Habits To Help Us Become Better Leaders

Look at the word responsibility – ‘response-ability’ – the ability to choose your response.
Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances,
conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their
own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their
conditions, based on feeling.”
– Stephen R. Covey

In this post, I continue offering reflections on how I have been helped over the past 20 years to reach toward my full potential and achieve more balance in my life through the writings of Stephen R. Covey.

Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has been named the “#1 Most Influential Business Book of the 20th Century,” but it has been the personal benefits of the book, even more than the professional ones, that motivate me to share what I have learned on this blog.

Covey has spent his life studying the great corporate and political leaders, as well as the wisdom about effective leadership in the world’s philosophies and religions. In my own work, I have come to see that we all are “leaders.” Each of us, on a daily basis, encounters opportunities to turn potentially problematic situations into positive ones. Whether it is in our own families, in our workplaces, or in the grocery checkout line, we each have the potential to influence what happens in our interactions with others for the good – but only, if we first practice self-leadership. This is what Covey calls leadership development “from inside-out.”

Before I go further into what I mean by self-leadership, I want to mention something about Covey’s insight into human freedom. Covey calls our freedom to choose “our first birth-right.” As quoted in the opening post, Covey connects that gift with the ability to choose the direction of our own life. More importantly, Covey sees this ability to choose connected to sharing our gifts and talents with the community of Life to which we all belong. “The essence of being human is being able to direct your own life….Your power to choose the direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself, to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation” (8th Habit, 41-42).

Covey further explains that increasing the “freedom gap” – that space in which we are able to choose – comes with the exercise of four human attributes: self awareness, imagination, independent will, and conscience. These four attributes are at the heart of self-leadership.

Self-leadership involves an intentional choice to look in depth at the various aspects of our lives, and to choose how we want to live, rather than simply let our circumstances or the needs and demands of others dictate how our life will unfold. It seems to me it is this very self-leadership that allowed our human ancestors to survive against the odds through countless generations.

In other words, self-leadership starts with building into our lives a reflective process that nurtures self awareness. And from Covey’s point of view, this growth in self awareness ought to begin with creating a list of our personal values. For many of us, this list presently may be quite unconscious, since our values are embedded in us first by our family and our culture.

Using Covey’s insights, I have over the years often spent time creating such a values list. On one retreat a number of years ago, I began to look at my various interests – those areas that I have been drawn to study. From those “streams” of interest, I then created a list of values. Recently, I put the lists on a mindmap so I could see better how they correlate. Click Here to View Pat’s Value Streams

The next step, is to turn our list of personal values into clarifying statements. These statements make the value concrete in our lives. For example, if I choose as one of my values “honesty,” in a clarifying statement I might say, “In every situation, I will ask myself, “Is what I am now saying really true?” For more examples, click on the PDF link here to see the list of values and clarifying statements I have created. It is still a work in progress, but I am happy to share it with you.Click to View Pat’s Governing Values Chart

Next, Covey invites us to use our imagination, our will to choose and our conscience to develop a vision and mission statement for ourselves. Speaking about the source of personal vision in The 8th Habit, Covey writes, “I find that vision comes as people sense human need and respond to their conscience in trying to meet that need.” The clarifying statements developed from our values might also help in writing a personal vision and mission statement.

Many years ago, when I first read The 7 Habits, I drafted my own vision and mission statement. Over the years since, I have revised it a few times as I have come to know more about myself, and the realities and needs of the world. I share the latest version in PDF form with you here.Click to View Pat’s Vision and Mission Statement

Finally, in this post I want to share with you one of Covey’s most useful tools for achieving a balanced life. Through this tool, Covey invites us to consider each of the roles we have in our lives. For example, you might have some or all of the following roles: spouse/partner, parent, child, aunt/uncle, friend, professional, citizen. Covey also says: don’t forget to include “self” as a role!

Next, for each of these roles, Covey invites us to consider naming the people with whom we are in relationship within each of the roles we have. Finally, he advises us to name the single goal right now that will help improve those relationships.

Learning to think of my life in terms of the various roles I have was key to my achieving greater balance, while affectively maintaining relationships and accomplishing my mission in life. Approaching my life using this tool immediately allowed me to see that my life consisted of more than my “work.” Beginning to use this tool allowed me not only to feel more personal satisfaction in attending to the relational commitments of all my roles, but also strengthened my resolve to say “no” when requests within one role began to detract from time I wanted to allocate in another.

In short, using Covey’s insights on personal values, vision, mission, and goals has helped me more than anything else to achieve a sense of balance in my life, and a personal satisfaction from the belief that I am living the life I choose to live – at least on most days! If you want to learn more about his work, visit his site on the Web at stephencovey.com. There are also free tools to help you identify your own values and write your own mission statement at the site: franklincovey.com

In next week’s post, I will talk about how I have been helped by another of Covey’s tools, the Time Matrix.

Covey, S.R.(1990). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Free Press.

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