Top Takeaways from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Sarah Hinson

Chances are, you’ve got a copy of Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People on your bookshelf. If not, your neighbor probably does. Or your friend from college. (And, if you haven’t heard of this book, we recommend snagging a copy of the latest edition.)

What makes this title so recognizable? Well, for starters, Covey’s book has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide since its initial publication in 1989. Essential for lasting success in any area, Covey’s framework helps people lead themselves, collaborate with others, and improve their capabilities. Its timeless principles—like fairness, honesty, integrity, and human dignity—apply to all age groups and professions at personal, team, and organizational levels.

For individual effectiveness: The 7 Habits help increase maturity, productivity, focus, planning, and people’s ability to manage themselves.

For team effectiveness: Teams who adopt these habits become more engaged and collaborative, with higher morale, improved communication skills, and stronger relationships.

Keep reading to learn about these habits and how you can implement them in your own life. (What's your favorite? We're a big fan of #5...and, well, all of them.) 

Leader and managers: We've also featured this bestseller in our new leadership guide, which explores how leaders can support and empower their teams in a workplace that's radically different than it was two years ago (or even two months ago). Receive a free copy in your inbox!

The 30th Anniversary Edition with Sean Covey + BookClub

Our Effective Leadership book club features an exclusive interview between host Scott J. Miller and Sean Covey, Stephen R. Covey’s son and co-author of the 30th anniversary edition. (Sean Covey also wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, among others.)

In the new edition, Sean didn’t change his father’s words, but instead added relevant, illuminating stories to bring them to life for a new generation of leaders. Check out our BookClub + FranklinCovey release for more insights from Sean, reader discussions, and an author Q&A.

We also have book club discussion questions for anyone who wants to go deeper—or use The 7 Habits in their own book club!

What Are the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?

We’ll walk you through key takeaways from each habit, including ideas for how you can apply them to your own life—both personally and professionally.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

If only we could control everything, right? The simple (but sometimes hard to digest) truth is, there are things we can control in life, and things we can’t. This habit is all about shifting your focus to what you can influence.

When problems, challenges, or opportunities arise—i.e. external stimuli come into play—there’s a moment between the stimulus and how you respond. You have the freedom to choose.

Source: FranklinCovey

Stop doing this: Reactive people, Covey posits, focus instead on the Circle of Concern™—things over which they have no control (a simple example: bad weather). Try not to blame conditions, circumstances, or conditioning for your behavior. Also avoid reactive language: I can’t, I have to, if only.

Start doing this: Take responsibility for your life by thoughtfully choosing what you say and do. Focus on what Covey calls the Circle of Influence®—things you actually have some control over (health, children, some problems at work). Use proactive language: I can, I will, I prefer.

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” -Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Ask yourself: Where am I expending my energy? Am I proactive, or reactive? If I’m the latter, how can I become more proactive?

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

How will you measure “success,” and what’s your plan to get there? Beginning with the end in mind means you begin each day (or task, at work or at home) with a clear vision of your desired outcome. Then, be proactive in how you get there.

Stop doing this: If you’re working hard without a clear goal or plan in mind, you’re wasting a great deal of precious time and energy. Don’t push yourself without first establishing where you’d like to end up.

Start doing this: Use your imagination to visualize who you are and what you want in life. Connect with what makes you unique, then define the guidelines (ethical, moral, and personal) within which you can best express yourself. You might even develop what Covey calls a “Personal Mission Statement” focused on what you want to be and do. Essentially, you’ll become the leader of your own life.

“People are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren’t getting very far. They, in essence, are pushing a rope with all of their might.” -Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Ask yourself: Do I know what I want and how I’ll achieve it? What would my “Personal Mission Statement” include?

Habit 3: Put First Things First

If Habit 2 is the “mental creation,” Habit 3 is where your “physical creation” starts to take shape. Figure out what’s most important, then start there. Of course, urgent matters will need to be addressed, but only if and when they’re actually important.

"The Four Quadrants of Time Management" from FranklinCovey

Stop doing this: Time-wasters keep us from staying focused, embodying our values, and reaching our goals. Avoid reacting to urgencies whenever possible, unless they are truly urgent. Don’t let anything in Q4 (pictured above) dictate your life.  

