Seven habits still effective

Stephen R. Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, recently died of complications from a bicycle accident. He was 79. The first thing that popped into my mind when I heard the news was that he lived, he loved, he learned, and he left a legacy, just as he encouraged millions to do during his lifetime. I first read Seven Habits shortly after it was published in 1989. I was a recent college graduate and a newlywed. To say that the book had a profound effect on my adult life is not to overstate.

Though the live, love, learn, legacy motto came readily to mind, I couldn't remember the seven habits when I tried the other day. So I pulled the book off the shelf and gave myself a refresher course. Reading it now, nearly a quarter-century later, I marvel at the prophetic genius. Covey considered the book to be more about character study than corporate structure. His principles speak to today's troubles.

- Be proactive. We are to take responsibility for the choices we make and the opportunities we seize in life. Each decision shapes our lives and we can largely determine the way that we live by the choices we make. The only entitlement mentality here is that we are entitled to make our own reasoned decisions and we are entitled to live with the consequences.

- Begin with the end in mind. From business ventures to family culture, Covey challenges us to live intentionally. He urges that everyone needs an individual mission statement and every family needs one, too. These aren't tied to material goals. They are entirely about intentionally creating a culture of strong character.

- Put first things first. Once the mission statement is clarified, we need to make decisions based upon it. We should spend our time doing what is most important. Covey encouraged us to live in the "important" quadrant, not in the "urgent" one. Truly, emergencies are rare.

- Think win-win. From business negotiations to marital disputes, we really win only when both parties win. Covey emphasized valuing relationship over scoring points and delighted when people discovered that, ultimately, the "victory " was much sweeter when both parties genuinely listened and problem solved together.

- Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. The antidote to a self-absorbed mentality is empathy. Genuine empathy allows the listener to be open to learning from and honestly respecting another's point of view. When someone feels genuinely heard, they are much more likely to listen in turn. Both parties benefit by better understanding the other.

- Synergize. True community organizing occurs when each member of the group is expected to contribute meaningfully, to give fully of himself in order to achieve a goal that requires the hard work of many. No one gets a handout. Everyone gives a hand-up.

- Sharpen the saw. I would have dearly loved to ask Covey what he thought about smartphones and people's propensity to take them to the table, the toilet and the car. The habits of 24/7 wiring are not truly effective. Genuine effectiveness requires recreation, rest and reading. It requires prayer and physical and emotional renewal on a regular basis. It requires we disconnect from the incessant chimes of technology to reconnect with our Maker, the people we love and ourselves.

Covey lived what he taught. His thinking, his writing and his speaking were highly effective. He was a genius who left a legacy. I pray we don't forget.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012

@elizabethfoss