In 1989, when Stephen Covey first wrote his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I’d just bought my first computer. You should know it cost me my first born. To this day, I wonder about that child. Was he happy being raised by that mullet-haired nerd-nick flogging five-ton computers in a Petaluma warehouse?
Anyhow, I used that contraption for several years and clearly remember the black screen and green letters. It gave me a leg up in writing those first novels, the hackneyed tomes that gratefully only saw the light of day on daisy wheel dot-matrix printer paper.
I’ve since moved on. Like you probably do, I now carry a computer around in my pocket. Everyone’s moved forward, it seems, except for managers still worshipping at the altar of Covey’s seven habits. In the 80s, his “habits” were groundbreaking—absolute gold and personified by Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. Surely, however, we work differently now. We lead differently, too. So, I’ve re-invented those seven habits for the modern leader and modern business. It needed to be done.
1.“Be Proactive” is now “Make Sure Your Actions Today Benefit the Team Tomorrow.”
The 80s were labeled the me generation for a reason. The decade (I know because I lived through it) was all about an individual’s efforts and initiative. Nowadays, it’s about the group. The team. Rather than forging ahead all on my lonesome, I must think of broader systems that help the organization succeed as a whole. My mottos have always been to play things out, think things through, and act before disaster strikes. The key here, however, is to play, think, and act for the team, for the whole, and to collectively forge a system of solutions that will benefit the entire organization.
2. “Begin with the End in Mind” is now “Make Work Relevant”
Know that I’m not shirking the desire or need to meet goals. Too many, however, don’t weigh the relevance of those goals. Moreover, they’re inflexible when it comes to ideas and innovations that spring up organically along the way. If you’re insistent on getting to the end come hell or high water, you might miss out on an opportunity or maybe even an easier path. You might discover a better and more efficient way or perhaps a more profitable goal. My advice is to make the actual work—the journey toward the end—relevant. Make it count.
3.“Put First Things First” is now “Put People First”
With automation, it’s become much easier to get our priorities straight. And our first priority should always be the people, whether customers, employees, company leaders, co-workers, or even vendors. Because I don’t have to tediously sit at that black and green screen all day, I can focus on the folks in my organization. Breakthroughs in business are rarely done nowadays by that one person in the tidy corner office with the excellent time-management skills. The best ideas are formed by groups of creative and critical thinkers in a conference room messy with pizza boxes and Red Bull cans.
4.“Think Win-Win” is now “Get Along With Everyone”
To be “highly effective” in today’s world, your interpersonal skills better be off the charts. If you, in your education and career, skipped the part about being at ease in social situations, then go back to class. As someone who interviews and hires folks, I will always choose the person who seems genuinely interested in others and can persuade others with charm, grace, and humor. Guess who I won’t hire. Bullshitters. Those folks who’ve read all the Conflict Resolution books and try to manipulate the conversation. You can hear the wheels in their heads turning win win win win. It really isn’t always win-win. Sometimes the other person’s idea is better. And, anyway, it’s not a contest! It’s about sussing out the best way forward, whoever’s idea it might be.
5.“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” is now “Listen to Everyone from the Ground Up , Observe, Generate Ideas from Reality and Possibility, Then Get Everyone on Board to Make it Happen”
We like hiring experienced people from the outside because they usually come in with great ideas that are tried and true. Unfortunately, what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander. Too many times, I’ve seen leaders push ideas and systems that worked elsewhere onto another organization, one in which these ideas and systems wouldn’t work at all. Rather than understanding, modern leaders need to talk to the people. All the people. Not just those in leadership. Not just those who will only tell you what you want to hear. Before rolling out a particular idea or new way of doing business, base it on reality, and get the support of everyone you can to make it work. I like Covey’s number five, but I think the verb’s wrong. It’s more practical than that. It’s a fact finding mission, during which you can build multiple relationships, and it’s about inspiring and enthusing a group to carry out new initiatives.
6.“Synergize” is now “Quit Using Stupid Buzzwords—They Make You Sound Stupid”
That’s all I’ll say about that.
7.“Sharpen the Saw” is now “There is No Reason on God’s Green Earth for You Not to Be Educated and Current in Your Given Profession.”
Even folks who live in caves have access to Google and Social Media sites. Of course, you need more than Google. You need friends and acquaintances (I refuse to use the cold word “network”) in your chosen field. If you don’t know the answer, you need to be resourceful enough to find it. That means you need to be able to ask the right questions. You also need to put yourself out there and attend formal trainings and classes. More than ever, you need to be open to changing trends. Ultimately, you need to be the one making the trends. In the world today, it’s not difficult. In just one day, you can become fairly knowledgeable on nearly any topic using Google, multiple social media sites, YouTube, eBooks, white papers, or even a good old fashioned library.