The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey probably ranks in the top 5 personal development books, ever. If there were a Personal Development Hall of Fame, a copy would probably be sitting in-between a bust of Aristotle and Napoleon Hill. Covey skillfully describes the “secret” characteristics common across high-performance individuals. I believe that just as it is important to realize what highly effective people do it is equally important to realize what highly effective people do not do.
Lack of Communication
Ineffective people lack proper communication skills. Instead of ensuring mutual understanding and fluid transfers of knowledge, the ineffective are only concerned with their own interpretations of situations. They do not know how to gather wide-spread, reliable information before making decisions, which leads to many misunderstandings and ultimately costly mistakes. They typically find themselves locked in a seemingly endless stream of meetings where no work seems to actually get done. If you find yourself writing novels as email replies or sitting in meetings that you could have skipped, you are probably a suffering from Lack of Communication syndrome. I know I was before streamlining my discussions.
Tips to Fix:
- Try to get to the point faster. Instead of answering phone calls with “Hi, how are you doing?” try saying “I am actually occupied right now, how can I help you?” The former allows for small talk while the former gets to the purpose.
- Never assume. Make sure that the words used accurately convey the message. People use words interchangeably. For example, Suzy, a coworker, approaches you and says that “Jesse said I was worthless”. Before instantly siding with Suzy, make sure that she heard this directly from Jesse. An underlying misassumption can provide for two very different stories.
- Focus on the objective. If you need a specific piece of information from someone, do not leave until you are given that information or the next steps (I will send you the information through email) Too often, people feel as if they are bothering the person they need information from and leave prematurely.
Independence over Interdependence
Ineffective people are only worried about their own strengths and weaknesses because they work alone. They do not consult others for feedback, opinions, or help which causes them to stay stagnant and never grow. Rather than being constantly challenged in their ideas and actions, they stay content with their own efforts. Who needs other people when I have access to my most valuable asset, myself? If you find yourself with a constant sense of being overwhelmed or staying up late 2, 3, 4+ days doing work, you may need to start relying on the help of others.
Tip to Fix:
- Begin small! It is hard to give someone else the reigns when you’re used to being pilot, stewardess, and air traffic control! Occasionally, muster up the courage to ask a colleague for help or advice. They won’t laugh at you and burn your report around a campfire, but you’ll find that generally help tends to be, well helpful!
- EVERY DAY, ask for help with something that you already know the answer to, pretending as if you are clueless. This will help you build confidence and faith in others as well as help filter out those who habitually stretch their understanding of a topic. Most importantly, it will allow you to understand how others think. Their unique approach to a problem may help you realize something you didn’t before!
Ineffective people are goal-setters. While they go through life with many aspirations, they largely remain aspirations. Ineffective people tend to go through life hoping to accomplish their goals, but never set out an action plan to achieve them. They do not measure progress to their goals, and thus do not know how close (or far) away they really are, leaving them in the dark. They typically find themselves wanting to accomplish a lot, but never actually accomplishing a lot. If you cannot give a recent example of a long-term goal that you have accomplished, then you may be suffering from goal-setting.
Tips to Fix:
- Become skilled in the art of goal-getting. Rather than only setting goals, set out to complete them! Make shorter and shorter term goals that you can use to measure and gauge progress towards your longer term goals. A 300 page novel is daunting until you break it down to 10 pages a day for a month.
- Create check-ins. After setting a goal, make some future date Check-In Day, whereby you consciously revisit your goal and analyze your progress. If you haven’t done anything to get closer to your goals after a month, it may be time to re-evaluate your action plan (or set one in place!)
Not Leveraging Differences
Ineffective people only realize their strengths and differences. They do not leverage the differences among their peers to their advantage. Commonly they surround themselves with like-minded individuals, creating confirmation bias. If you find yourself presenting ideas unchallenged or associate with many of the same types of people, you may not be fully leveraging he differences between humans.
Tip to Fix:
- 1+1=3. Each person is a source of a new perspective. While you and everyone from the street may see a bland building, someone in a hot air balloon may notice the roof-top garden! Gathering a complete perspective is integral towards furthering your critical analysis and decision making skills.
- Have a conversation with a complete stranger every day. You’ll quickly realize that the Harvard graduate and local barber both may not be who you thought they were. Their different experiences allow for extremely different views and access to different resource bases. You’ll only grow if you constantly challenge what you know.
Living in the Wrong Tense
Ineffective people only live in one tense. They are either constantly overanalyzing their mistakes of the past or devoting too much worry to the future. They find themselves victims of the spotlight effect, believing that their past mistakes were broadcasted on CNN for the world to see. Or they are so ambitious and have goals so large, that they are always worried about the future and what lies ahead. Instead of being the in the present and enjoying the journey, they remain in the wrong part of the timeline. Instead of accepting their past mistakes as fact and leveraging them to learn what NOT to do, the idea of failing again overpowers their desire to accomplish their goal. Instead of subscribing to the mantra of Plan the Work & Work the Plan, which eliminates all worry as a thoughtful, detailed plan is created, they find themselves scared for their future.
Tips to Fix:
- Your past is your past! You can’t change what happened in your past, so it is useless to spend much time beating yourself up over it. Rather, accept the past as fact, and use it as an opportunity to learn what to do and what not to do. You’ll be surprised at what can happen when you let go of the past and begin each day as it is, a new day.
- And your future hasn’t happened yet! Instead of placing worry in something that we may not even live to see, create a framework and plan out your steps to success. This was probably the hardest hurdle for me as an ambitious kid, but overanalyzing any situation will lead to paralysis by analysis. So just set the goal, create the plan, and place faith in the process. The goal shouldn’t be driving you anyways, the experience is the true treasure!
Cutting off Learning
The ineffective are similar to old dogs, it’s hard to teach them anything! Not impossible, but hard. And so they quit. They’ll claim that they are too busy, or too old. Past their prime. But they simply aren’t. Half of all Nobel Laureates are over the age of 60 and being busy is a form of procrastination. Instead of being productive, they choose to be busy.
- EVERY DAY, pick one mentally stimulating task to complete. It can be as simple as watching a TED talk to reading a few pages of Thoreau. Do not overwhelm yourself with a demanding goal such as reading an entire book in one sitting (unless you want to check it off the bucket list, I know I have). Create a routine and schedule time in your day to get it accomplished, ideally first thing in the morning. Entertaining new ideas in your mind will allow you to be more critical and thoughtful in your decision making.
Not Inspiring Others
Ineffective people do not spread the wealth. And no I am not talking dollars (although I will gladly accept all donations). If I were to awake tomorrow with nothing but the clothes on my back and the knowledge in my brain, I would feel confident that I would be successful. And everyone should have that level of confidence in themselves. Can have. If you have any amount of knowledge, your goal should be to spread it. As humans, we should collectively pool together our efforts for the betterment of society. Do not hoard the good life to yourself, trust me, it won’t run out. If 1+1 can equal 3, then imagine the possibilities with over 7 billion variables!