This became a major best-seller, highly influential in both management and personal development circles. Covey's seven habits are fairly obvious, fairly simple, yet are lost in the morass of hype and counter-hype his book provoked.
Covey looked at the characteristics of the successful, reducing these to seven principles, seven good habits that successful people generally demonstrate. Developing good habits is an advantage: by definition, if they are 'good' habits, they do you good. Brian Clough, the football manager, used to insist that his players learned good habits, that they learned to do the basics, the simple things well; once they could trust themselves to do the basics, then they could progress to try the novel, the special, to inject that little spark of genius which would win the game.
But Clough was talking about football, and doing what was necessary to win the game. Covey talks about successful people. You have to keep asking, what constitutes 'successful'? Becoming rich? Or being happy, contented, in harmony with the world and the people around you?
Covey suggests you choose your own definition of success. You set your own goals. And, the first thing you have to do is believe that you can change your life. Covey's principles, then, become the yardsticks by which you both measure change and motivate yourself to change - you decide on the good habits Brian Clough demanded, and get into the habit of doing things which will aid your change.
Covey, however, relates change and success to quality of life - although his book has often been seized upon as a manual for business success and profit. He says there is no easy way to achieve change. It requires work - and requires that you develop new, good habits while eradicating old, bad ones. It's a simple, logical piece of self-motivation, but it does require you to sit back, analyse your life, and work at change. Covey does not provide a quick fix.
He argues that we need to work with others, respect others, show tolerance, and value the rights of others. This is not a recipe for get-to-the-top regardless. Covey identifies the need for values and a moral commitment, for a spiritual aspect to your life. He spends the first 50-60 pages emphasising this.
He then identifies the seven habits - be proactive, he says. Believe, go, do. Don't put off or make excuses. Get in the game and try. You can change your world. Set yourself goals, achievable goals, taking a step at a time towards them. Don't rush ahead, 'put first things first'. And so on.
Covey provides a recipe for self-motivation and goal setting, and he argues for a holistic approach, for mind, body, the spiritual side being in balance, for working with your partner, family, friends, colleagues, community. It's the harmony and the spiritual which often get cast aside as go-getters try to rush ahead.
What Covey presents is simple enough. He writes with purpose and with passion, and it's a very easy book to pick up and begin to absorb, with lots of practical messages as well as theoretical ones. Essentially, however, you have to believe that your life needs to change and that change is possible. Thereafter, Covey will provide inspirational messages and encouragement to develop new, better habits.
It's a book which is worth reading, but disregard the hype and use it as a basic means to analyse your own life, lifestyle, hopes, aspirations and potential, and appreciate that Covey is at his best when he asks questions - you are the one, ultimately, who has to come up with the answers.