way.

Here are some of the key take-aways from "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People": 
  • Society conditions us to judge others, manipulate situations, and engage others insincerely.  Breaking away from this can help us develop longer-lasting relationships, unlocking the true potential in ourselves and others.
  • Without the proper "maps" in life, we may work hard on all the wrong things and never really get anywhere.  Understanding the laws of human nature and interaction provides the maps necessary to get to our destinations in life.
  • You can have all the knowledge in the world but it's all for naught if we don't build a strong foundation and put it to good work.  The operative word there is "good".
  • We must learn to accept others as they are and not try to force them or sway them into our world view.  Cloning ourselves is a futile attempt and stifles mutual growth.

There's so much more that one may draw from this wonderful work.  The seven habits help us create truly-actionable life plans by helping us transition from private to public victories, constantly renewing, if not reinventing, ourselves in the midst of it all.  Stephen Covey speaks to the ideals of vision, personal leadership, interdependence, and so much more without seeming foolishly idealistic.  His real-life examples really drive home the points well.. Effectively even!

I particularly enjoyed the discussion of interpersonal leadership, empathetic communication, and creative cooperation.  These things give more meaning to the often-misused synergy.  If nothing else, this book shows how we can be selfish and selfless without infringing upon the rights and freedoms of others.  I believe many businesses and so-called "leaders" could stand to learn a bit from this book.

I realize this was a lengthy book review but that's just it: this book is chock-full of useful nuggets so focusing on any one aspect would be such a disservice.  Believe me, there's so much more I have left untouched!  It's hard to turn the pages of this masterful book and not find at least one little section to annotate, highlight, or ear-mark.   This is one of those special works I'd classify as timeless because it'll always speak to you, no matter where you are in life.


If you've read Stephen R. Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", please share your thoughts below.  If you haven't, that's fine too.  What do you think so far?

Let's all add to the conversation!