Living the 7 Habits: The Courage to Change by Stephen Covey

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Living the 7 HabitsRecently, I was teaching a harassment workshop and made a point to the attendees that quid pro quo harassment was generally easy to understand; however, it was the hostile work environment harassment that posed the greatest challenge for most people.  Indeed, if someone says to you, “Give me ‘x’, and I’ll make sure you get ‘y’, “ it is pretty easy to point out the problem.  However, when you have to think about what it means for your words and actions to be evaluated according to perspective of a “reasonable person” and according to whether the behavior is “pervasive and severe”, the the gut-check reflexive decisions are aren’t always crystal clear.

The same is true when looking at leadership.  If one is to gauge leadership by profit margins and administrative processes, then it is simple, like quid pro quo harassment.  Fortunately or unfortunately, leadership is NOT a black and white exercise.  It is not only annual compliance forms or an occasional employee appreciation luncheon.  Leadership is about creating sustainable organizations.  In short, it is all about the environment that leaders help to facilitate when the route the goal isn’t crystal clear.

As I read the collection of stories in this book, I actually thought that it could be renamed, “The Courage to Care”.  Whether the story was about a family, a community group or a corporation, the leader had to care about people in a way that black and white measurements were likely to miss.  Of the stories, two strongly resonated with me.  The first story was one about a young woman who’d gone to college away from her family and had really messed up. She made bad grades and got into a lot of debt.  When she returned to her family, her parents were rightfully upset and had a very strict set of rules for her to follow if she was to live in their home again.  The daughter did EVERYTHING that she was told to do because she wanted to make it up to her family.  On one occasion, she asked her mother to borrow her car, and mom refused.  The daughter didn’t speak to mom for weeks afterwards.  When mom realized that the daughter wasn’t going to snap out of it, she talked to the daughter and the daughter’s lament was, “You never say yes.“

The second story was about a Nabisco executive who had joined the company during a time of tremendous upheaval (hostile takeover).  During his seven years with the company, his role and primary responsibilities changed several times.  With every new promotion, he had to restart the process of trust-building.  He couldn’t rely on his reputation from his old team to hold water with his new team.

The points in these two stories hit me like rocks.  First, you’ve got to acknowledge people’s efforts to rise to the occasion (and it should be done with the Spirit of the Goose).  Otherwise, they become disinterested in trying to hit the mark, even if it is a goal that they value and respect.  People need to know that they are on the right track.  All of your feedback can’t be about what needs to done.  In the second story, it was critical that the daughter be heard.  Unfortunately, leaders often become aloof because they see the people part of management as a casualty of business.  Meanwhile, such leaders often don’t realize that they are destroying their organizational capacity to achieve significant outcomes because they keep dismissing the sullen employee as someone who needs to get over it rather than doing a meaningful self-check.  In order to get leaders to see human capital management as something to be valued as much, if not moreso, than other aspects of their job, I point to study after study that tells us that there comes a point in one’s career progress that differences in technical skills take a backseat to effectively managing relationships.  Essentially, the second story embodies this reality:  the work of leadership is never over.  It is to organizational health what a good diet and exercise are to physical health.  Like attending church (or whatever your spiritual practice is), leadership development is never finished.

Finally, as I finished the book, my personal belief system was reinforced:  what comes across as employee resistance is actually a workplace full of defeated spirits, lack of personal investment and a lack of “life-fidelity” (yes, I made up this term).  Essentially, I believe that many people go to jobs that they want to leave or ones wherein they find so little space to be themselves that they experience a type of workplace trauma because they feel both unsafe and unable to change their situation.  While I don’t believe an employer can completely motivate an employee (something must come from within), the organization must provide a climate such that employees earnestly believe that they can develop toward their personal best.  When the vision between what an employer wants and what an employee wants to do with his life are incongruent, fidelity disappears and frustration grows.  Therefore, both must know when it is time to part ways and create new teams:  The Courage To Change (again).

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