“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey

the 7 habits of highly effective people stephen covey book cover

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a stellar book. I first read it in 2011 and was enthralled by what it had to offer. Wiser and more experienced in 2012 I read it again and, once more, could get so much from it. It’s ideas and illustrations have shaped and enhanced my management, my leadership, and my life.

The content is structured around the seven habits. The first three focus on “private victory”, on the self-awareness and sense of values and priorities that are common to the inner lives of, we would believe, highly-effective people. Then habits related to “public victory” are explored: listening, assertiveness, finding options for mutual gain, thinking synergistically. Because a superficial treatment of each habit doesn’t do them justice, I won’t go there – I encourage you, instead, to read the book.

However, there are two overriding concepts that I can adequately convey, both giving a sense of the book’s value and sharing some of that value. These concepts are “interdependence” and the “P/PC principle”.

Highly effective people are interdependent

Interdependence is the quality of being centred in oneself and being a full individual while also fully connecting with others and being able to appreciate the role others play in founding life satisfaction. It is the ideal. “Dependence” is juvenile: one is not a full individual. A dependent person may depend on others for simplicities, food, water, as a child does, or for abstractions such as security, esteem, or happiness. In either case the inability to exist richly on one’s own is a dangerous shortcoming.

Then again, “independence” isn’t much better. An independent individual can look after themselves, and may not need others to get by. This is preferable to dependence but still an immature state. The independent can fail to value the role of others, of those they love. They may ignore our shared fates or commonalities as human beings. They may never notice opportunities for mutual gain. Naively, they may think one can ‘go it alone’ despite the intricate interlinking of individual and group destinies.

Thus “interdependence” reigns supreme, combining the best of both worlds. One should be free of dependency, of course. But, further, one should join with others, be part of something greater, seek the more that no one can find alone. This is interdependence, and it’s a value that underpins what much of the book has to offer.

a picture of a bell, alluding to a poem to illustrate the concept of interdepenedence as explored in the 7 habits of highly effective people by stephen covey

On interdependence: the bell tolls for thee. #literaryallusion

Highly effective people balance production and capability

The “P/PC principle” is shorthand to conceptualise the complex interplay between “production” and “production capability”. Covey uses the story of the goose that laid golden eggs: although what we actually want is golden eggs (production, you dig?), we must still look after the goose (production capability). Because the goose lays the eggs. In case you missed the point, Covey emphasises that, unlike the man in the story, we should never kill the goose to try to get out all the eggs.

This principle has immediate and obvious applications to both self-care and people management. These days it is common, and it has long been common in activism, for people to sacrifice their wellbeing to achieve outcomes. This might be the businessperson who doesn’t get enough sleep for months, or the campaigner who neglects their family. The P/PC principle encourages us to recalibrate our values and make sure to look after ourselves, not as an act of selfishness, but as part of a genuine contribution to whatever cause we serve.

Similarly, there is a temptation for managers to sacrifice staff or volunteer wellbeing for outcomes. This is the leader who unsympathetically demands their team step up to pull off an almost impossible feat, or perhaps the manager who is unable or unwilling to spend time with their team, investing in relationships and cohesion. In any case, Covey reminds us with this principle that we can’t measure effectiveness without considering both the results achieved and the internal effects of achieving them.

a picture of the earth to illustrate that we are ignoring stephen covey's advice in the 7 habits of highly effective people

Are we sacrificing the Earth’s production capability in pursuit of products? No shit.

In short, this is a book everybody should read. Its lessons and insights are applicable to every life and every endeavour. It’s far more than a business book.

For people new to self-help books, the style may well be grating. The Seven Habits has the almost cliched voice of the author coming through strongly, the surplus of trite examples, and a dose of cheese that would have had Charles de Gaulle facepalming in to his crème brûlée. Regrettably, within this genre, this is almost unavoidable.

But one is moved to persist and to shrug off the hokey Uncle Sam prose. The book’s worth is undeniable, and the reader doesn’t need much dedication to get at least far enough in to realise that Covey’s work is well worth finishing.

Get a copy on Amazon



  1. Setting Goals, Making Predictions, Being Prepared | Scit Necessitas - April 25, 2013

    […] often an emphasis on goal-setting and planning. Stephen Covey, in his quintessential guide The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, urges us to “begin with the end in mind”. He writes, “To begin with the end in […]

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