The 7 Habits and The 8 Skills

My favourite book is, Stephen Covey’s, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, published in 1989, justifiably considered to be one of the most influential books ever written. I read it first in 1991, during my M.Ed., having been recommended to me by a very good friend. Since then I’ve given numerous colleagues copies as paperbacks and audio books, as well as providing over a hundred presentations & workshops using it as the central resource.

I realized immediately that it was an outstanding book with a very clear practical message, reinforcing my own research evidence that good development in the 8 skills are needed to become effective (healthy and successful).

In recent years the internet has been extremely helpful in providing greater access to Stephen Covey and The Seven Habits, these two links provides an excellent video presentation by Dr Stephen Covey and reading his audiobook.

These bullet points from page 46 (The Seven Habits—An Overview) of the book provides some key points:-

  • “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
  • Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits.
  • Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness.
  • Habits can be learned and unlearned.
  • It isn’t a quick fix.

Covey writes

“For our purposes, we will define a habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.

Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why.

Skill is the how to do.

And desire is the motivation, the want to do.

In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three.”

Throughout “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”,  Stephen Covey provides an excellent outline of the ‘knowledge and paradigm shifts’ essential to establish the seven habits and the inspiration to motivate us (desire) to try to achieve it. However, there is very little on:-

Skill is the how to do” and it is clear that in order for the 7 habits to become established the necessary skills need to be well-developed. The evidence from my own research can explain which skills are needed and how they can be developed. Too few people are able to ‘live the seven habits’ and I’m confident from my research that this is largely due to their lack of skill development.

Since 2003, I have been able to provide numerous presentations, workshops and courses using “The 7 Habits and the 8 Skills” as the central theme with the “Emotionally Healthy Effective Leadership & Teamwork” perhaps becoming the most popular.


I’ve included a few slides from these presentations to provide clear simple representations of each of the habits and how the 8 skills influence them.



The Habit of Personal Vision

  • Be Proactive means we are responsible for our own lives.
  • The word responsibility has two parts­ response—ability, we have the ability to choose our response.
  • Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behaviour, a product of their own conscious choices, based on values, rather than their feelings.
  • Reactive peo­ple delegate blame and responsibility. “They made me do it”.


  • Self-awareness is our skill (ability) to look at ourselves. If this is well-developed we are fully aware of our own thinking, feelings, values, motivation, habits, paradigms etc. This allows us to sense when we act or even consider acting ineffectively, a way that’s contrary to our principles.
  • Self-management is our skill (ability) to control our actions, reactions, behaviour etc. which if well-developed we can act effectively, free of all other influences, in line with our principles.



The Habit of Personal Leadership

  • Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each task with a clear understanding of your desired direction and destination.
  • “Leadership is about doing the right thing” and this habit means we are clear that we are aiming to ‘do the right thing’ before we start.
  • Too often people are achieving successes (superficial prizes, rewards, money, status etc.) that have come at the expense of things that are far more valuable to them. “They’re climbing up the ladder but it is not leaning against the right wall, every step takes them further in the wrong direction.”


  • This habit requires good development of our skills of Cognition, so that we can envisage (creativity) the final outcome, understand and solve the difficulties preventing success.
  • It also needs our Self-awareness skill to be well-developed so that we are fully aware our ourselves at the start and throughout.



The Habit of Personal Management

  • Put First Things First involves organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities established in Habit 2.
  • “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least” –Goethe
  • Effective management is putting first things first. While leadership decides what “first things” are, it is management that puts them first, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Management is discipline, carrying it out.
  • “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”
  • Time Management – Research evidence shows that most people spend far too much time responding to “the urgent” –relying on “crisis management” occasionally focusing on the “not urgent, unimportant”.
  • Highly effective people focus on the “Non-urgent important” (Quadrant II)
  • Investing more time on the planning, prevention, and rela­tionship-building activities of “Non-urgent important” (Quadrant II), means we spend far less time reacting to the urgent demands and crises.
  • Most of the activities essential to the develop­ment of the Seven Habits-creating a per­sonal mission statement, identifying long-range


  • This habit requires good development of our skills of Cognition, so that we can ‘see the big picture’, understand, identify and address the difficulties preventing success, before they are likely to occur.
  • It also needs our Self-management skill to be very well-developed so that we are self-disciplined and exert self-control to ensure we remain focused on ‘What we NEED to do rather than what we WANT.”



