I went to my bookshelf yesterday when I heard the news. There aren’t many books I have kept over the years but “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is one of them.” My edition is from 1990, the First Fireside Edition. When I read it, I was a new manager, struggling to do my best.
I had been appointed an agency manager with Prudential Insurance in early 1988 and I was floundering. I was one of the first female managers. If I remember correctly, there were almost 600 agencies and four had women as managers. Additionally, in 1989, I had taken off a couple of weeks to have my first baby. Yes, a couple of weeks. I was so worried about not looking committed, not being able to meet expectations that I worked until Friday, July 14th, had my daughter Saturday and was back at work part-time by the following Thursday. Looking back, I can’t imagine why. But things weren’t going well. Management skills that had worked while I was in a home office marketing position didn’t work so well out in a sales agency.
Then I read the book. In my edition, page 25 had the picture of the woman — the young woman or the old woman or, as we came to learn, both women. It just depended on our own perception. As Covey says, “each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world not as it is, but as we are — or, as we are conditioned to see it." That helped a lot. To find out that people perceived me differently than I perceived myself. And it is their perception that counts.
As I look at my copy of the book, I see so many messages, highlighted in fading yellow highlighter. On page 75, “ what matters most is how we respond to what we experience in life”. I remember rereading that chapter several times when I did not receive a position I thought I deserved. Take responsibility. Be proactive. And page 96: The beginning of the chapter for Habit 2, “Begin with the end in mind”.
Do you remember the first time you did that exercise, “See yourself going to the funeral of a loved one”? I still do. It had such a profound impact on me. “Who did I want to be, what did I want to be remembered for?”
“Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.” How many times I have thought of that, as my career took me around the US, as well as Argentina, Poland and parts of Asia. How many times I faltered, trying to get my point of view (POV in today’s terminology) across in different situations rather than listening first to the thoughts and feelings of the others. I remember when we first started the company in Argentina, using a strategy that had been very successful in Japan and Korea. As CMO, I was responsible for the successful implementation of marketing and sales and I needed to understand the culture there first, before expecting understanding in return. As I flip through the pages of the book, seeing the old notes and question marks, remembering my long-ago self. I think of what a profound impact that book has had on me. I read his others, but this one was key.
Stephen Covey’s work didn’t just impact me as a professional. That daughter, born in 1989, just graduated from college. I have a son in college and a husband of 33 years. The habits Stephen wrote about make a difference in all aspects of our life.
I saw he was 79 when he died. Still young. (The definition of youth for me has changed a lot since 1989). He died following a bad bicycle accident. He was still active and involved. As I reflect on this, I think back to that funeral exercise. What I would want my family and friends to be relaying about me. What Covey wanted them to relay about him.
Rereading some of the passages, I know there is still work to be done on me. Luckily, I still have time. And I hope to always be a “work in process”, right til that last day.