7 Timeless Lessons on Leadership

In 1989, Dr. Stephen Covey’s profound book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, had the business world raving.  Since that time, a few new generations have entered the workforce.

Do relative newcomers to business know the name Stephen Covey? Are they introduced to his international best-seller in college? Yes, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, and brothers Chip and Dan Heath have come along with thoughtful business and leadership messages, too.

But Covey’s teachings should not be put on the back burner.

Stephen Covey passed away two years ago. His legacy remains.

As the final few months of 2014 unfold, this post can serve as a refresher for experienced leaders, and an introduction for emerging leaders.

Habit No. 1: Be proactive. “Self-awareness enables us to stand apart and examine even the way we ‘see’ ourselves—our self-paradigm, the most fundamental paradigm of effectiveness. It affects not only our attitudes and behaviors, but also how we see other people. It becomes our map of the basic nature of mankind.”

Habit No. 2 Begin with the end in mind. “This habit is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.” In other words, visualize what you want as if it already happened and the universe will begin to work wonders.

Habit No. 3: Put first things first. This habit is about personal and time management. Covey writes: “Management, remember, is clearly different from leadership. Leadership is primarily a high-powered, right brain activity. It’s more of an art; it’s based on a philosophy. You have to ask the ultimate questions of life when you’re dealing with personal leadership issues. But once you have dealt with those issues, once you have resolved them, you then have to manage yourself effectively to create a life congruent with your answers.”

Habit No. 4: Think win/win. According to Covey, “This is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win/win means agreements are mutually beneficial, mutually satisfying… Most people think in terms of dichotomies: strong or weak, hardball or softball win or lose. But that kind of thinking is fundamentally flawed.”

Habit No. 5:  Seek first to understand, then to be understood. “We have such a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice. But we often fail to take time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first…This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication.”

Habit No. 6: Synergize.On synergistic communication, Covey writes:  “You begin with the belief that parties involved will gain more insight, and that the excitement of that mutual learning and insight will create a momentum toward more and more insights, learning, and growth.”  Another gem: “Synergy is almost as if a group collectively agrees to subordinate old scripts and to write a new one.”

Habit No. 7: Sharpen the saw. “It’s renewing the four dimensions of your nature—physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.” Covey writes about continuous self-improvement. Commit, learn, and do.