A Highly Effective Person

One of world’s leaders on leadership died today at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was 79.  The book, published in 1989, achieved such success that the words “seven habits” alone are almost synonymous with it.

Stephen Covey, 1932 – 2012. Image Credit: Tim Pearson/Better Life Media

Covey built a business empire that changed many lives, and his achievements all fell within the realm of what Peter Drucker called “social innovation.”  Covey’s insight was that by teaching people to manage their time and their priorities better, they could unlock much of their unrealized potential and become better employees and employers.

He cited Drucker often and built on Drucker’s terminology.  In particular, Covey appreciated the importance of the distinctions Drucker made between the terms he used.  That’s why Covey’s book was not called The Seven Traits of Highly Successful People, or The Seven Qualities of Highly Efficient People.  The terms he used were “habits” and “effective” — and these were fundamental to Drucker’s insights on management.

In Drucker’s view, being effective required no magical powers, no innate personality. Good habits were enough. Therefore, Drucker spoke of “habits” and “practices” as opposed to “qualities” or “traits” when it came to effective leaders.  Also, while Drucker had no complaint about efficiency, he stressed that it was helpful only if directed toward a helpful end. Otherwise, you could have efficiency without effectiveness.

Effectiveness, Drucker explained in The Effective Executive, published in 1967, was a habit, “a complex of practices.”  And the way you got good at the practices was by practicing, just as one might do scales over and over on the piano. “Practices one learns by practicing and practicing and practicing again,” Drucker wrote. “Even the great pianists could not play Mozart as they do unless they practiced their scales and kept on practicing them.”

Effectiveness didn’t guarantee success, but it was a prerequisite for success, and anyone could learn the necessary habits. You didn’t need to become a virtuoso at them, just an adequate performer. “What is needed in effectiveness is competence,” Drucker wrote. “What is needed are ‘the scales.’”

Have you used practice to become more effective? How did it play out?