Published in 1989, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People remains a greatly valued model for business success. Although the book was written more than thirty years ago, its concepts are meant to be applicable in all types of circumstances. Times have changed and the New World of Work we live in today has added new meaning to Covey’s list of habits. What more can we say about the list now?
Today, we will elaborate on Covey’s seven habits in the context of the New World of Work (NWOW) and how you can operationalize these habits to become an effective change leader. If you’ve never heard of this book before, take a look at this article to gain some insight into Covey’s advice.
1. Be Proactive
The first habit on Covey’s list is to be proactive—to know your influence and to use it. You can’t go through life only being reactive; things don’t only happen to you—you happen to them too, and it’s important to remember that. The NWOW hasn’t altered the essence of being a proactive person, but it has altered the methods of going about it. You have to decide for yourself what works for you and learn to balance selfishness with self-affirmation. Know what you want, ask yourself if it’s within reason, and go for it. The issue with the NWOW is that remote work means less chance of bumping into someone in the hallway or kitchen (we’d hope zero chance if you live alone). Meandering from one task to the next won’t necessarily get you noticed—you must now present yourself and make the effort to form connections outside of coffee breaks and water cooler talk. While these connections may have happened more organically in the past, the NWOW means that you sometimes have to force a “chance meeting”—without seeming obnoxious of course.
2. Begin with the End in Mind
The second item on the list is to begin with the end in mind—to envision your end goal and reflect on the steps you need to take to get there. While the idea of keeping on task is simple enough, the NWOW has, for many people, questioned the concept of success in the workplace. Many people have discovered that their goals do not lie in their work, and this is okay. Perhaps their goal is to have more work flexibility so that they may spend more time with their families. As long as they can find purpose in both their work and home lives, that is what would be called success. It’s great to have a goal and to follow it, but you also need to be open to the fact that your goal might change. So yes, begin with the end in mind, but be ready to pivot if that end changes.
3. Put First Things First
To put first things first is to prioritize what’s important and get your tasks in order. This habit follows from the previous one; if you begin with the end in mind, everything should fall into place. You can only prioritize so many things though; identifying those few things and focusing on them is key. Once you manage your most important tasks, you can start prioritizing other ones down the list. Juggling five different priorities will lead to little progress, so do take the time to reflect on what it is that’s important to you and focus on it.
4. Think Win-Win
The idea that there always exists a win-win situation for everyone can seem naïve, and to a certain extent is, but the concept is important for understanding others’ needs. An effective change leader needs to know how to empathize with their team and articulate what’s in it for them. Sometimes, there really isn’t any benefit for the team members individually and the important question becomes: what’s in it for we? Seeing the big picture can make people realize that the “we” end up benefitting them in a more general sense, e.g., if the company does well, so will the employee. From the perspective of team leaders, it can be difficult to accept that remote work is a win-win situation, considering you can’t see your team working in front of you; but what needs to be measured is the output—the results—not hours spent behind a screen. Leaders need to be able to accept and trust in their team’s accountability for there to be a win-win situation in the NWOW.
5. Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood
Let others know they are being understood before you expect them to understand you. In the NWOW, people are more vocal about specific benefits they expect (like working from home). People understand their rights, which is great as long as it doesn’t turn into arrogance. Leaders no longer rule with an iron fist; they have to learn to be accommodating towards their team (within reason of course). Leaders must listen to and understand their team, guiding them rather than trying to manage them. On the other hand, team members must also understand what’s expected of them and act accordingly. Nevertheless, it’s the leader’s job to set the right example for proper communication.
In order to reach this point, you need to have the previous five habits in order. Persistence, creativity, and open-mindedness are important skills to achieve good team synergy. Be persistent in trying different ways of doing things, be creative with new narratives that need to be implemented, and be open-minded to replacing what doesn’t work and leveraging what does. Essentially, be flexible to any necessary change so that you can find the best methods for you and your team’s situation.
7. Sharpen the Saw
Examine your habits and aim for continued development. In general, people should constantly be questioning their habits. Are they still relevant? What needs to be renewed? Just like technology goes through continuous improvement, so should people if they want to keep up with today’s fast-paced environment. Mastering the cycle of unlearning and relearning is a crucial skill to adapt to change. You can read more about the importance of relearning in this article. Besides renewing your habits, self-care is also a necessary quality to remember. Knowing your limits and taking care of yourself has to come before any attempt at advancing towards your goals.
Although you might agree or disagree with some habits more than others and the order of importance might vary depending on your personal needs, Covey’s list is still a worthwhile model for success. The working world he lived in was quite different from ours, but his advice can still help us weave our way through the NWOW while attaining personal and/or business success.