Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity or personal development book.

8th habitSince I started this review series, I’ve reviewed two books by Stephen Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which I enjoyed, but wasn’t blown away by) and First Things First (which I really enjoyed and found very applicable to my life). However, I did find some overlap between the two and decided that I wouldn’t read another Covey book unless there was an idea or concept that clearly stood out. At first glance, The 8th Habit definitely stood out.

In a nutshell, The 8th Habit is to find our voice and inspire others to find theirs, with voice referring to an individual’s unique personal significance. How do we find out that thing about ourselves that is unique and is also valuable to others, and also help others to find this out about themselves, too?

A Deep Look At The 8th Habit

The 8th Habit is accompanied by a DVD with 16 inspirational short films on it, one to accompany each chapter (more or less). These were okay – I watched a few of them – but I found the book more thought provoking.

Chapter 1 – The Pain
The titular pain here is the fact that many people feel constrained by their surroundings in various ways – and it hurts. They can’t break free to express the ideas and talents inside of them – instead, they feel as though they’re stuck like a cog in a machine, a machine that moves in directions completely beyond their control, often in ways that bury their talents even further. This ends up being a cycle of pain – the person hurts because they aren’t free to step forward and the organization hurts because it relies on hurt people.

Chapter 2 – The Problem
The problem, as Covey sees it, is that most of the workers feeling pain are Knowledge Age workers trapped in an Industrial Age management structure. An Industrial Age management structure treats workers like cogs, mere pieces to keep the overall machine working. In the Knowledge Age, this paradigm doesn’t work – the real power is the individual, not the larger machine. To maximize that power requires a rethinking of how people work together to achieve a greater product.

Chapter 3 – The Solution
The solution to this problem is the titular “8th Habit”: find your voice and inspire others to find theirs. What does that mean? Basically, it means that an individual should transform the way they interact with their environment, discovering and maximizing the natural talents that they have, and also to work with others so that they can find and express their talents as well. How is this done? That’s what the rest of the book is about.

Chapter 4 – Discover Your Voice – Unexpected Birth Gifts
Each individual has the power to discover their voice, the word Covey uses to describe the innate talents of people and the effects of these talents on others. This power is the result of three things: the ability to choose, the ability to discern between right and wrong, and the unique physical, mental, social, and spiritual attributes that we all possess. Using these in concert over and over again is where an individual’s true voice can be found – consistently choosing to push our attributes to the limit and thus find our strengths.

Chapter 5 – Express Your Voice – Vision, Discipline, Passion, and Conscience
Once you start to hone in on those talents and strengths through good choices, you’ll find that the sweet spot for using one’s gifts comes at a confluence of four areas: passion, talent, need, and conscience. Passion happens when you do something that you personally find deeply fulfilling and throw yourself into – what are you passionate about? Talent refers to the things you do well – what things do you do that evoke a positive response from others? Need points to those moments when you can actually solve a problem with your presence. Conscience means that your heart is telling you that it’s the right thing to do. When they all meet is when you can truly express your voice, or, as Covey calls it, your unique personal significance.

Chapter 6 – Inspring Others To Find Their Voice – The Leadership Challenge
Leadership, in a nutshell, is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that the come to see it in themselves. Thus, the most powerful thing you can do to be a leader and help someone else find their voice is to point out to them, as clearly as possible, when you observe one of their talents or passions or know of a need they can specifically fulfill. Point out to them exactly what the talent or passion is, or if you have a need that’s right for them, explain exactly why they’re perfect for the role. Any time you can put someone in a position where any of the four parts of expressing one’s voice come into play (passion, talent, need, and conscience) – or even better, multiple ones – put them in place and tell them why you’re doing it.

Chapter 7 – The Voice of Influence – Be A Trim-Tab
This chapter, and a few after it, focus on discussing possible voices that a person might have; in this case, the book looks in detail at a person who is strong at spreading influence. A trim-tab is the small rudder that turns the big rudder that turns the entire boat. In other words, if you focus on little things – especially putting people in places where they can express their voice – then quite often you can turn a big ship around. What’s the best way of doing this? Above all else, accomplish things and let those accomplishments do the talking. The more you accomplish, the greater your influence and thus the greater your voice.

Chapter 8 – The Voice of Trustworthiness – Modeling Character and Competence
Most leadership failures are character failures, usually stemming from a lack of trust between the manager and the managed. If you speak with a voice of trustworthiness, though, you avoid this lack of trust. How? Covey more or less flat-out says that it’s done by living The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; he even outlines them again in this chapter.

