Managing Projects Texas A&M University MGMT 658
Dr. Victoria Buenger
Fall 2020
415E Wehner


Steven Covey:  Paradigms and the 7 Habits

Course Schedule

The publication mentioned below is the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey, published by Simon and Schuster.  

Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts

Paradigm is a word which means "a pattern or model; the generally accepted perspective."  For this class, our paradigms will represent our views of the world, our explanations for what we observe in the world around us.  As a metaphor, I like to compare our paradigms to the lenses in our glasses.  What we see isn't a completely accurate reflection of reality, it is shaped by our attitudes and perceptions.  Paradigms are natural and inevitable, and they are useful to us in many ways.  However, sometimes our paradigms become so far removed from reality that they become dysfunctional.  A "paradigm shift" occurs when our paradigms change, allowing us to see the world in a new light.  Sometimes this happens suddenly, and sometimes very gradually.  Paradigms are part of what Stephen Covey describes, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

In that book, Covey presents his ideas about increasing personal and professional success.  Covey was working as a corporate consultant, giving seminars about leadership development, when one of his sons began to experience social and academic problems.  At adolescence, his son was a late bloomer, still immature and uncoordinated at a time when most other boys were growing up into young men.  Covey and his wife spent years trying to "help" their son, trying to change him, trying to coach him into being more competent, trying to defend him to others.  One day, after a long period of frustration, Covey experienced a breakthrough in his thinking (a shift in his paradigm).  He realized that all the help and support his wife and he were providing to his son wasn't useful; in fact, it was sending his son the message that he wasn't capable of taking care of himself, and that who he really was, wasn't good enough.  In other words, the problem wasn't his son's lack of development; the problem was the parents' attitudes.  It was their paradigm which needed changing.

Here is an example from Covey's book (pp. 30-31) in which describes a time he experienced a shift in his paradigm:

    I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly - some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.
    Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway.  The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
    The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people's papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
    It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, "Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn't control them a little more?"
    The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, "Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either."
    Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn't have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man's pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. "Your wife just died? Oh, I'm so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?" Everything changed in an instant.

Natural Principles

The basis of Covey's work is the idea that natural laws exist that govern human effectiveness.  According to Covey, these laws exist whether we believe in them, value them, or not.  Examples of Covey's principles include human dignity, fairness, honesty, growth, and service.  Covey asserts that emotional pain, stunted relationships, fear of failure, etc. derive from our lack of adherence to natural principles, which he calls "character."  Any true happiness or fulfillment or success will have to come from the inside-out, and be based upon a sound character.  Therefore, in order to become more effective, we don't need to look to self-help gurus or pass the blame on to others.  We need to look within ourselves, align ourselves more closely with natural principles, and effectiveness will follow.  He describes this process as "Private victories precede public victories."

For an overview of the 7 Habits, click here.

Now that you have read Covey's introduction to the 7 habits, here is a brief description of each of the habits:

Habit 1 - Be proactive.  About proactivity, Covey says, "It means more than merely taking initiative.  It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives.  Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.  We can subordinate feelings to values.  We have the initiative and responsibility to make things happen.  Look at the word 'responsibility' - 'response-ability' - the ability to choose your response.  Highly proactive people recognize their responsibility.  They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior.  Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feelings."

Habit 2 - Begin with the end in mind.  For Covey, beginning with the end in mind means that we should take the time to develop a mental image of what we want to accomplish and be.  At various times in the book, he describes that image as a paradigm, a visualization, a picture, a goal, a plan, a blueprint, a destination, or a definition of success.  He says, "It's incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it's leaning against the wrong wall.  ... How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves every day to be and do what really matters most."

Habit 3 - Put First Things First.  Covey sees habit 3, putting first things first, as the integration and completion of habits 1 and 2.  Habit 1 teaches us that we are in charge of our behavior, attitudes, and thus, our outcomes.  Habit 2 teaches us how to use our mental power to visualize our desired outcomes.  Bringing these two ideas together, habit 3 adds our ability to discipline ourselves, and therefore, we are able to make our ideas a reality.   Discipline, for Covey, is not about "forcing" yourself to do unpleasant things, rather, it is about being willing to act upon your own deepest values.  Covey's practical suggestions in this area mostly deal with time management, which we will cover in greater detail in the next class period.

Habit 4 - Think Win/Win.  "Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.  Win/Win means that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial, mutually satisfying.  With a Win/Win solution, all parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the action plan.  Win/Win sees life as a cooperative, not a competitive arena.  ... Win/Win is based on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody, that one person's success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others. "  Covey finds the opportunity for Win/Win is highest in relationships with mutual trust.  These relationships often lead to explicit or implicit statements of expectations and performance (promises).  When the promises are fulfilled repeatedly, both parties win, and further trust is built, in a self-reinforcing cycle.

Habit 5 - Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood.  Covey offer us this example to illustrate the power of listening to others with empathy.  "If all the air were sucked out of the room you're in right now, what would happen to your interest in this book?  You wouldn't care about the book; you wouldn't care about anything except getting air.  Survival would be your only motivation.  But now that you have air, it doesn't motivate you.  This is one of the greatest insights in the field of human motivation:  Satisfied needs do not motivate.  It's only the unsatisfied need that motivates.  Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival - to be understand, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.  When you listen with empathy to another person,  you give that person psychological air.  And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving."

Habit 6 - Synergize.  Synergy occurs the sum is greater than the separate parts.  Covey tells us that synergy has the best chances to occur when we have habits 1 to 5 at work in our lives, because then we are ready to experience the near-chaos situation that is necessary to develop true synergy and creativity.  One story in Covey's book describes a synergistic experience within one college class in Leadership.  One individual in the class opened up one day in a presentation, telling  a story that was deeply personal and courageous.  This one story caused others to open also, and soon the whole class was sharing their innermost thoughts and listening respectfully to each other.  The experience was so powerful that the class decided to scrap the original syllabus, and instead, took it upon themselves to work much harder than planned, writing an entire book about Leadership in just six weeks.  The book was subsequently published, and the students continue to keep in touch with each other, twenty years after the class ended.  

Habit 7 - Sharpen the Saw.  By "sharpen the saw," Covey means that we all need to practice self-renewal.  This is the personal application of Covey's "production capability" (the PC part of the P/PC principle).  It involves a commitment to exercise all parts of our mind, body, heart, and soul to increase our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  Covey declares, "This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life - investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute.  We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw in all four ways."

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