So many numbers swirl around Stephen Covey. There's the number 78, for starters, which represents his age. There's the number 52, as well, which is the incredible amount of grandchildren he and wife, Sandra, have thanks to, here comes another number, their nine children. But only one number really defines Covey. You probably know it.
Seven. As in "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."
Covey released that book, the third of 10 he has written during the last four decades, back in 1989, almost a quarter of a century ago. It spawned numerous sequels, including "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families," "Living the 7 Habits" and, yes, "The 8th Habit." For a while during the early 1990s, professionals tucked their 7 Habits Daily Planner under their arm or in their briefcase. (Those are still available, by the way, in case you prefer paper to a BlackBerry.) One book spawned an industry.
But the original still sells the best and remains the most important in the group. Why? The habits are simple – be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win/win, seek first to understand then to be understood, synergize and, in the end, sharpen the saw – and they work. There's plenty of practical advice in that first book, too. Here are – one more number alert – five bits:
Start with yourself. Covey has long talked about looking inward, at your character and principles and values, before looking out toward others. If you want to run a more successful business, be the sort of person who generates positive energy, who listens, who looks for solutions. The same idea applies if you want a happy marriage or pleasant children or, well, just about anything. "If you want to be trusted," Covey writes, "be trustworthy."
Admit your mistakes. Botch a job? Lose a customer? Squander an opportunity? The immediate pain and embarrassment is probably pretty high, even for the biggest of businesses. But admitting your mistakes and moving on through the learning process can be far more beneficial, even a bit of a salve. "The proactive approach to a mistake," Covey writes, "is to acknowledge it instantly, correct it and learn from it. This literally turns a failure into a success."
Be involved. This one is pretty simple. "Without involvement, there is no commitment," Covey writes. "Mark it down, asterisk it, circle it, underline it. No involvement, no commitment." If you're involved in a project, you'll be committed to it. If you're committed to it, so will others. Show up. Get to work.
Be able to manage yourself. The great challenge of every work day, every work week, even every work month and year and, yes, career, is to be able to manage time. There's a finite amount of time, after all, and being able to manage it really is outside of what Covey refers to as our Circles of Influence. "Rather than focus on things and time," Covey writes, "focus on preserving and enhancing relationships and on accomplishing results."
And be a teacher. You learned plenty when you were in school. Ask any teacher and they'll likely tell you they learn the material right along with their students, no matter how many times they might teach it. Take that same approach with your own work and education, whether it's in the classroom or out in the field. "Read with the purpose in mind of sharing or discussing what you learn with someone else within 48 hours after you learn it," Covey writes. "Shift your paradigm."
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.