40 million copies in 40 languages worldwide – plus a couple of million copies of the audio version sold.  There must be a reason, why Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is still a relevant read. It is one of the best selling nonfiction business books in history, and – according to Time magazine – it is one of The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books.

So, what’s the special magic with this particular self help book? Yes, it’s mainly targeted for business professionals – but it is also elementary for anyone else, who wants to achieve something bigger in their lives. Covey’s book won’t teach you how to play Machiavellian power games at the office or how to swindle a deal in a true Trumpian way. To Covey, life – including business life – is not a zero sum game, quote the contrary. According to him, we should focus on timeless principles of life, like fairness, integrity, honesty and human dignity. 

According to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People we should strive after being no longer dependent on others, or rather move from dependency towards independence and finally become interdependent.

The Seven rules – or habits – are quite simple, really. But so are Ten Commandments. And still we need to be reminded of them, time and again. So why not these truths, too?

  1. Be proactive. Do not victimise yourself to passiveness, don’t wait things to happen to you. Do. 
  2. Begin with the end in mind. It’s much easier to move towards something, when you have actually set goals. Then, motivating is easy and thinking is clear. Envision YOUR future.
  3. First things first. Pioritise. Pioritise. Pioritise. Follow the method of Dwight D. Eisenhower: Matrix of importance vs urgency. These are his tiers of emergency:
    A) Quadrant I. Urgent and important (Do) – important deadlines and crises. B) Quadrant II. Not urgent but important (Plan) – long-term development. C) Quadrant III. Urgent but not important (Delegate) – distractions with deadlines. D) Quadrant IV. Not urgent and not important (Eliminate) – frivolous distractions
  4. Think Win-Win. With this habit, we turn from independence to interdependence. With this a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration doing business and interacting in general is based on genuine feeling for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listen. Try to really understand the person you are listening to. Keep your mind open. Learn. This brings an empathetic, positive atmosphere, that is highly helpful when solving problems. Just use the combination of your personal credibility (Ethos), empathetic side (Pathos) and logic (Logos).
  6. Synenergise. Use the power of Teamwork to maintain a hunger for continual improvement.
  7. Sharpen the Saw. Maintain your skills, learn new, deepen your understanding. Instead of carrying all the boxes, find time to learn to drive the forklift and become way more productive. The time you spend sharpening your saw will pay back, many times over, the time with your blunt and thus slow saw you lost in the first place. Be it physical renewal like running, gym, tennis or yoga – and good read, even a prayer, you should constantly develop yourself.
    According to Covey, the so-called Upward Spiral model consists of three parts: learn, commit and do. You should be increasingly educating your conscience in order to grow and develop on the upward spiral. This constant renewal by education will bring you personal freedom, security, wisdom, and power. Not a bad trade-off.

If you really want to succeed, be it in business or other fields of life, you should constantly find even a little time to develop yourself. And I do not mean training for a marathon or spending weeks meditating with monks in Tibet. Simple things as a routine can do the trick. Have a walking meeting while on Zoom. Read a good novel instead of anything glancing through work-related articles or a golf guide. 

As the American female group En Vogue sang in the early 1990’s: Free your mind, the rest will follow. Be color blind, don’t be so shallow.

7 habits of highly effective people
By Stephen R. Covey (Simon & Schuster 1989)
Review by Jan Erola