The 7 Habits: Do they stand the test of time? Will they save us?

Once upon a time, when I was a perky young management consultant, I swallowed ideas on offer at swanky conferences by swanky peeps (especially when the hotel and wine were good).

Fast forward a few decades and spending the majority of my early 40’s in the ivory towers (doing a PhD) have taught me to question everything, to ask for the evidence.

In 2018 I have been transitioning back into my business with my right-hand woman (aka, my mum). We did good work previously and our clients were happy.

Still, I started to wonder, where were we letting them down? Where were we selling them things that felt good and seemed nice but ultimately were not supported by good scientific evidence?

Of course, science does not have all the answers (it knows this or it would quit). However, there are ideas/tools sold to businesses that are well researched and shown to be (at best) totally ineffective.

 Hence, I do not want to charge our clients for such tools (just because some of our competitors are not naming any names).

So it is that I am returning (with my new eyes) to some of our old favourite tools and authors, to assess which ones should be ‘put back on the shelf’ or thrown in the bin with the kale and that nice slippery coconut oil.

Given my current blogging focus is habits it is obvious to revisit Stephen Covey’s famous, 7 habits of highly effective people.

 First, I can’t seem to find any academics slamming the 7 habits (but I have given it half a day, not a month so do let me know what I missed); On the contrary, I found a few articles in top journals* using his tools for their specialty (i.e., pharmacology and nursing). I also see he was himself and academic. So far so good, I think I’ll go further.

But first I have long forgotten what the 7 habits actually are, so let’s start with a recap for your sake and mine:

  • Be Proactive – Wow this baby is big it is much more than Nikes ‘just do it’. It is doing it with self-awareness, with reference to your personal values, by leveraging your own unique awesomeness and more. I do like the sound of this.  It feels intuitively useful no?
  • Begin with the End in Mind – Get your mission statement going, mate.
  • Put First Things First – “The main thing is to keep the main, thing the main thing”
  • Think Win-Win – This one sounds a wee bit too hippy-dippy, law-of-attraction, abundance-blah-blah for me.  But I shan’t judge this book by its cover.
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood – Easier than it sounds.
  • Synergize – that feels a bit last millennium, corporate bingo now huh?
  • Sharpen the Saw – you never know when you need to prune a tree. Actually, it’s about working on our four domains: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual.  I’d say this is very much interlinking with habit 1.

So there we have the 7 habits of highly effective people.   Over the coming weeks, I’ll take each one and see what evidence exists for it.


* You can enter journal titles and see their ranking here.  Understanding them is another thing – I’ll get around to a post or seven on that eventually.