Thanks Stephen Covey! 7 Habits that Changed My Life

About 20 years ago I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey who passed away on Monday at age 79 the result of complications from a bike accident back in April. The book would rank in the top five of the most influential books I have ever read. His 7 Habits became foundational for not only the leader I wanted to be, but even more the person I wanted to become.

His observation based on his own study that America had built itself its first 150 years on character based strength versus the last 50 or so years of charisma based leadership called out the best in me. His idea of an abundance mentality and leading from integrity built on lessons I had learned from the Bible (my #1 book for influence).

He broke the 7 Habits over 3 areas of movement. The first area dealt with self-mastery or independence. His mantra: Private victories precede public victories kept me pursuing discipline from exercise to blog writing. Boxers have their road work. Pastors have their prayer time and study time.

In this area of self-mastery he shared these 3 habits:

Habit 1: Be Proactive. This habit taught me to take action, to lead myself before I could lead others. Most of the world is reactive, more like a thermometer responding to the temperature. What is needed is more thermostats that set the temperature.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. Leadership at its best involves a powerful vision. I remember his challenge to picture what you would want family, friends and colleagues to say at your funeral? Leadership was more then work success for Covey, it was leveraging life to its finest pursuit of purpose.

Habit 3: Put first things first. In my top 50 of influential books would be First Things First that he wrote that dug deeper into this way to manage time. He taught me to put the “big rocks” in first. I use that phrase often in my leadership, and was working on one of those big rocks for our church today when I heard news of his passing. He taught me the 4 quadrants of time that go from urgent to non-urgent, from important to not important, and the danger of how we lose so much time to the not important aspect of life, even that which is perceived by others to be urgent. Leaders who win that private victory leverage their time in the important / not urgent quadrant. That’s where learning happens. That’s where growth happens.

4 Quadrants from

The next 3 habits deal with interdependence. In a me culture, Covey described the power of we.

Habit 4: Think Win / Win. Covey taught me to not only look for what was best for my situation, but what was best for the other person’s as well. Is there a way we can both win at the matter at hand? Pursue that path. Wired to be competitive (that means I hate to lose), I had to learn to hate for the other person to lose as well.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Oh, how this principle has helped me in times of conflict. I thought the goal was to get you to realize how right I was, and if I simply talked long enough even loud enough if need be, you would agree with me. This habit taught me to listen first, that there was more to the story then I knew. This habit laid out a path to think win / win in my life and the lives of others.

Habit 6: Synergize. I loved how this habit taught me the value of working together creatively. Instead of being a lone ranger pastor, I wanted to become and pursue a team approach. Instead of pursuing my ideas, I found greater value in pursuing our ideas together.

The last habit is my favorite of the seven and it deals with the area of self-renewal.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw. This habit fuels my love for reading. This habit is why I blog, I want to sharpen writing skills and share lessons learned along the way, and to learn from you as well (see synergize). For 20 plus years I have hungered to learn more, to keep the saw sharp, to be creative and fresh in bringing God’s Word to people. It’s why I read. It’s why I go to great conferences like the Leadership Summit or take the Lift courses or why every day of life is a great adventure.

Putting all 7 habits together and all 7 go together, Covey came up with this diagram:

steven covey, seven habits

In 2004, Covey came up with The 8th Habit: Find your voice, inspire others to find theirs. Isn’t that part of the  joy of life at its best? It’s why I do what I do, and why I seek to connect people to a living relationship with Jesus Christ and the transformation He brings and the eternal voice He gives. For me it was also the result of living out the 7 habits in faithfulness in my walk with God and the work He continues to do in my life and through my life.

So what book has greatly influenced the habits of your life? What makes your top 5 that still influences you life 20 years later?



Filed under Leadership Lessons

6 responses to “Thanks Stephen Covey! 7 Habits that Changed My Life

  1. I appreciate the summary of a book I’ve never read but have heard much about. C. S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” and A. W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God” are two books I read decades ago but have proven invaluable over time.

  2. Great job Richard. I enjoyed the examples and personal perspective you gave.

  3. I especially like your distinction between thermostats and thermometers.
    Also, Begin with the End in Mind is an important “rule” in writing stories and comedy too.

  4. One of my top books. I use the Four Quadrants at least once a day in reviewing what I myself am doing or not doing but also what is going on with my team.

  5. joy

    I had not realised that he died earlier this year. Thank you very much, I really enjoyed that summary of how his book had helped you.

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