Q&A | Stephen Covey
American author Stephen R. Covey’s self-help book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 20 million copies in 38 languages since its launch in 1989. Two decades later, we asked the author if he has any plans to revisit the text to appeal to the younger generation and, among other things, what he believes makes real leaders in the workplace effective. Edited excerpts from a telephonic interview.
Winning formula: Author Stephen Covey
Two decades is a long time in the life of a self-help book. Do you find a need to revisit any of the principles mentioned in the book now?
No, I wouldn’t because they are sequentially organized. The first principle, Be proactive, gives you the power to make a choice. The second is the choice that you make; the third means living by that choice. The fourth represents the beginning of public victory (Think win-win). Until you have won the private victory (with the help of the first three principles)there is no way you can think of a win-win in a push-comes-to-shove situation. You will think win-lose or go for lose-win.
The fifth principle is the foundation to the sixth: first understand and then be understood. Until you understand each other, the sixth principle, which is to synergize will not work.
Once I was in India at the reading of the book The Argumentative Indian, and there were these two people in the audience who were yelling at each other. I said to each of them, “Would you explain his point of view to his satisfaction”, and neither could do it. Then I asked the rest of the audience if anyone can identify with these gentlemen’s points of view and explain it. No one in that audience was able to empathize with anyone else. Therefore, there was no way they could produce a third alternative solution, which would have been synergistic in nature.
In other words, one of the basic problems is that people don’t listen to each other and, therefore, it is difficult to reach a consensus on solutions.
That is so true, because until people understand each other first, there is no way they can seek an alternative solution, which is the essence of synergy.
Can principle 2 (Begin with an end in mind) and principle 1 (Be proactive) be interchanged?
The reason that you have an end in mind is only when you have the power to make such a choice. That is why the first principle, Be proactive, comes first, because it gives you the power to choose. The second principle is the choice you make.
But is it not easier to be proactive after you have set a target?
Maybe, but what if you don’t have the power to choose in the first place?
Given the recession and its accompanying ripples in our lives, how does one remain motivated at work and not get affected by the negativity all around?
Until you learn to listen with empathy to others, that is not possible because everyone around will spend time defending their point of view. People are too fearful in such times of being exposed or feel that they are at risk and hence do not want to listen to anyone else. That is why it is important to practise principles 1, 2 and 3 to develop internal security, so that you can afford the risk of being genuinely emphatic and listen to another person’s points of view. It is only when people are secure within themselves that they can afford to listen.
How can a team leader today ensure that his or her team is much more effective and goal oriented?
Firstly, a team leader must ensure that he is at peace and has won a private victory which will happen if he adheres to the first three principles. Then he must work at giving his team a sense of security. Only then will the team work to procure creative solutions for the customer. A team leader should know that team members who are defensive will not be creative. And people who are defending will not be creative solution-seekers either.
A team must have a win-win spirit. To achieve that spirit, the team members must deeply understand each other and look within each other’s personal frame of reference. Once a team leader can ensure that people feel understood, they will feel less defensive, be more open and creative. This helps to bond the relationships within the team.
Stephen Covey is the the Founder and Vice Chairman of Franklin Covey Inc.