I caught up with Stephen R. Covey to have him reflect on his worldwide bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, over two decades later. First written in 1989, it has now sold over twenty million copies in 38 languages! Dr. Covey has been recognized as one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Americans. He is the co-founder and vice chairman of FranklinCovey, the leading global professional services firm with offices in 123 countries. He is also the author of The 8th Habit and his forthcoming book is called “The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems.” It will be released on October 4th. In this interview, he reviews and emphasizes many of the points made in his book and it is truly inspirational and timeless advice.
If you had to write The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People over again, would you change anything? Explain.
I would not. The sequence of the habits is the important thing. To win a public victory, you first need to win a deep private victory, taking responsibility and initiative—Habit 1, Begin with the End in Mind—Habit 2, and Put First Things First—Habit 3. Then the public victory follows — Habit 4, Think Win/Win, Habit 5, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, and Habit 7, Synergize, which means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Habit 7 is Sharpen the Saw, so that the four parts of your nature are deeply developed and nurtured—your body, mind, heart and spirit.
How do you decide what you want to do in life and begin with the end in mind?
Life is not accumulation, it is about contribution. We have 9 children and 52 grandchildren—6 great grandchildren, and each of the children and grandchildren are trying to make contributions.
Do you believe that if you can’t manage yourself, that you can’t manage other people? Why or why not?
It is true—because self-management is a pre-requisite to leading others well. The key is taking responsibility and initiative, deciding what your life is about and prioritizing your life around the most important things.
What’s the best way to create a win/win relationship in business or the workplace?
The best way is to always go for a third alternative, which means, not your way or my way, but our way, which is arrived at empathically and synergistically. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, it’s a higher, principle-centered way.
Looking back, which of your habits was the most important for your own professional success?
I would say Habit 5—Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood—because listening for deep understanding is the key to influence with others and to true creativity and innovation. When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen. The spirit of win-win and creativity is unleashed. Trust is built. You can take on great differences, challenges, and problems together and create solutions neither had considered alone.
I’ve just authored a new book that deeply explores this topic. It’s called “The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems” and will be released October 4.
Dan Schawbel, recognized as a “personal branding guru” by The New York Times, is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, a full-service personal branding agency. Dan is the author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, the founder of the Personal Branding Blog, and publisher of Personal Branding Magazine. He has worked with companies such as Google, Time Warner, Symantec, IBM, EMC, and CitiGroup.