In theory: Highly effective habits

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

Associating managers with highly effective habits doesn't come naturally; associating them with highly annoying habits often does. American leadership guru Stephen Covey tried to rectify this problem in his 1989 book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The book was a mix of management theory and self-help, aimed at stressed and perplexed managers who were living through uncertain times. Does this sound familiar?

Covey advocated an approach that treated managers as human beings who didn't spend all their time chained to their desks. He put forward a series of habits that would turn David Brent types into super-efficient and fulfilled managers.

Covey's seven habits are positive to the point of parody, and don't always sit well with British managers who would rather close the office door and have a quiet life than be happy-clapping with colleagues. So what are they? Habit one is being proactive. Take responsibility for your own life: change the things you can for the better, and don't grumble about the things you can't. Habit two is about keeping in mind a vision of what you want to achieve, then focusing on the principles that will help you get there. Habit three tells you to work out which tasks in your life are important and urgent and to get these done first. The fourth habit is never putting yourself into a win or lose situation: in Covey's world, everyone's a winner, baby. The next two habits are listening 'empathetically' and 'synergising' yourself with colleagues - in other words, appreciating others' differences.

The final habit is the one that most worn-out charity managers can relate to: take time out to look after yourself. Covey calls it "sharpening the saw". He tells the story of a busy woodcutter who doesn't give himself time to sharpen his saw, when taking the time to do this would in fact make his life easier. Don't take this literally, even if wielding a saw around the place would suddenly make your effectiveness as a manager skyrocket. It's not the kind of touchy-feely approach Covey would condone.

- Emma De Vita is a senior section editor on Management Today.

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