Start doing this: Consider your purpose, roles, values, and priorities. Decide what you consider to have the most worth. Once you put “first things first,” you’re managing time and events based on the priorities you determined in Habit 2. And you’re one step closer to achieving your most important goals.

“Putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities. It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.” -Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Ask yourself: How do I spend most of my time? Am I being proactive about the matters outlined in Q2 (see “The Four Quadrants of Time Management” above)?

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Building high-trust relationships that are mutually beneficial can help you collaborate more effectively. It’s not about being extra-nice, nor is it a quick fix. It’s a frame of mind for human interaction.

Stop doing this: Forget basing your self-worth on competitions and comparisons. Shed the belief that your success is contingent on someone else’s failure.

Start doing this: View life as a cooperative space. Seek mutual benefit in every interaction you have. This requires both empathy and confidence—you have to be sensitive to others while also being brave. Make sure you have these three vital character traits: integrity, maturity, and an abundance mentality (i.e. there’s plenty for everyone).

“In the long run, if it isn’t a win for both of us, we both lose. That’s why win-win is the only real alternative in interdependent realities.” -Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Ask yourself: Am I more cooperative, or competitive? How can I foster more interactions that are mutually beneficial?

Co-Author Sean Covey & FranklinCovey Host Scott Miller on BookClub

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

The best way to influence others? Develop a deep understanding of their needs and perspectives. Learn how to listen—really listen—to others. While communication is key, and something we learn about in school, listening is equally important (and a skill we have to cultivate).

Stop doing this: Focus less on getting your point across. Recognize when you’re ignoring someone, pretending to listen, or selectively hearing only a portion of what they’re saying. Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand—which makes it easy to decide (prematurely) what the other person is getting at.

Start doing this: Offer advice—or what Covey calls an “autobiographical response”—only when someone specifically asks for your point of view, or when there’s already a high level of trust. Otherwise, seek first to understand. Listen. Remain attentive. Your interactions will be more productive and fulfilling for both parties.

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” -Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Ask yourself: Am I responding with an evaluation, probing questions (from my own frame of reference), unsolicited advice, or interpretations (based on my own experiences—and assumptions about the other person’s motives)? What happens when I really listen? What’s it like when I can tell that someone’s really listening to me?

Co-Author Sean Covey

Habit 6: Synergize

In a nutshell, synergy is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s about teamwork, creative cooperation, and open-mindedness, and it’s also a process that leverages diversity and innovation.

When we work together and bring our unique skills and expertise to the table, we achieve better results and gain new insights that would otherwise be impossible.

Stop doing this: Do you wish everyone would just agree to make things simpler? It’s easy to mistake uniformity for “oneness.” Stop seeing differences as weaknesses. They can be our greatest strengths! (And, life would be far less interesting if we were all exactly the same.)

Start doing this: Work together to invent new approaches. Embrace a change of heart and new perspectives.

“Synergy is not the same as compromise. In a compromise, one plus one equals one and a half at best.” -Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Ask yourself: Do I embrace differences in my personal life? At work? How can I create more synergy in different areas of my life?

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Make time for things that renew you! This is essential for increasing motivation, energy, and work/life balance (which everyone seems to be talking about—and for good reason). You’ll become better equipped to handle challenges and be productive when it matters most.

Stop doing this: Don’t burn yourself out by overdoing everything. Yes, it’s tempting at times, but it also prevents you from enacting any positive changes. Also, avoid procrastinating when it comes to things that keep you in good health.

Start doing this: Your greatest asset is, in fact, yourself. Which means you need to take good care of yourself. Prioritize self-renewal in these four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Renewing yourself in these areas will create the kind of growth and change you want. It also helps you continue to practice the other 6 Habits.

“Renewal is the principle—and the process—that empowers us to move on an upward spiral of growth and change, of continuous improvement.” -Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Ask yourself: Am I tuned into my well-being? What renews me spiritually, socially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?

More Resources for Readers & Leaders

If you’ve read the book (or if you're just interested in the questions it raises), check out our book club discussion questions. Feel free to use them to foster meaningful conversations in your own book club.

And, if you're interested in strengthening your leadership skills, be sure to check out our free guide about managing in a COVID-impacted workplace. (This book was one of many that inspired us!) 

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