Reflections on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits

When I read in the newspaper of the passing of Stephen Covey at the age of 79 from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident, I was reminded of his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and how much reading it impacted my life. I read “The 7 Habits” more than 15 years ago at a time in my career when I did not feel very effective as a leader. 

Learning just 7 habits to become more effective seemed like just the quick fix I was looking for back then. I figured I could learn a few more habits, after all the habits I was trying to break I don’t remember trying to learn in the first place.  When I completed reading his book, I recall feeling a new found sense of order in how to approach life and work.

I have followed Stephen Covey work over the years and have implemented his teaching in how I approach leading an organization and the consulting services we provide to universities evaluating their campus housing programs. I decided after reading of Stephen Covey death I would read his book again and see if there was something I missed the first time or if age and experience allowed a different lesson to come through.

The two habits that seem most important to me back then remain the same today. Habit number 5: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  This habit serves as the cornerstone in our consulting practice and our work managing student housing on campus. Habit number 3: “Put first things first.”  This habit I would change up a little today. When we work with universities in our consulting practice or helping to turn around a campus housing program one of the greatest challenges is searching for the “first things.” It is like peeling an onion one layer at time. An action plan will always follow if we chose the right “first things” to work on. What took on greater meaning in my second reading of Covey’s book was his concept of personality ethics and character ethics and the role each play in success. Covey defines it like this. Personality ethics is doing or acting in a certain way.  Character ethics is the act of being yourself. It seems to me organizations can draw on the same distension.

There is one habit that takes on greater meaning at this time in my career and it is Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw. Do not ever think you are ready, keep developing yourself and remain humble. I can only conclude when a 79 year old man dies following injuries sustained in a bicycle accident, he practiced what he taught.