On Stephen Covey’s book – The 8th HABIT
Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was a milestone in the history of “success” literature. The 8th Habit comes 15 years later, not as an afterthought or extension of The Seven Habits, but as an attempt to offer a new roadmap to personal and organizational greatness. Effectiveness is no longer an option, Covey says. It is an imperative, the ‘price of entry to the playing field’. To survive and thrive in today’s world we need to go to an altogether new dimension of fulfillment, passionate execution and greatness. We need to tap into the higher region of human genius. This he calls “VOICE”
The 8th habit then is To Find Your Voice and Inspire others to find Their Voice. The first part, finding Your Voice, is an inward journey, seeking to connect with one’s self. Covey describes Voice as “a unique personal significance-which makes us equal to the greatest challenges we face… Voice lies at the nexus of talent (your natural gifts and talents), passion (those things that naturally excite, energize, inspire and motivate you), need and conscience (that still small voice within that assures you of what is right and that prompts you to actually do it). When you engage in work that taps your talent and fuels your passion – that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to meet – therein lies your voice, your calling, and your soul’s code.”
Covey illustrates Voice through the story of Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Yunus saw someone in need, tried to meet it and the vision evolved. The greatest success story in micro credit, the Grameen Bank is an outstanding example of empowerment. Each year they lend about $500 million in loans of twelve to fifteen dollars. It has impacted on the lives of 3.7 million persons -96% women-and helped them to develop individually or in groups into self-reliant, independent entrepreneurs producing goods out of their homes or neighborhoods. They have become economically viable and successful. They have found their voices.
The problem, in Covey’s words, is the pain, the unexcited, unfulfilled, frustrated lives we lead and our failure to find meaning in life. It arises mainly from the mindset of a bygone Industrial Age which saw machinery and physical capital as our principal assets and human beings as an expense. He calls this the Thing Mindset which led to our managing people as we managed things. In contrast, the new Knowledge Worker Age calls for a new paradigm – that of the Whole Person Mindset.
The Whole Person has four dimensions: Body, Mind, Heart and Spirit. These have four corresponding needs: the mind to learn, the body to live, the heart to love and the spirit to leave a legacy. The power to discover our voice lies in three birth gifts we all have: Choice, Principles and 4 Intelligences – Mental Intelligence, Physical Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence. Those who have read Covey’s The Seven Habits and Principle Centered Leadership will be familiar with the first two. In fact what is said on Choice and Principles in those books is restatedand amplified. The 4 intelligences are explained at length and Covey lays great stress on spiritual intelligence which he considers the most fundamental of all intelligences. It ‘represents our drive for meaning and connection with the infinite.’
These birth gifts can be used to discover our voice. We express that voice, once we discover it, in terms of our Vision (mental intelligence), Discipline (physical intelligence), Passion (emotional intelligence) and Conscience (spiritual intelligence). The four intelligences, Covey asserts can be developed.
What about the second part of the 8th Habit, Inspiring Others to discover Their Voice? Here we come into an organizational setting because all of us work in some kind of organization. Leadership, Covey asserts, is ‘communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves’. The leadership challenge in organizations is essentially to help others find their voice. Great leaders do this through Focus and Execution. Focus encompasses what Covey calls modeling and path finding. Execution consists on the one hand of aligning goals, structures, systems and processes and on the other, of empowering.
A good deal of what is talked about in the book has appeared in discussions elsewhere in the recent past. Peter Drucker has written extensively about the Knowledge Worker Age and its challenges, Jim Collins has spoken of making good companies great and many writers have in passing referred to the soul of organizations. The 8th Habit ties these into a comprehensive analytical framework which ,with its rich imagery, assures us that we all have the potential to be great.
What makes this book different from many great books on leadership is its emphasis on the absolute necessity of personal development and integration before trust can be built at the relationship level. Both, Covey argues, are necessary before you can build sustainable, effective organizations. In contrast to other works, the book deals with the four intelligences giving the highest importance to spiritual intelligence or conscience. It also affirms that leadership is based on timeless principles and that leadership through a principle-centred approach can become a choice rather than only being a position. Taking moral authority /choice on one axis and position on the other we can in fact view four different kinds of leaders; leaders with high position, low moral authority (e.g. Hitler), leaders with high position and high moral authority (e.g. George Washington), leaders with low position and low moral authority (too numerous to be mentioned) and leaders with low position and high moral authority (e.g.Mahatma Gandhi). Leadership of enduring value comes only with leaders of high moral authority.
Indian readers will find many of Covey’s thoughts familiar and somewhat Indian. The constant reference to the still, small voice within, to conscience reminds us of Mahatma Gandhi’s inner voice. Covey himself quotes Gandhiji at several places and presents him as an exemplary leader. The inward journey and the attempt to connect with one’s self are not unfamiliar concepts to an Indian.
Covey has a distinctive conversational style and is of course extremely readable. The book is aimed at the business market and should find its way into the MBA class room. Covey adds value by giving a practical guide to developing the four intelligences in Appendix 1 and an excellent literature review on leadership in Appendix 2. The reader is invited to visit www. The 8thHabit.com for application ideas and exercises. The book is accompanied by a DVD featuring 16 short films referred to in the book.