The 8th Habit


The 8th HabitFrom Effectiveness to Greatness, London: Simon & Schuster, 2006

The 8th Habit, by Stephen R. Covey, is a brilliantly written and extraordinarily useful book for solving conflict, build synergistic and truly outstanding relationships, and bring team interaction to a point of effectiveness that may never have been reached with any other method. Besides, it is a truly inspiring book by a great personality!

No words are too boastful to describe the achievement this book represents! It is a true marvel in each and every business library. As The 3rd Alternative, Covey’s last book which I review further down, the book is a treasure hunt for stories produced out of the lives of truly great people.

Here, the figure of Mohammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006 and creator of microfinance in Bangladesh, stands out as an unforgettable example. After years of struggle and hardship, Grameen bank, the bank Yunus created for granting small loans to poor people, then worked in more than 46,000 villages in Bangladesh, through 1,267 branches and over 12,000 staff members. They have lent more than $4.5 billion, in loans of twelve to fifteen dollars, averaging under $200.

At the time when Yunus became aware of the burning need for such tiny credits, when he himself ventured to give them from his income as an economic professor, microfinancing was not only non-existent—it was considered as an outrageous idea and the man had to fight a very hard and sometimes almost hopeless struggle against prejudice and red tape, even though he could prove that the credits he had granted were invariably paid back.

Any collaboration with existing financial institutions failed, despite the fact that Yunus offered himself as a guarantor for the loans, and he finally saw only one solution: to setup his own institution. But it took three years to get the license from the government to setup the bank!

I have not been unfamiliar with Dr. Covey’s leadership approach. After reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People back in the 1990s, I felt inspired and empowered for starting my own corporate training business. I worked three times through that book and shall recapitulate here the main tenets.

This is not a far-fetched idea given that the 8th habit—attitude, or behavior— is just one more element in an existing methodology. To begin with, Covey argues against what he called The Personality Ethic, something he saw as prevalent in many modern selfhelp books.

He promoted The Character Ethic: aligning one’s values with universal and timeless principles. He considered these principles as universal laws, and values as internal and subjective.

Covey proclaimed that values govern people’s behavior, but principles ultimately determine the consequences. Covey presented his teachings in a series of habits, manifesting as a progression from dependence via independence to interdependence.

It is the sequel to The Seven Habits, Dr. Covey held that effectiveness did not suffice in The Knowledge Worker Age. He said that ‘[t]he challenges and complexity we face today are of a different order of magnitude.’

The 8th Habit urges us for finding our voice and inspiring others to find theirs. The following synopsis of The 7 Habits is adapted from The 8th Habit, pp. 152-153:

Habit 1—Be Proactive

Being proactive is more than taking initiative. It is recognizing that we are responsible for our choices and have the freedom to choose based on principles and values rather than on moods or conditions. Proactive people are agents of change and choose not to be victims, to be reactive, or to blame others.

Habit 2—Begin with the End in Mind

We ideally shape our future by first creating a mental vision for any project, large or small, personal or interpersonal. We don’t just live day-to-day with no clear purpose in mind. We identify and commit ourselves to the principles, relationships and purposes that matter most to us.

Habit 3—Put First Things First

This means organizing and executing around our most important priorities. Whatever the circumstances, it is living and being driven by the principles we value most, not by the urgent agendas and forces surrounding us.

Habit 4—Think Win-Win

Thinking win-win is a frame of mind and heart that seeks mutual benefit and mutual respect in all interactions. It’s thinking in terms of abundance and opportunity rather than scarcity and adversarial competition. It’s not thinking selfishly (win-lose) or like a martyr (lose-win). It’s thinking in terms of ‘we’, not ‘me.’

Habit 5—Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

When we listen with the intent to understand others, rather than with the intent to reply, we begin true communication and relationship building. Opportunities to then speak openly and to be understood come much more naturally and easily. Seeking to understand takes consideration; seeking to be understood seeks courage. Effectiveness lies in balancing or blending the two.