Chapter 9 – The Voice and Speed of Trust
This book continues the idea of trustworthiness as a voice by pointing out that the greater the trust between two people, the faster the communication. If you deeply trust someone, the communication can be instantaneous, as in “Don’t worry about it, I understand” or “No need to say a word.” If there’s some level of trust, the needed communication comes very quickly. If there’s not much trust, the message will come slowly – if it ever comes at all. The best way to build trust? Communicate often and with complete truth.

Chapter 10 – Blending Voices – Searching For The Third Alternative
Conflict plays a major role in interactions between humans. So often, we feel the need to have a winner and a loser in any conflict, but quite often the best solution is a blending of the voices, much like Gandhi’s concept of a third way. To seek out that third way, step back, look at the true talents of all of the people involved, and brainstorm a solution that lets all people involved use their voices. The key, though, is not to force it – let people propose different ideas, bounce them off of each other, and see what develops.

Chapter 11 – One Voice – Pathfinding Shared Vision, Values, and Strategy
This is a brief chapter about how to develop an actual mission statement for a large group of people from different backgrounds. The only time I’ve ever felt a mission statement was effective was when we spent a day and a half developing a mission statement. In the morning, we met in groups of six; in the afternoon, we met in an entirely new group of six. In each group, we were challenged to develop a mission statement for the whole group. The next day, we met in yet another entirely different group of six and were given lists of all of the mission statements and were told to eliminate ones we had a conflict with. What happened? One quickly emerged as the best – it really nailed what we were all about. It happened because so many people were sharing visions and ideas together in a fluid environment. A mission statement can be useful and powerful if you come at it with the intent for it actually to mean something.

Chapter 12 – The Voice and Discipline of Execution – Aligning Goals and Systems for Results
How do you encourage people to execute? The best way is by encouraging them to compete against themselves – set individual goals for each person and encourage them to reach those individual goals, whether through compensation or other means. They shouldn’t compete against others in the organization – that encourages animosity. Instead, realizing that they’re all just competing against themselves (and the real competition) builds teamwork. As long as these goals provide a challenge to the worker and are clearly linked to the goals of the overall business, you will find success.

Chapter 13 – The Empowering Voice – Releasing Passion and Talent
What do you do if nothing else works and a person or a group simply doesn’t live up to their potential? Try breaking things down a bit into things that they know they can do – and encourage them to do those little pieces. Once the pieces start falling into place, everything else follows. At some point, the person you’re helping will “click” – they’ll realize that yes, they can do it – and they’ll reveal their true passions and talents to everyone. If you see the talent there but it isn’t quite coming together, spend some time nurturing it and reminding them of all the little pieces they do well – soon, they’ll start putting those pieces together.

Chapter 14 – The 8th Habit and the Sweet Spot
The sweet spot is that point where everything comes together and you get to really use your voice to its full extent. How can you get there consistently? The biggest way is to focus on long-term goals above all else and then focus on the things that serve accomplishing this goal. Set a long-term goal, particularly one with milestones, and focus on the things that are vital in achieving that goal. As long as the goal involves your passions and your talents, your voice will ring out.

Chapter 15 – Using Our Voices Wisely To Serve Others
The final chapter attempts to address, in a philosophical way, the purpose of all of this. In general, the reason that people attempt to find their voice and encourage others to find theirs is to serve some sort of human need. The more directly you can connect with the need that you serve, the louder your voice will ring.

Buy or Don’t Buy?

For me, Covey’s writing works best when it’s directly applicable to my life. Covey did this wonderfully in First Things First, for example; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was somewhat more abstract and thus less effective. Continuing down this trend, The 8th Habit was highly abstract and, though it was interesting in a philosophical way, not particularly applicable to my life. After The 8th Habit, I’m going to take a long break from Covey’s books, only possibly rereading First Things First if I feel like catching up.

If you’ve read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and liked it, The 8th Habit is a worthwhile sequel. It will make you think in similar ways, though it doesn’t have as much direct applicability to day-to-day life.

If you’ve read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and didn’t like it, don’t bother with The 8th Habit. It’s basically just a continuation of the first one – similar style and tone.

If you’ve read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, instead read First Things First. I found it to be the best of Covey’s books and it’s definitely the most applicable to daily life.

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