The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: A book review by Bob Morris

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: 30th Anniversary Edition
Stephen R. Covey with Sean Covey
Simon & Schuster (May 2020)

A classic of personal growth even more valuable today than it was when first published in 1989

First of all, I urge those who are interested in this latest edition of a business classic to read Jim Collins’ Foreword, accessible by a click on the main page (“Look inside”) of its Amazon’s page. He makes a compelling case for reading and then re-reading Steven R. Covey’s masterpiece.

Yes, I said “re-reading” because the material is both timely and timeless. This is a primary source that should be kept near at hand for frequent reference.

I agree with Collins: “Stephen Covey was a master synthesizer.” In the original edition, he followed Einstein’s advice and made everything “as simple as possible…but no simpler.” None of the habits is a head-snapper, nor did Covey make any such claim. They have remained the same for decades. In fact, the original material is the same in this latest edition but is anchored by son Sean within a wider and deeper frame of reference. I commend him on the set of “New Insights” that follows the original discussion of each of the seven.

Back to Collins, for a moment. Here are his reasons why he thinks The 7 Habits is an enduring classic:

1. “Covey created a ‘user interface’ organized into a coherent conceptual framework, made highly accessible by Covey’s strong writing.”

Comment: The reference to “writing” is significant. The value of an insight must never be obscured by consultant-speak.

2. “Covey focused on timeless principles, not on mere techniques or momentaru fads.”

Comment: The habits that Covey endorses should be established as soon as possible and sustained throughout one’s life. Warren Buffett warms against habits that resemble “chains too light to notice until they are too heavy to break.”

3. “Covey wrote primarily about [begin italics] building character [end italics], not about ‘achieving success’ — and thereby helped people become not more effective individuals, but better leaders.”

Comment: Not everyone can develop the skills and temperament to become a C-level executive but everyone can earn and be worthy of respect and trust. Better leaders, yes, but also better teammates when collaboration must succeed.

4. “Covey himself was a level 5 teacher, humble about his own shortcomings, yet determined to share widely what he’d learned.”

Comment: With rare exception, Level 5 leaders are Level 5 teachers and students. Covey was driven by a passion to share what he had learned, to help as many people as he could to accelerate their personal growth and professional development.

You also need to know about some other supplementary material in this updated and expanded edition:

o “Inside-Out Again” (Pages 367-377)
o “New Insights on Inside-Out Again” (378-384)
o “Afterword: Q&A with Stephen R. Covey” (385-398)
o “A Quadrant II Day at the Office” (399-408)
o “A Covey Family Tribute to a Highly Effective Father” (409-413)

There is also an ingenious “Problem/Opportunity Index” (415-423), one that should be viewed as “a reference to material in this book that specifically deals with various concerns [e.g. “When you don’t know if you’re being effective or not”] and, hopefully, will provide insight and help in working on them.” This section does not solve problems; rather, it indicates where assistance can be located within the narrative.

Who will derive the greatest benefit from this latest edition? First, those who are now preparing for a career in business or public service or those who have only recently embarked upon one.

Also, given the current pandemic’s disruptive force, everyone else who needs to — in Alvin Toffler’s words — “learn, unlearn, and relearn” whatever is necessary to fulfill their potential.

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