Someone recently asked me what was the best business book I have ever read. I answered without hesitation. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People left an indelible mark on my life. Amongst the best selling business book of all time, it sold over 20 million copies. As we mark the passing of Stephen Covey this week, I reflect upon how deeply The 7 Habits has influenced me:
Habit 1 - Be proactive. As a strategic planning facilitator, I have dedicated my life to helping entrepreneurs create a vision for the future. It is one thing to think about the future, another thing to plan for it. The number one objection I hear to planning is the investment in time. Covey used to argue that one’s time could be stated as a pie: part of the time you spend planning, part of the time reacting. The greater the proportion of time spent on planning, the smaller the pie.
Habit 2 - Begin with the end in mind. I often begin talks and interactions with entrepreneurs asking them what the end game is (usually some form of transaction or liquidity event). This step is often missed as executives think about what business they want to be in or what products they want to sell. If a business owner wanted to sell in 3 years, the decisions that would be made would vary dramatically from those of the entrepreneur that wants to sell in 10. In our manic world, we need to be thoughtful about our long range business goals and plan backwards.
Habit 3 – Put first things first. Covey used to use an exercise in which he made people put an assortment of rocks into a bucket. The only way to get the maximum number of rocks (an analogy for activity, work, projects, etc.) in the bucket was to place the largest ones in first. This is the essence of good strategy; prioritizing which things are most important and investing time, resources and capital into pursuing activity that will yield the greatest return.
Habit 4 – Think win-win. In a world of polarized politics and global conflict, win-win is becoming a lost art. The way I face with clients is that I try to put their needs in front of my own. When the client wins, I win – end of story. Shouldn’t we all think this way?
Habit 5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood. No truer words have ever been spoken in business. From CEOs to salespeople, we all have to listen more, and speak less (I am no exception). The number one skill any consultant or salesperson must learn is the ability to ask questions, and convert the answers into useful information that allows us to solve problems.
Habit 6 – Synergize. In my strategy work I am always looking for synergies; how can the client combine assets, divisions or people to create more than the sum of the parts? All successful entrepreneurs must master such combinations if they are to create a competitive advantage.
Habit 7 – Sharpen the saw. As a Vistage member and speaker, I live this mantra every day. The smartest people are those committed to lifelong learning. I tell my kids, the day you grow up in life is the day you realize you don’t have all the answers. I am amazed by how many executives do not understand that they limit themselves when they block out outside influences.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about these concepts is how they applied equally to business and one’s personal life. Stephen Covey was the rare person who made you want to be a better manager, a better spouse, a better parent and a better person. Mr. Covey, you will be missed – RIP.