By Gale Mote/Tree Full of Owls
On July 16, the world lost a wonderful teacher and mentor in Stephen Covey. His book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” has been named one of the most influential books in management by both Forbes and Times magazines.
I remember reading his book shortly before I started my own company in 1990. I was eager to be a success and knew so little about what it meant to be an entrepreneur. Business is about relationships and I was naïve about how to create customer loyalty. I was married to the man of my dreams and understood how work-life balance would be essential for our happiness. I wasn’t so sure how to make it all happen.
While some authors focus on gimmicks, Stephen’s work was grounded in principles that have stood the test of time. His insights were and remain steadfast and true. To honor his memory, I would like to share what his lessons have meant to me and how they shaped my life, personally and professionally.
Be Proactive is the first habit. This was my first insight into the whole subject of emotional intelligence and self-management. I learned that life is about choices. You can be a victim or you can drive your own bus. While I still struggle with the principle, I work hard to communicate and respond based on my values, not emotions. Focusing on solutions is so much more productive than complaining about problems. Talking about what we need to do going forward creates positive energy while focusing on what we “coulda, shoulda, oughta” have done drains our motivation. I know that no matter what happens in my life, finding fault, placing blame and making excuses is no recipe for success.
The second habit, Begin with the End in Mind, helped me to realize that I needed a solid vision for my business and my life. Gale Mote Associates was born out of a love for teaching and a passion for making a positive difference. My core values are demonstrating passion and energy in everything I do, have fun, never cease to be the best I can be and be a contribution. To grow my business, I had to define my market niche and how I was going to differentiate myself from all the other professional consultants and trainers in the industry. With a clear vision, it is easier to define strategy, allocate resources and focus your efforts. This habit has been invaluable in helping me engage in meaningful conversations with friends and family – remembering that the relationship is more important than the issue.
My biggest challenge continues to be Covey’s third habit – Put First Things First. Once you know what is most important in your life, you make choices to focus on those things and not always be in urgent, crisis mode. His grid comparing urgent/not urgent and important/not important activities helped me to learn that sitting on the couch, eating potato chips and watching reruns was wasting precious time. Over time, I have learned to say “no” to things that are not important to my values, vision and goals. It is still easy to let someone else’s priorities influence my decisions. I have learned to plan my work, work my plan and enjoy life in the process.
As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Think Win-Win, the fourth habit, has helped me to build relationships with clients and friends that are based on mutual trust and respect. I work hard to identify my customer’s needs and ensure what I have to offer is a value-added match. You must be confident, assertive and cooperative to create win-win outcomes. It is important to look for creative solutions to difficult problems because it is not always easy to find an answer where both parties get everything that is important to them.
Seek First to Understand encourages us to listen more, talk less and demonstrate real empathy. Being a “faithful translator” requires being attentive, demonstrating active listening and searching for hidden assumptions and feelings without being controlling or directive. One of the greatest gifts you can give another person is to really listen and understand how she feels and what he needs. Understanding is not agreement. In teams, we say members need to weigh-in to buy-in to decisions. It is everyone’s responsibility to communicate in a way that all feel heard, considered and understood.
Habit six, Synergize, confirms what Helen Keller said, “Alone, we can do so little. Together, we can do so much.” With trust, healthy conflict, open communication and clear agreements, teams make better decisions than any of the individual members can make on their own. Teamwork is when we go out of our way to make each other be great. Constructive problem solving skills elevate the performance of every member of the team. My joy, in working with teams, is to see them experience real synergy.
Lastly, Stephen Covey taught me to Sharpen the Saw. This past April, I achieved my CPLP (Certified Professional in Learning and Performance) certification from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). I have been training for over 20 years. Some would ask the question, “why?” I believe it is important to continue to hone and refine our skills. Learning is a lifelong process, not a one-time event. In a changing world, those who commit to continuous development will succeed.
As I reflect on the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” I clearly see that much of my career success and personal happiness is grounded in these principles. Thank you, Stephen, for making a positive difference in my life and the lives of so many.