Harnessing Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Effective Leadership

I often reread Stephen Covey’s books to refresh my memory and help drive some of these habits a little deeper.

Also, as we gain experience, some of the lessons become more relevant, or we may have a different or even better understanding of the habit. This could be due to seeing the results of implementing it or to some of the challenges that we had to overcome.

What struck me as I listened was how much my wife got out of the book; she had never read Covey’s work, but we had discussed leadership a lot, and she really enjoyed it.

Covey does an excellent job of simply and clearly explaining his 7 habits, and for those whose mother tongue is not English, I highly recommend the audiobook. Covey is very easy to understand, you feel the passion and energy, and it is full of examples from his life of how and where he used the habits, which is very enlightening.

So the 7 habits, what are they?

Be proactive

Take the initiative and responsibility for your life and your decisions. Don’t wait for others, step up, and be responsible for making things happen.

Begin with the end in mind

Have a clear vision and picture of where you are going. If you don’t know where you are going how can you get there? You need to understand what it is you want out of life and what your values are.

Put first things first

Now that you know where you want to go, and who you want to be, look to prioritize things so that we put the most important things first. Too often people have to do the wrong thing first. One example he gives is where people say their family is most important to them, but then they repeatedly put their job first.

Think Win-Win

Seek mutually beneficial solutions. One point he strongly makes is that often people will concede and see this as a Win-Win, but actually, it’s Lose-Win, we feel good because we have given in to someone else, so they feel good, but eventually, we will regret our decision. That doesn’t mean we must we mustn’t compromise a little, it could be that we agree both parties get 80% of what they want. But if we agree to take 80% to allow someone else to have 100%, then that’s not a Win-Win.

Seek first to understand then to be understood

This is one of the most powerful and difficult habits for us to implement. Too often we want people to understand us and that’s where we focus, it takes great self-understanding to put that to one side and to listen, to understand and then to look to become understood. This is an excellent way of improving communication, but it does require us to be generous and put others first. Not only will understanding help us to be understood, but it also makes other people much more willing to listen to us, as we have listened to them first, and as managers and leaders this is immensely powerful, and not something that usually happens.


This is about using our teams and resources in such a way that 0ne plus one equals 3 or more. It’s about making the sum of the whole, more than the sum of the parts.

Sharpen the Saw

This is about ensuring that we keep our teams and resources refreshed so that they can continue to work and be effective. We can’t have teams working 80 hours a week, week after week, they will eventually run out of energy, and like the saw, they will become blunt and ineffective. We need to find the time to recharge them, and bring them back bright and energized for the next week

The first 3 habits are about us as individuals and what we need to do to become effective ourselves, and the next 3 are about we can better interact with others to create better results and finally, the last one is about keeping teams and ourselves on top of our games.

Of all the books on leadership I have read, I think this is one of the most powerful and beneficial. The lessons are simple and easy to understand and if we want to become effective then we just need to implement them.

Some of the habits are difficult because they require us to make changes and be more open with others, and sometimes this is not what we have been taught, or might not be a natural tendency.

Even Covey himself says that he doesn’t live these habits 100%, although he would clearly like to.

But it’s hard to be a Saint every day, but at least we can try.

Not only do I recommend Stephen Covey’s book, but I also recommend that you come back to it from time to time, and refresh yourself with these classic timeless habits, which if we can successfully implement them will make us highly effective.

For me it’s seek first to understand, which is the hardest to implement or easiest to forget, sometimes we are so pressed for time it’s hard to do this, it takes time, but if we don’t do it then we have wasted what time we did have and still end up not being understood.

I’d be very interested to hear from those of you who have read the book, which habit you appreciate yourself, or which habit you found the hardest to implement.

If you want to learn more about creating highly engaged teams or being a better leader click the link to view our course.