Habit 6—Synergize

Synergy is the third alternative—not my way, not your way, but a third way that is better than either of us would come up with individually. It’s the fruit of respecting, valuing and even celebrating one another’s differences. It’s about solving problems, seizing opportunities, and working out differences. Synergy is also the key to any effective team or relationship.

A synergistic team is a complementary team—where the team is organized so that the strengths of some compensate for the weaknesses of others.

Habit 7—Sharpen the Saw

Sharpening the saw is about constantly renewing ourselves in the four basic areas of life: physical, social and emotional, mental and spiritual. It’s the habit that increases our capacity to live all other habits of effectiveness.

Now, of course, the question is legitimate what that 8th Habit really is? One may have thought that the set of habits—call them also behaviors or paradigms—was complete, was it not? So the challenging question is of course what is this 8th habit all about? Well, let me anticipate: we can ask the same question regarding the author’s latest book, The 3rd Alternative, which I shall review further down. Is that really something new?

Honestly it is not, but an extrapolation of Habit 6—Synergize, as Covey himself points out in that book. I do not wish to put this up as a criticism. But it shows that all in the creative life of a person is a result of patterning. We formulate a pattern but it’s not complete. Then, later, we expand it again, and thus write another book. How can somebody come up with the idea to say: ‘The author should have seen that before and implemented it from the start!’ This would be a basically inhuman attitude.

We are evolving beings, and even more so, and with the specific focus provided by the systems view of life, we are co-evolving beings. That basically means that we find our wholeness in the exchange with others. It was probably through Covey’s lecturing about his ideas and the large feedback he got that he expanded his approach and so to speak appended his concept through the means of a new book. That doesn’t mean that the older publication is obsolete. We are talking here about the evolution of a creative person. Let me give an example. Picasso’s Rose Period or his Blue Period were not obsoleted by his subsequent discovery of Cubism and his many successful cubist paintings.

Right at onset of The 8th Habit, in Chapter 1, entitled ‘The Pain’, the 8th habit is made part of the famous 7 Habits structure. Another graphic  illustrates it even more clearly, showing that the ‘Voice’ is situated exactly at the intersections of Talent, Passion, Need and Conscience.


The author writes:

The 8th Habit represents the pathway to the enormously promising side of today’s reality. It stands in stark contrast to the pain and frustration I’ve been describing. In fact, it is a timeless reality. It is the voice of the human spirit—full of hope and intelligence, resilient by nature, boundless in its potential to serve the common good. This voice also encompasses the soul of organizations that will survive, thrive and profoundly impact the future of the world. /5

In my own words, I would describe this new element in the author’s comprehensive scheme of ‘leadership effectiveness’ as an overcoming of the mechanistic paradigm that reigned in science and the social sciences until very recently. Just about 15 years ago people in the business world would have frowned upon the idea to bring ‘soul’ into the daily life of organizations, and even to speak about feelings, emotions or ideals in mainstream business publications.

But the world has definitely changed for the better here for after all, we are humans, not robots, and we want to make the world a more human one, not a more robotic one. To develop our voice—which is a metaphor for our unique contribution to the world, and society at large—we need to find our identity because our identity, as the author writes further down, is our destiny.

This is a long process, it won’t happen overnight. It means to gain awareness of our basic vision of the world, our unique way we come up at the world. The author writes:

As I have studied and interviewed most of the world’s great leaders, I noticed that their sense of vision and voice has usually evolved slowly. I am sure there are exceptions. Some may have a vision of what is possible suddenly burst upon their consciousness. But generally speaking, I find that vision comes as people sense human need and respond to their conscience in trying to meet that need. /9

What Covey called ‘The Knowledge Worker Age’ may also be called the information society. Peter Senge called this new institutional paradigm ‘The Learning Organization.’ It is our presently evolving scientific, social and business paradigm. It recognizes that all in life is connected by patterns that inform each other in a flat horizontal network structure, while the former mechanistic industrial paradigm saw the world as a huge conglomerate of isolated ‘things’ and ‘objects’ arranged in hierarchies of dominant order. Covey remarks that during the Industrial Age, people were seen like things as in a mechanistic set of beliefs ‘you have reduced a person to a thing’. Now the reason why he wrote the present book becomes more evident:

The problem is, managers today are still applying the Industrial Age control model to knowledge workers. Because many in positions of authority do not see the true worth and potential of their people and do not possess a complete, accurate understanding of human nature, they manage people as they do things. This lack of understanding also prevents them from tapping into the highest motivations, talents and genius of people. /16

Building our identity, our unique vision and voice, we need to work on our inner complexes, and one of them that my research revealed to me as perhaps the most important is co-dependence. In my corporate training seminars I realized how much ingrained the mutual dependency is in the daily life of organizations with all the hierarchical thinking that this implies. Also, personally, I saw that co-dependence as a psychic complex really prevents us from loving others; it is fusional thinking, symbiotic thinking, which is ultimately a confusion about our boundaries.

Covey called it ‘the downward spiral of codependency—as he spelled the word. He explains:

This widespread reluctance to take initiative, to act independently, only fuels formal leaders’ imperative to direct or manage their subordinates. This, they believe, is what they must do in order to get followers to act. And this cycle quickly escalates into codependency. Each party’s weakness reinforces and ultimately justifies the other’s behavior. (…) The codependent culture that develops is eventually institutionalized to the point that no one takes responsibility. Over time, both leaders and followers confirm their roles in an unconscious pact. They disempower themselves by believing that others must change before their own circumstances can improve. The same cycle reappears in families between parents and children. /17


Covey then explains in more detail that only a ‘whole person paradigm’ can fulfill the needs of today’s highly complex international business world. This can be measured as science has indeed confirmed what philosophers said over the ages—laboratory studies are producing increasing evidence of a close relationship between body, mind, and heart. Such is for example the research at the Institute of Heart-Math and its sister company, HeartMath LLC.

This evidence demonstrates that the heart has its own intelligence, which is just as important, if not more important, as the brain to our day-to-day functioning. The heart was also found to coordinate the function of other organs in the body. The old view that the heart is just a ‘blood pump’, similar to a mechanical water pump, is thus clearly superseded by this cutting-edge research on body-mind coordination. As a result of this insight it becomes obvious that approaching humans as if they were machines can only deliver mediocre results, for in that case they are reduced to a status of robots. Covey writes:

The path to mediocrity straightjackets human potential. The path to greatness unleashes and realizes human potential. The path to mediocrity is the quick-fix, short-cut approach to life. The path to greatness is a process of sequential growth from the inside out. /28

He then explains more in detail what it means to discover and express one’s voice in chapters four and five. While it is virtually impossible to review this 400+ pages book that is full of highly original ideas and enriched by the author’s immense wealth of training experience, I cannot close this review without reporting an integrative approach to human intelligence that Covey reports here quite at length and that is backed up by cutting-edge genius research. In genius research publications it is commonly termed ‘The Four Quadrant IQ’. Covey termed these ‘four intelligences’ as:

—Mental intelligence (IQ)

—Physical intelligence (PQ)

—Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

—Spiritual Intelligence (SQ)

I will not paraphrase Covey’s explanations of these principles as this would make this review definitely too extensive, but quote what he wrote—with quite an original flavor—on how to develop these four ways of being smart. He writes:

For the body—assume you’ve had a heart attack; now live accordingly.

For the mind—assume the half-life of your profession is two years; now prepare accordingly.

For the heart—assume you have a one-on-one visit with your Creator every quarter; now live accordingly. /58

I honestly admit that working through this book seriously requires a lot of stamina for it’s not an easy-read. Much is repeated over and over again in different wordings, which may fit more to the demands of a learning audience—for example, a middle management leadership training seminar—than an intellectual audience. Even though I am familiar with corporate training issues, to get through this book was a more hassled sensation than working through the 7 Habits.

I admit this honestly and it may be entirely my own personal perception. What I do highly appreciate and value, however, is the material given in addition to the book itself, the 8 Appendices which provide a wealth of information. For example, Appendix 1 provides a practical action guide for developing our four intelligences, Appendix 2 a highly interesting literature review of Leadership Theories which was compiled by the research department at FranklinCovey, and Appendix Four an example from daily life about how high the cost of low trust can be for a company—in fact it can be devastating in the long run.

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