The Seven Habits of Ethical People: A Stephen Covey Appreciation

Harry Lew| Ethics

We were devastated to hear of the death of Stephen Covey, author of the mega-selling business book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Although we read the book 20 years ago, we can’t say we lead our lives according to his teachings, sensible as they were. But when we read about his passing due to complications from a bike-riding accident, we were moved to revisit the book. And guess what? We were amazed.

That’s because we realized the seven habits are deeply and powerfully ethical in nature. They make you question your purpose, think hard about your actions, and take steps to design and execute a deeply meaningful life. If these things aren’t ethical, we don’t know what are.

Therefore, in honor of Stephen Covey, let’s revisit each of his seven habits from the perspective of business ethics.

Reputational Compliance

Reputational Compliance

Independence or Self-Mastery
The First Three Habits address moving from dependence to independence (i.e., self mastery).

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions (and how they align with life’s principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the consequences that follow.

Ethics takeaway: responsibility is key. So many business professionals disavow responsibility for their choices. They break the law because regulators “force” them to cheat. Or they scam clients because their drug abuse or early childhood trauma clouded their judgment. Unless you can own up to your decisions—good or bad—you will never lead an ethical life.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life. Create a mission statement.

Ethics takeaway: If you want to create an ethical business, define your ethical values and draw up a code of conduct as part of your business planning. Being clear on the type of firm you wish to build will help you make the decisions needed to create it.

Habit 3: Put First Things First
Prioritize, plan, and execute your week’s tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluate whether your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you toward goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.

Ethics takeaway: Your ethical values are the linchpin of your future business success. To implement those values, build ethics-nurturing activities into your weekly schedule: train employees on the sales and services practices you believe in, share your ethical values in writing, and set an appropriate example in your personal and professional lives.

The next three habits focus on working with others.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.

Ethics Takeaway: In your dealings with customers, avoid conflicts of interests—i.e., selling goods and services that benefit you more than benefit them. Unless you sit on the same side of the table with customers, you will never experience the win-win that Covey espouses.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.

Ethics takeaway: Listening is the gateway to people’s hearts, When you really listen to your employee’s feelings about your firm—your products, services, and procedures—you will be better equipped to improve those things, as well as to encourage their ethical behavior.

Habit 6: Synergize
Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.

Ethics takeaway: Each individual must strive to make ethical decisions. But it’s up to business owners and leaders to foster an ethical company culture that motivates employees to do the rights things, both as individual performers and as team members.

Self Renewal
The last habit deals with self-rejuvenation.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. It primarily emphasizes on exercise for physical renewal, prayer (meditation, yoga, etc.) and good reading for mental renewal. It also mentions service to the society for spiritual renewal.

Ethics takeaway: Never take your ethics for granted. Challenge yourself to learn from past mistakes and sharpen your ethics edge for the business challenges of tomorrow. This will lead to enhanced energy, work-life balance, and happiness.


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