This is the first in a four-part series, starting with Part 1 of Stephen Covey’s critically acclaimed bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (1989). I’ll be reading the book with you and walking us through each of the seven habits, which Covey groups into three sections. This series isn’t designed to regurgitate all the lessons in the book (it’s packed full of them) but to encourage you to read the book and consider new ways of looking at the complex areas of your life.
Author and speaker Stephen Covey (1932-2012) tells of a time when his son was struggling in school – academically, socially and athletically. Covey and his wife felt it was their job as parents to “help” him. They tried everything: psyching him up, using positive reinforcement, praising him when he improved slightly, reprimanding others who criticized him. Each of their actions came out of loving motives, but their approach wasn’t working.
At the time, Covey was researching the topics of communication and perception for some leadership development presentations he was doing for business clients.
As he and his wife discussed his findings, they realized that they perceived their son as “inadequate” and had been communicating to him, in unspoken ways, “You aren’t capable. You have to be protected.”
They needed to change their perception of their son before they could truly help him.
PERSONALITY VS. CHARACTER
Covey had been studying the “success literature” published in the United States since 1776.
“I began to feel more and more that much of the success literature of the past 50 years was superficial,” Covey wrote. “It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes – with social band-aids and aspirin that addressed acute problems and sometimes even appeared to solve them temporarily, but left the underlying chronic problems untouched to fester and resurface time and again.
“In stark contrast, almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success – things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule.”
“But shortly after World War I the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to what we might call the Personality Ethic. … Some of this literature acknowledged character as an ingredient of success, but tended to compartmentalize it rather than recognize it as foundational and catalytic. Reference to the Character Ethic became mostly lip service; the basic thrust was quick-fix influence techniques, power strategies, communication skills, and positive attitudes.”
Covey realized that he and his wife had been relying, subconsciously, on the Personality Ethic rather than the Character Ethic in trying to help their son. They determined to focus their efforts on themselves – “not on our techniques, but on our deepest motives and our perception of him.” They began to see their son in terms of his uniqueness. They adjusted their approach, accepted him where he was and let him work things out on his own terms.
Thus begins the introduction of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
In the book, Covey takes an inside-out approach to this “personal change,” decrying Band-Aid remedies for deep, complex matters. He acknowledges that some elements of the Personality Ethnic are essential to success. “But they are secondary, not primary traits.”
If there isn’t deep integrity and fundamental strength of character, Covey writes, “the challenges of life will cause true motives to surface and human relationship failure will replace short-term success.”
Next, Covey starts talking about paradigms – our frame of reference, or how we see things. You’ve probably seen his illustration of the young, beautiful woman and the old lady. It has circulated for years and is a fascinating example of how our perceptions can change depending on our frame of reference. This video doesn’t tell the original story (about a class at Harvard Business School) but gives a technological twist on the illustration:
In the book, Covey provides several examples of paradigm shifts, including his own, before giving an overview of the 7 Habits. Part 1, referenced above, is “Paradigms and Principles.” Here’s the rest of the list, which we’ll cover in one post a week for the next three weeks:
PART 2: PRIVATE VICTORY
- Be Proactive: Principles of Personal Vision.
- Begin with the End in Mind: Principles of Personal Leadership.
- Put First Things First: Principles of Personal Management.
PART 3: PUBLIC VICTORY
- Think Win/Win: Principles of Interpersonal Leadership.
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: Principles of Empathic Communication.
- Synergize: Principles of Creative Cooperation.
PART 4: RENEWAL
- Sharpen the Saw: Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal.
Stop by Monday, May 11, for Habits 1-3.
Tomorrow: T is for Take Steps and Team Challenge (working to cure Crohn’s & colitis).
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