A Summary of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey presents a series of seven sequential habits, aimed at giving the reader the tools to move along – what he likes to call – the “maturity continuum.” By understanding where one stands on this continuum, Covey argues, one will be better suited to focus their efforts sequentially on the seven habits – and gain a greater interpersonal effectiveness. To covey, this book is a “principle-centered, character based, inside-out approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness.”

This summary will cover the foundational concepts of the book and give an overview of the seven habits. Though this book is a “self-help” book, it covers many topics that can be helpful to project managers. To give a greater focus to this summary, this will also cover how this book is relevant to the practice of project management.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

General Concepts

While Covey was a doctoral student, he devoted himself to an in-depth study of the success literature published in the United States since 1776. From his studies, Covey noticed that the literature from the first 150 years focused on what he likes to call a “Character Ethic,” while the last 50 years focused on a “Personality Ethic.” Covey describes the Character Ethic as the basic principles of effective living, – things like integrity, humility, fidelity, modesty, and the Golden Rule – while the Personality Ethic describes success as being a function of ones personality, public image, attitudes, or behaviors. Though both are essential to success, the Personality Ethic is a learned, secondary trait, while the Character Ethic is a natural, primary trait. He argues there is an inherent flaw with the Personality Ethic in the sense that “where we stand depends on where we sit” – or, the way we see things is based on our experiences. This leads into a discussion about paradigms, and how one’s perceptions of the world entirely depend on one’s experiences. To demonstrate this concept, Covey asks the reader to think of paradigms as maps. He relates this by describing how it would be virtually impossible to find your way around Chicago if you are relying on a map of Detroit; however, if you understand the basic geographic principles of a city, it would be possible for you to find your way around. Covey furthers his argument by saying, oftentimes “the way we see the problem, is the problem.”

Covey also describes how one’s perceptions can be changed through a “paradigm shift.” He offers a few examples of this, but the one that stands out in my mind was an experience he had on a train. A man boarded the train with his two children, who were clearly out-of-control. They were loud and obnoxious and, from Covey’s perspective, bothering all the passengers in the train car. Covey noticed that the father was not doing anything to settle the children, and asked the man to “control them a little more.” The man turned to Covey and explained that his wife, their mother, had just died in the hospital and they were all having a hard time grasping the reality of what just happened. Covey’s paradigm was shifted — changing his attitude from annoyance to concern. From this example, Covey makes the point that we need to understand how our paradigms influence our perceptions of reality, and be mindful of these perceptions when making decisions.

Covey then argues that, in order to become a principle-centered, character-based, effective person, one must understand where they stand by conducting an inside-out analysis of themselves, and by applying habits that help them become more in-lined with their principles and mission. To do so, Covey introduces what he likes to call the “maturity continuum” – a three-stage process along which someone develops from being (1) dependent to (2) independent to (3) interdependent. Covey argues that his seven habits can move someone through these stages.

First it is important to define “habit.” In his words, “a habit [is] the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire” – they are internalized principles and patterns of behavior that can help one be effective and “produce happiness.” He then describes how effectiveness is achieved through the P/PC Balance, where P is Production and PC is Production Capacity. He notes how it is important to maintain the P/PC Balance so both P and PC are developed and maximized over the long-term, rather than the short-term. By maximizing P and PC over the short-term, this leads to burnout and the depletion of resources.

Overview of the Seven Habits

Covey then describes his seven habits by breaking them into three sections:

  1. Self-mastery
  2. Achieving interdependence
  3. Renewal.

Habits 1 through 3 cover the topic of self-mastery, and helps one move from the dependent to the independent point on the maturity continuum. These habits are:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first

When Covey discusses the first habit of proactivity, he introduces the concept of the Proactive Model, where one has the ability to choose their response to stimuli through (1) self-awareness, (2) imagination, (3) conscience, and (4) independent will. This habit emphasizes the importance of our reactions, and encourages us to act responsibly and take initiative when it comes to our situations. We do not have to act according to a social map, but we can act on our principles. To further his point, Covey describes Viktor Frankl’s fundamental principle about the nature of man as being, “between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.” Also, Covey discusses the concepts of the “circle of concern” and the “circle of influence.” Covey argues that by being proactive, responsible, and taking initiative, one can widen their circle of influence into the circle of concern and become more influential and respected.

