Monday, November 17, 1997

Covering and Cowering to Covey


10) Be proactive
9) Dopey
8) (tie) Begin with the end in mind/Sleepy
7) First things first
6) Sleazy
5) (tie) Bashful/Think win-win
4) Winkie
3) Seek first to understand
2) (tie) Synergy/Doc/Sharpen the Saw
1) Spunky

I got home from yet another all day training course, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, to find my furnace turned down so low it had not run all day long. I looked at the control's thermometer and noticed it read somewhere below fifty six degrees. Max was a-hollering. He was one frigid, unhappy kitty. As I shed my work clothes he followed me into the bedroom all the while expressing his discomfort and unhappiness. He has a cat tree by his favorite window that he jumps upon to look out and make sure every thing is in place in his world. This time with eyes peering back upon me he wavered in his decision of where he wanted to be and just as his body was about to make the two foot leap upward his mind told him he needed to continue to scold me. Thus he clumsily missed his landing and his body slammed against the base of the cat tree.

One of the exercises we learned in class was to identify our most desired goal, why that goal was so important to us, the obstacles preventing us from reaching that goal, and to write a personal mission statement on how we were going to reach that goal. As Max so aptly if not so agilely demonstrated, it's important to keep your mind focused on your goals and destination because once you make the leap, or are in midstream, to turn back can lead to undesirable results.

According to Stephen Covey, the guru behind the theories presented in Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, being an effective person means understanding that we can control our attitudes and actions to shape our lives. Proactive thinking means using our values and principles rather than letting our perceptions about our circumstances dictate how to make our decisions. Covey's seven habits follow the path from our natural dependent state at birth, to independence as we struggle to shape our own identities, to interdependence where working with others and on the quality of relationships in our lives leads to the ultimate effectiveness.

Another essential element behind Covey's theories is that the only thing we can control in our relationships with others is "the deposits we give and the withdrawals we take." Covey likens our emotional state to a bank account; ultimately what should be striven for is a balance between what we put in and take out and what we give. Deposits build trust between people. Covey says that in every encounter we have with another we either "lift them up" or "break them down." To recognize the value of those important in your life is one step, to be able to communicate those feelings to the other is the bridge hardest for most people to cross.

My own life is a good model or anti- model for whether or not you believe in what Covey has to say. The theories presented did not distinguish between professional and personal, public with private. According to Covey his principles are universal, and the things that make one effective in a work environment are no different than those in the home. I have spent the past few years drawing a distinct line between those areas, coming to believe what fulfills me at work is entirely different, if not even remotely related to what I do at home. Ultimately what I sensed separated me from the rest in the class was every person I talked to told me their goals were based upon seeking a balance between work and family. My struggles or what makes me ineffective as Covey might define it, has more to do with the example of Max's clumsy indecision, trying to decide whether it is a leap or lack of faith that causes the muse to feel so confused these days.

While I certainly see value in trying to clarify and define goals to figure out strategies to reach those goals, I had a hard time understanding one of Covey's underlying principles- that so much of our own effectiveness is based upon our relationship with others. Breaking things down that way sets people up for perpetual disappointment and is too easy a formula to get trapped into. People can only relate within their own terms and since all of our terms are different we can never really understand another. We are ultimately alone and it is up to the individual to figure out the best way to determine for our own peace of mind how successful and effective we have been. Covey is right in that it is our interaction with the people and the world around us that defines so much of who we are, but it is breaking away from that mindset that will ultimately decide our final effectiveness.

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