68 pages 2 hours read

Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1989

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Summary and Study Guide


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Aug 1989) by Stephen R. Covey is one of the most influential self-help books of the late twentieth century. To date, the title has sold over 40 million copies and has been a New York Times bestseller. Covey was named as one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Americans of 1996. His book is classified under the categories of Business Management, Organizational Behavior, and Personal Success in Business. This study guide refers to the 2020 Kindle edition of the book.

The author was a university professor before becoming a business and life coach. After cofounding the consulting practice of FranklinCovey, Covey continued to consult, lecture, and write until his death in 2012. Many of his subsequent books expand on themes introduced in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In addition to inspirational flashcards and workbooks to reinforce the core principles of the book, Covey also wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (1997) and Living the 7 Habits (2000). His son Sean wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (2003). Covey Senior polished his original theory, culminating in The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (2004). Because Covey was a practicing Mormon, his religious beliefs inform much of his work. Both The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations (1970) and The Divine Center (1982), two of his earliest books, can be viewed as precursors to his seven habits.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People begins with a foundational set of chapters to introduce core concepts that the author will employ throughout the rest of the book. Each subsequent chapter explains one of the key habits. The order of the habits is important since they represent a progression from a state of personal dependence through independence to the ultimate goal of interdependence in all relationships. Independence corresponds to the first three habits, which Covey calls “Personal Victories.” The second set of three habits represent interdependent skills and correspond to “Public Victories.” The last of the seven habits consists of self-renewal behaviors to help the reader more effectively perform the other six habits.

Covey adopts a conversational tone throughout the book and makes frequent use of anecdotes to illustrate his theories. These stories come from his personal life, his family interactions, and conversations with business clients. Because a central principle of the book is honest communication, the author’s style is earnest and plain-spoken.

The first two chapters of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People explain the author’s principles. Covey dismisses self-help books based on the Personality Ethic. These works attempt to solve a problem by modifying behavior. In contrast, Covey advocates the Character Ethic, which requires an individual to strengthen their fundamental character. Such an approach takes time to accomplish, and Covey likens the process to organic growth. He says, “It is simply impossible to violate, ignore, or shortcut this development process. It is contrary to nature, and attempting to seek such a shortcut only results in disappointment and frustration” (37).

Having laid the groundwork, Covey then devotes subsequent chapters to an explanation of each of his seven habits. They are:

  • Be proactive—Don’t simply react to conditions or people.
  • Begin with the end in mind—Visualize the end goal of your life.
  • Put first things first—Learn to use your time efficiently.
  • Think win/win—Strive to make all negotiations a win for everyone.
  • Seek first to understand—Learn how to communicate empathically.
  • Synergize—Encourage free flow communication to spur creativity.
  • Sharpen the saw—Take time to renew yourself.

The concluding chapter reaffirms the author’s central premise that all permanent, substantive change must come from within. Simply changing a behavior offers no benefit:

Change—real change—comes from the inside out. It doesn’t come from hacking at the leaves of attitude and behavior with quick-fix Personality Ethic techniques. It comes from striking at the root—the fabric of our thought, the fundamental, essential paradigms, which give definition to our character and create the lens through which we see the world (375).