The Habit of Interpersonal Leadership

  • Think WIN / WIN means focusing on trying to get agreements or solutions with people that are mutually beneficial and mutually satisfying.
  • It requires a paradigm shift of COOPERATION is better than COMPETITION and SUCCESS for one does NOT mean LOSS/FAILURE for others.
  • It needs a character rich in integrity, maturity, and the Abundance Mentality to have a genuineness in human interaction.
  • This paradigm shift needs us to:
  1. See the problem from the other point of view.
  2. Identify the key issues & concerns involved.
  3. Determine what results would constitute a fully acceptable solution.
  4. Identify possible new options to achieve their results.


  • This habit requires good development of our skills of Cognition, so that we identify the key factors and acceptable solutions.
  • Also needs well-developed Communication and Empathy skills to discover and understand other people’s thoughts and feelings.



The Habit of Communication

  • Communication is a key skill in life, we spend years learning how to speak, read and write, but what about listening?
  • An effective communicator will first seek to understand another person’s views before seeking to be understood. People want a proper diag­nosis before being open to prescriptions -‘Diagnose Before You Prescribe’.
  • Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filter­ing everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobi­ography into other people’s lives, listening within their own frame of reference.
  • Empathic Listening is needed to fully, deeply understand the other person emotionally, intellectually and get deep understanding of the problem first.
  • Empathic Listening is difficult, you become vulnerable, it needs a lot of security to go into a deep listening experience because in order to have influence, you have to first be influenced. You have to really understand.


  • This habit clearly needs very well-developed Communication and Empathy skills to discover and fully, deeply understand other people’s thoughts and feelings.
  • It also requires good development of our skills of Cognition, so that we analyse the key factors and propose effective solutions.



The Habit of Creative Cooperation

  • Synergy is where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and is at the heart of an effective team.
  • Two or more people, creatively cooperating, will be able to produce far better results than either one could alone.
  • “When you communicate synergistically, you are simply opening your mind and heart and expressions to new possibilities, new alternatives, new options.”
  • Synergy is the outcome all the previous habits, it is emotionally healthy effective teamwork, developing unity and creativity with others.
  • Synergy requires realizing that people see the world differently and the different perspectives can provide more effective outcomes.
  • Insecure ineffective people tend to surround themselves with people who think similarly, avoiding the potential from creative conflict.


  • This habit requires very good development of ALL 8 SKILLS
  • Learning and embracing change is clearly central but it should be obvious that without very good development in all 8 skills being an emotionally healthy effective leader is not possible.7Habits-7-SHARPENtheSAW


The Habit of Self-Renewal

  • Sharpen the Saw means ensuring we remain physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally healthy.
  • This habit is essential as the other habits depend on it.
  • “A minimum of one hour a day in renewal of the physi­cal, spiritual, and mental dimensions is the key to the development of the Seven Habits, and it’s completely within our control.”


  • This habit involves repeatedly (daily) practising and developing each of the 8 skills underpinning the habits
  1. Effective Learning – Learn and cope with new things

  2. Communication – Concentrate and communicate

  3. Cognition – Understand and solve problems

  4. Self-awareness – Know ourself and what to improve              

  5. Self-management – Manage our feelings and behaviour           

  6. Motivation – Cope with difficulties and setbacks                        

  7. Empathy – Show respect and empathise with others               

  8. Relationship/Social – Relate and cooperate with others  

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

It is almost 30 years since this magnificent book was published and despite selling over 25 million copies, I have been very disappointed that it has not had a greater effect especially on societies throughout the world. It is obvious to me that the 7 Habits and the 8 Skills underpinning them could cause a huge paradigm shift and transform the priorities in society to radically change and improve education, health, social care, media and government. Sadly, only the business world still seems to appreciate the importance of the 7 Habits, perhaps explaining how developing and measuring the 8 Skills that underpin them will rectify this.