Introducing the 7 Habits is rather silly at this point considering how old and well regarded it is. Time magazine said “Over the past two decades, Stephen Covey’s best seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has become a management bible in the boardroom.” Its merits are well known. I happen to love the book, but I have some reservations.
The Jester is right on the following point: the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is not about “Success” in the common sense of the word. In my estimation, that is a very good thing. It is extremely different from How to Win Friends and Influence People, for instance. The 7 Habits addresses the distinction between effectiveness and conventional success pretty directly: It’s more important to develop character than it is to learn any given technique.
A large part of Character is responsibility (read “response ability”): the ability to respond to a stimulus by choice rather than by instinct and emotion. Character means never saying “I was so mad/sad/frustrated that I couldn’t help what I did.”
The book talks about the reasons for building responsibility and some methods for doing so. The first half really focuses on personal responsibility, and the second half is more about social responsibility (read, “not being a jerk”). Despite what the Jester may believe, people can learn to lead, communicate carefully, and really consider the needs of all stakeholders involved. That builds trust, and with trust there can be a whole different level of productivity.
I have never read Machiavelli, but I’ve learned a bit from others who have. From what I can tell, the 7 Habits principles are really a better approach. Even if both achieve the same result, effectiveness can leave a real legacy; brutality only leaves a power vacuum. I talked a while back about ways to motivate others, and there really are not all that many. Reward and fear are the two most basic (and widely used). There are better ways, based on trust and mutual aspirations. But the Jester is right about this: the higher path is not the easy path.
I will say this about the 7 Habits: I find some of it to be a little hokey. Nonetheless, it is of real value that someone has spelled out a clear framework of concepts around the central principles of personal growth, trust, and shared enterprise.
Next week, I’ll talk about the differences between Allen’s Getting Things Done system and Covey’s First Things First.