Friday, August 24, 2012

The who, why, what and how of who you are and want to be

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989, is a self help book written by Stephen R Covey. It has sold more than 15 million copies in 38 languages and presents an approach to becoming more effective if you align and organise yourself to some universal principles.

The first three habits are about self mastery - be proactive ; begin with the end in mind and put first things first – to help move you from dependence to independence. While the next three are about interdependence and working with others: think win/win, seek first to understand, then to be understood and synergize. The last habit – sharpen the saw – is about balance and renewal.

I have been in business for more than 30 years and have experienced a wide range of different approaches to management and leadership from a variety of companies and a number of senior executives. Having observed the good, the bad and the unnecessary, it is clear that personal development, attitude and belief are key differentiators in providing everyday leadership to inspire those around you. While the tone is set from the top, the rhythm is provided by everyone and not necessarily always in time or in tune. It took me some time before I realised this.

My first management position was with an oil company and I was fortunate to have access to good training, was encouraged to make the most of it and to be responsible for developing myself right from the beginning. This grounding put me in good stead as I have made use of whatever training has been available in any of the companies I have worked for and been an avid reader of business books, new thinking and emerging ideas. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People being all of that, but more significantly a book that I read as I began to practice being a manager and one that I have returned to periodically for the simplicity of its messages, its coherence and the timeless principles upon which it is based.

For these are applicable every day no matter the size of the company, team or set of circumstances as the art of good management and subsequently great leadership rests firmly with the individual. It’s personal. You have to manage yourself before you can manage others and have to be “ in lead of yourself “ before you can expect anyone to ever follow you.

The result of this is that you are able to put more of your focus and attention to people, strategic and important tasks while the technical, tactical and urgent tasks take less and less of your time through better organisation and attitude. More importantly though, as this approach cascades through your team, the whole team and organisation becomes more effective, more responsive to change and has more capability to adapt.

This was particularly needed in the 90s as the oil crises provoked a drive for substantial cost savings due fundamentally to the threat to the companies very survival. In my department’s case this lead to us searching for strategic partners; applying an extraordinarily collaborative business approach to solving challenges that none of us had ever experienced before and outsourcing the whole team. We literally needed to invent a new way of working not just for ourselves but also for our new external partners as we choose people for the new organisation based on their best fit to the role and not who were they employed by. The alliance delivered some extraordinary results and essentially succeeded by aligning performance to a common objective, incentivising everyone to achieve their part and collectively removing every obstacle that was in the way.  This was only made possible through investment in people and their development to encourage them to grow as individuals; and in team building to develop a common culture and environment of mutual support and success, irrespective of your original employer.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People helped considerably in achieving this and proved to be a remarkable set of simple principles which are easy to understand and pass on. Moving people individually and collectively on a journey from confrontation to cooperation to eventual collaboration as people and companies realised that win-win was the only acceptable result for all.

And what a journey it is, because it is truly one without end. The great thing about self discovery is that you keep discovering more about yourself !  For me, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People initially provided the picture of how previous discrete pieces of training and learning I had received actually could come together before becoming the foundation for how I could operate in a new way of working and thinking to accomplish great performance; to being the model for helping others come to terms with a completely new way of working.  Fundamentally though it has helped me throughout answer the questions raised about myself - the who, why, what and how of who you are and want to be – as you occasionally reflect,  review and realise that it is not as easy as you thought it might be to be that leader you expected to be of yourself.

Roger Whittaker