Evaluating Earlier Models >>Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

In 1989 Steven Covey's book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" was published, commercially translated by local publishers in The Netherlands as: "The Seven Habits of Effective Leadership". This is a book on the stages of an individuals personal growth in general. The author studied for 25 years publications from the last 250 years on what makes people succesfull.
A habit is defined as a mix of:
1. knowledge and insight on how to act to get results
2. behavioral competence to act as required, and
3. the willlingnes to perform in practice

The seven habits serve for guidancing a person though the consequetive stages:
1. dependence (baby)
2. independance (being able to stand on one's own feet in life) and
3. mutual dependence (together we need each other and are stronger)

In each stage reigns a paradigma. Changing one's paradigma from stage to stage follows a route indicated by "natural laws". Each habit is an effective habit, while consisting of principles that must be internalised. Internalisation predicts behavior. Therefore actions (goals and behavior) that stem from them must be durable, consistent and effective.
The seven habits are:
1. be proactive in life (have a goal)
2. start with the finish in mind: who do you want to be
3. start at the start, be realistic about yourself
4. think in terms of winning/winning
5. try first to understand others then try to be understood
6. work synergetic
7. stay in balance when changing yourself

The leadership the book - and some other books by the author and colleques - focusses on is the personal leadership of a person in realising a fruitfull and even a happy life for him-/herself (and others). It is in no way the leadership we mean to identify as we speak of organisational leadership, i.e. the leadership of managers when realising their responsability and interacting with workers, collegues, third parties. The author is clearly neither a specialised managementtheorist, nor himself a practitioner of management who theorizes out of his own reflected upon managementbehavior, norms, views. His only claim seems to be that because leaders in organisations are persons, and the interactions in organisations are also between persons, also workers in organisations can benefit from the general insights of the principles he proposes. They can become leaders in fullfilling their own lives and are able to learn to create meaningfull relations. In line with the foregoing examples of the working of his principals are demonstrated in a wide array of fields: family, school, society, and also work. The main message for managers is that if you are able to arrive at the third stage of personal growth you will be more effective influencer of people than one who has not arrived there.

The Covey-concept should not be misread as a model designed for training leadership influencing behavior or to better leadership style flexibility for the mainstream of managementsituations each manager will encounter. This concept is not constructed with such a goal in mind nor can it be transformed into one. This I conclude from what I read, and I must state that this opinion is not based on having gathered information having followed a training course for managers based on the concept, wich perhaps could present me new views on this. Certainly the insights given in the books can help persons (and thus managers) to better their personal time-management, and help them be more effective in realising their personal goals. It gives coaches in this field an extra perspective to work from.

As we see no direct relevance of the concept for our focus here on models that help leaders acquire a vast array of applicable managementbehavior in order to become effective influencers in a relevant number of managementsituations, we will not dive deep into details. But on some general issues we cannot stop reflecting:

1.  Where is the concept derived from ? Links between the concept and studied literature are not structurally presented. We lack the representation of some mainstream theorising in personality development. We miss for instance referencing to three known "schools of thought". First the developmentstages by Roberto Assagioli, founder of Psychosynthesis who wrote insightfull and profoundly on stages of willing, an issue often mentioned in the concept. Secondly we miss the stages world renowned Eric Erikson researched when studying the development of identity. And thirdly where is Carl Jung's vision on the development of personality in wich the innervoice (for a fuller life and a wider consciousness) has an important role to play and helps to overcome earlier neuroticisms in order to arrive more at ones true personality the tao´stic way ? Where is Joseph Campbells "The Hero with the Thousend Faces" ? Is Covey's concept a strictly personal vision ? How profoundly grounded are the principles his texts describe ?

2. Many ideas are of a very general nature: they work or better seem to work generally. For instance: "do not be a manager of your life but be a leader of your life". Those unhappy with life could be attracted to this promise of leadership of one's own life and of the happier life that should be caused by following it. The message states in a Robertson-like way: everyone can be a winner. So when someone has not transformed himself in a leader of his own life in the end, he has failed himself and human nature. And only he himself is the cause of his miserable unfullfilled life. There is no room for luck or exogene factors in the private or workplace. This will reinforce the original feelings of guild and incompetence with wich a person started to follow the principles and wanted to get rid of.

3. This brings me to the interlinking of ideas and principles in the concept: why do all (!) principles are important ? What does one loose with one or more left out of the equasion ? Why is an idea as in point 2 above connected to for instance realising winner/winner interactions on the third growth level ? Etcetera.

4.  The very general plea for winning/winning interactions in family, school, organisations etcetera seems promising at first sight. On closer view there are serious comments to make for management in practice. Necessary conditions for a person using this so-called paradigma of human interaction are for Covey: personal integrity, adulthood and affluence. And their must be mutual thrust. Agreements resulting describe what each expects from the other. A proces of mutual understanding each others views, emphatic communication and creatively working together will realise these winning-winning agreements.
Firstly, in our experience these conditions are far from sufficient in reality. In many managementsituations there is mistrust in some form: a manager who trusts a worker will not always earn the thrust of the worker. The part inconsistent behavior of the manager and the given personality of the worker form the base for their interaction in reality. Views on strategy, policies, protocols and the like can in reality be very differing and conflicting. As this is a normal business situation from wich the manager has to generate the best solutions for the organisation (and not for himself and the worker) the manager has to engage in rational (and emotional) surfacing the views of the worker, his or her assumptions behind them, the facts behind their assumptions, confront them with his own views, and choose between these views that were further developed during discussions or decide for new solutions that were developed from them. In these situations instead of a winning/winning orientation a not-winning/not-winning orientation on the level of these individuals is necessary as a means in order to serve overall goals and common interests. Only this orientation frees one from unilaterally influencing and compromising wich are major defense mechanisms to mutually arriving at real optimalisations and real changes.       

Furthermore the character of the agreements described by Covey have a peculiar nature: they are all realised in situations where both actors are structurally not equally dependent upon each other: the leader (with his position and the power of remuneration) - and the worker, the father (with material goods) - and the daughter who is a have-not. The worker is given autonomy (less protocols) in exchange for better results and better control. The daughter is given the second car in restricted use under the condition that certain caretaking tasks for parents are performed.
I fail to see these agreements as results of personal integrity, adulthood, affluence, mutual thrust, empathic communication and creativity. They are to me nothing more then plain standard economical transactions in the sense of "to give and (in reverse) to get". And upon close look on the examples given by Covey the one who earns or posessses most is in all cases the one who is most in charge and who is the better earner: the manager receives more productivity and looses nothing, the father who looses nothing and receives more caretaking. One could say manager or father could loose if their riskcalculations proof wrong. So be it, but this also is economical calculation. As Covey for example himself states around the noted transaction with worker: "when a boss becomes the most important assistant of his subordinates, he can far more strenghten his grip on operations". So the reader can be asked: does the described behavior stem from personal integrity or from unilateral winning ? is this a fundamental use of mutual thrust or is the idea of mutual thrust a means used for personal gain ?