When talking about the second habit of “beginning with the end in mind,” Covey argues that one must reflect and understand what principles they live for to truly develop mastery of one’s self. He suggests developing a personal mission statement for how one lives their life. He also suggests this for organizations. It is important to visualize and plan for the future, so that one can implement their values into their daily activities, and prioritize effectively.

Finally, when Crosby discusses the third habit by putting “first things first” he refers to a method of prioritization based on urgency and importance. For this, he develops a Time Management Maturity Grid that breaks activities into four quadrants. Crosby argues that one should devote their time to activities in quadrant two, and delegate the other activities to maximize one’s effectiveness. He also discusses the idea of Emotional Bank Accounts when it comes to personal relationships. He emphasizes that one must not treat relationships in terms of efficiency, but rather effectiveness. He also emphasizes that one must make more deposits than withdrawals into Emotional Bank Accounts to maintain lasting relationships.

Habits 4 through 6 involve achieving interdependence, and help one move from independent to interdependent on the maturity continuum. These habits are:

  1. Think win/win
  2. Seek first to understand, then be understood
  3. Synergize

The fourth habit of “think win/win” emphasizes the benefit of working with mutual benefit in mind. Crosby introduces the idea that there are six paradigms of human interaction:

  • Win/Win
  • Win/Lose
  • Lose/Win
  • Lose/Lose
  • Win
  • No Deal

He argues that Win/Win or No Deal are the two most effective paradigms. This applies across businesses, organizations, and families. If you strive for a Win/Win situation, or even a compromise, a trust is built that is the foundation for a great working relationship. From there, he develops five dimensions of the Win/Win situation, which are:

  • Character
  • Relationships
  • Agreements
  • Support Systems
  • Processes

He also develops a four-step Win/Win process:

  1. See the issue from the other point-of-view
  2. Identify key issues
  3. Determine results for acceptable solutions
  4. Identify new options to achieve results

The fifth habit of “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” emphasizes the benefit of empathic listening. When we “prescribe before we diagnose,” or when we insert autobiographical responses, we lose trust and withdraw from Emotional Bank Accounts. It’s much more effective to listen.

The sixth habit is all about synergy. Synergy has been a buzz-word in business for the last two decades, but is little understood. At the basic level, it means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In an organizational unit, if you value the differences of the individuals and leverage those differences, you can produce a benefit much greater than previously attainable. This is achieved through trust and cooperation, and emphasizes the importance of communication.

Finally Habit 7 involves self-renewal. At this stage, one should focus on “sharpening the saw,” and focus on developing four facets of one’s self. These four dimensions are:

  1. Physical
  2. Spiritual
  3. Mental
  4. Social/Emotional

Overall, with the seven habits, Covey proposes an in-depth process for maximizing personal and professional effectiveness. By developing the seven habits sequentially, Covey argues one may lead a principle-based life and, hopefully, achieve ultimate happiness.

How This Book Applies to Project Management

Here are a few ways in which this book can be applied to the practice of project management:

  • The importance of effectiveness over efficiency.
  • The importance of balancing Production and Production Capacity (P/PC Balance).
  • The importance of planning and organizing as outlined in Quadrant Two of the Time Management Matrix.
  • The importance of understanding paradigms, and how everyone perceives things differently.
  • The importance of utilizing the paradigm shift in persuasion.
  • The importance of the maturity continuum, especially in relation to Crosby’s Quality Management Maturity Grid.

If you found this summary helpful, or have anything to add, please reply with a comment below.