Business Book Reviews – for the Busy Business Owner
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – By Stephen R. Covey, Free Press (Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.), Revised edition 2004, 384 pp. (including appendices and index), with a new Foreword and Afterword by the author, $15.95 (Paperback) *
Pluses: Contains much common-sense advice about how to deal with problems in one’s personal and professional life. Written in a friendly and often engaging style, with plenty of interesting anecdotes and examples to illuminate the author’s points.
Minuses: Longer than it needs to be, and laden with jargon and buzzwords, as well as diagrams that are sometimes confusing and are probably unnecessary for anything except the author’s own branding efforts. This could lead some readers to become obsessed with the minutiae of the “7 habits” process rather than focusing on real-world results. Some might also take issue with the book’s emphasis on principles at the expense of considering variables such as personality and the economic or social environment.
Details: A generation ago, Stephen R. Covey introduced his “7 Habits” approach to a reading public that was apparently ripe for the next big thing following Tom Peters’ “Excellence” oeuvre. Covey proposed a “holistic, integrated, principle-centered” approach to dealing with personal as well as professional problems, and his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was immediately a smashing success. Though words – and concepts – such as “holistic” would probably never have passed muster in the business realm during the cutthroat early to mid-1980s, 7 Habits emerged at the cusp of a new decade, and the button-down types were open to trying new things. They were ready to go on wild-man wilderness retreats, sit in sweat lodges, trust-walk their way through weekend workshops, and get in touch with their innermost feelings before marching back to the corner office to kick butt and take names (though in a more sensitive and mindful way, of course). And by golly, they were ready to bring a little bit of “principle” to the boardroom as well as to their family lives. Most of all, they were ready to experience a “paradigm shift,” a concept that had originated with a leading-edge historian and science writer named Thomas Kuhn in the early 1960s, was co-opted by New-Age philosophers some time in the late 1980s, and gleefully adopted by Stephen Covey as a foundation of his 7 Habits empire.
Today Covey, who in some pictures bears a somewhat unsettling resemblance to the Addams Family’s Uncle Fester, but by all accounts is a very nice man with a self-deprecating sense of humor, is still going strong. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, now considered one of the classics in the genre, has sold more than 20 million copies to date, and has given rise to a spate of other 7 Habits books (including one for teens from one of Covey’s sons, Sean), as well as numerous ancillary products and, of course, workshops. Covey is still an in-demand speaker, holder of the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair in Leadership at the Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, and co-founder and long-time vice chairman of the board of the management training and consulting firm Franklin Covey. A devout Mormon who is father to nine and grandfather to more than fifty (and counting), Covey has also garnered a list of honors a mile long. Among these are The National Entrepreneur of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership; the 2003 Fatherhood Award from the National Fatherhood Initiative; the International Entrepreneur of the Year Award; and, of all things, the Maharishi Award from Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was first published in 1989 and has been through numerous printings (currently, copies of the mass-market first edition of the original work is going for a mere $112.00 and change on Amazon Marketplace). In the afterword to the 2004 edition, Covey acknowledged that the world had changed radically since the initial publication of 7 Habits, but he added that if he were writing the book again, he wouldn’t change much at all. “I might go deeper and apply wider,” he wrote, “but I have had the opportunity to do that in some of the books released since then.”
If you’ve been in the business world in any way, shape, or form over the past couple of decades, it’s very possible you have read 7 Habits. You may even have been compelled to attend a Covey training of one sort or another, or have sent your employees to same. But those who are unfamiliar with Covey’s signature work, even those who don’t normally read self-help or business books, should at least give this one a quick run-through, if for no other reason than to see what all the fuss has been about for these past twenty-plus years.
Covey divides his seven principles into three main categories: “Private Victory”; “Public Victory”; and “Renewal.” Under the banner of “Private Victory” he takes the reader through Habit 1 (Be Proactive [rather than Reactive]); Habit 2 (Begin With the End in Mind [plan ahead, in other words]); and Habit 3 (Put First Things First). “Public Victory” takes us to Habit 4 (Think Win/Win); Habit 5 (Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood), and Habit 6 (Synergize [practice creative cooperation]). And then under “Renewal,” there’s Habit 7 (Sharpen the Saw), which stands alone. No, Covey is not preparing you to do a woodshop project with that latter one. Habit 7 is all about engaging in “balanced self-renewal,” which entails physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual renewal. Each Habit is amply illustrated with diagrams and charts.
There’s a whole lot of common sense in these pages, and as is the case with most common-sense advice, most of it is stuff we’ve been taught since elementary school, but who couldn’t use a reminder now and then? The very good thing about this book, besides the author’s apparent affability (and really, even a cynic can’t help but love the guy), is that there is a sound ethical base to Covey’s seven habits. In fact, although the subtitle displayed on the cover and spine of the 2004 edition reviewed here is Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, the one appearing on the title page is Restoring the Character Ethic. While that inconsistency can probably be chalked up to the shrinking budgets and resulting dearth of quality control plaguing the major publishing companies of late, it could be argued that the blurb on the title page actually gets more to the heart of the book than the one that appears on its cover.
Apart from the common-sense advice, 7 Habits is appealing thanks in part to the author’s friendly and often engaging writing style. Covey offers plenty of interesting anecdotes and examples to illuminate his points.
As much as there is to like about this book, there’s also a fair amount to grouse about. Particularly for today’s time-strapped business owner or manager, 7 Habits seems far longer than it needs to be. Not only does Covey often belabor some points, he also throws in a lot of extraneous ones. Moreover, the book is laden with diagrams that are sometimes perplexing and often seem unnecessary for anything except the author’s own branding efforts. Some of the diagrams are apt to leave you a little cross-eyed. (Actually, there’s a more understandable and elegant diagram in the teen version of 7 Habits, which uses a graphic of a tree to illustrate the 7 Habits instead of the “adult” version’s conglomeration of circles, triangles, and bands.) The book also seems a bit heavy on the jargon and buzzwords. Not all of the special terms and concepts introduced in the book are Covey’s original creations, and he gives due credit to those other sources, but he has a way of making the terms his own as he builds his case. The net result is that some readers may become so obsessed with the minutiae of the “7 habits” process that they neglect to pay attention to the real-world results.
Furthermore, the book’s emphasis on principles – and Covey does talk a lot about paradigms and principles and such – seems to overlook variables such as individual personalities and one’s social, political, and economic environment. True, the 7 Habits at their core are supposed to be unwavering and permanent; just as many believe about the Ten Commandments, the principles Covey teaches are supposed to be applicable in all situations. In the end, though, many readers may be left with the feeling that the 7 Habits are a little simplistic and lacking in profundity.
Despite its flaws, you can’t really consider your business-book education or cultural literacy immersion complete until you have read this classic. It’s a rather enjoyable read if you don’t get too bogged down in the details. And just in case you haven’t heard, it turns out that there is an eighth habit, but this one is for people who are ready to transcend Effectiveness and go for Greatness. That habit was worthy of a book of its own – titled, appropriately enough, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness – which was released in 2004. Not wanting to be a spoiler, we’ll leave it to you to find out for yourself what Number 8 is.
* The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is currently available in hardcover, paperback, and various audio and digital formats.
Amazon link for paperback print edition reviewed here: http://www.amazon.com/Habits-Highly-Effective-People/dp/0743269519
Visit the author’s Web site at https://www.stephencovey.com.
Read more about Stephen Covey and his family in this 2004 USA Today article: http://www.usatoday.com/money/2004-11-08-covey-usat_x.htm
Based on this review, would you read this book?
The author of this review was provided the book by Capital Access Network, Inc. The views expressed represent those of the author and do not reflect those of Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries. Any opinions and/or advice expressed by the author do not imply endorsement by Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries.