The 8th Habit

From Effectiveness to Greatness
By Stephen R. Covey

Free Press

Copyright © 2005 Stephen R. Covey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743287932

Chapter 3: The Solution

There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

Victor Hugo

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."1 This book is dedicated to striking at the root of the significant problems we face.

We've started with the pain; we've explored the underlying problem -- one that has personal roots and that involves a deeply imbedded paradigm and set of traditions in the workplace. Now let's set the context for the solution and give an overview of how it will be unfolded in the remainder of the book.

I've worked with organizations around the world for over forty years and have been a student of the findings of the great minds who have studied organizations. Most of the great cultural shifts -- ones that have built great organizations that sustain long-term growth, prosperity and contribution to the world -- started with the choice of one person. Sometimes that one person was the formal leader -- the CEO or president. Very often it started with someone else -- a professional, a line manager, someone's assistant. Regardless of their position, these people first changed themselves from the inside out. Their character, competence, initiative and positive energy -- in short, their moral authority -- inspired and lifted others. They possessed an anchored sense of identity, discovered their strengths and talents, and used them to meet needs and produce results. People noticed. They were given more responsibility. They magnified the new responsibility and again produced results. More and more people sat up and noticed. Top people wanted to learn of their ideas -- how they accomplished so much. The culture was drawn to their vision and to them.

People like this just don't get sucked into or pulled down for long by all the negative, demoralizing, insulting forces in the organization. And interestingly, their organizations are no better than most organizations. To some degree, they're all a mess. These people just realize that they can't wait for their boss or the organization to change. They become an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. And it's contagious.

Where does a person get such internal strength to swim against the current and to withstand negative cultural provocations, subordinate selfish interests and develop and sustain such vision and determination?

They learn of their true nature and gifts. They use them to develop a vision of great things they want to accomplish. With wisdom they take initiative and cultivate great understanding of the needs and opportunities around them. They meet those needs that match their unique talents, that tap their higher motivations and that make a difference. In short, they find and use their voice. They serve and inspire others. They apply PRINCIPLES that govern growth and prosperity in human beings AND in organizations -- principles that draw the highest and best from a "whole person" -- body, mind, heart and spirit. Equally significant, they also choose to influence and inspire others to find their voice through these principles as well.

This two-part solution -- Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs -- is a road map for individuals at ANY level of an organization to maximize their fulfillment and influence, become an irreplaceable contributor,* and inspire their team and the broader organization to do the same. Accordingly, the book is organized into two main sections:

1. Find Your Voice

2. Inspire Others to Find Their Voice

Let's briefly introduce each.

Find Your Voice

Figure 3.1 illustrates two dramatically different roads of life and is the simple outline or map of the 8th Habit: Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs. This Two Roads diagram will appear at the beginning of the remaining chapters through chapter 14. Each new version of the developing diagram will highlight the focus of that chapter. In this way you will see where you are, where you've been and where you are headed.

Everyone chooses one of two roads in life -- the old and the young, the rich and the poor, men and women alike. One is the broad, well-traveled road to mediocrity, the other the road to greatness and meaning. The range of possibilities that exists within each of these two destinations is as wide as the diversity of gifts and personalities in the human family. But the contrast between the two destinations is as the night is to the day.

The path to mediocrity straitjackets 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. Travelers on the lower path to mediocrity live out the cultural "software" of ego, indulgence, scarcity, comparison, competitiveness and victimism. Travelers on the upper path to greatness rise above negative cultural influences and choose to become the creative force of their lives. One word expresses the pathway to greatness. Voice. Those on this path find their voice and inspire others to find theirs. The rest never do.

The Soul's Search for Meaning

Deep within each one of us there is an inner longing to live a life of greatness and contribution -- to really matter, to really make a difference. We may doubt ourselves and our ability to do so, but I want you to know of my deep conviction that you can live such a life. You have the potential within you. We all do. It is the birthright of the human family.

I once visited with the commander of a military base who was truly on fire with his commitment to undertake a significant cultural change inside his organization. He had been in the service for over thirty years, was a full colonel, and was eligible for retirement that very year. After he had been teaching and training his organization for many months I asked him why he planned to stay on and undertake such a major initiative -- one that would require swimming upstream against the tremendous resisting forces of tradition, lethargy, indifference and low trust. I even said to him, "You could relax. You'd have a good retirement. Award banquets would be held in your honor. Loved ones and associates would celebrate you."

He became very sober, paused for a long time and then decided to share with me a very personal, almost sacred, experience. He said that his father had recently passed away. When the father was on his deathbed, he called his wife and son (the colonel) to him to say good-bye. He could barely speak. His wife wept during the entire visit; the son drew down close to his father, and his father whispered into his ear, "Son, don't do life like I did. I didn't do right by you or by your mother and never really made a difference. Son, promise me you won't do life like I did."

Those were the last words the colonel heard from his father, who passed away shortly thereafter. But he regarded them as the greatest gift and legacy his father could have ever given him. He made his mind up then and there that he was going to make a difference -- in every area of his life.

Later the colonel told me privately that he had been planning to retire and relax. In fact, he had secretly hoped that his successor would not do as well as he had and that this would be obvious and apparent to all. But when he had this epiphany with his father, he determined not only to become a change catalyst in building principles of enduring leadership into the culture of his command but also to see to it that his successor would be more successful than he had been. By striving to institutionalize these leadership principles into the structures, systems and processes of his organization, he would increase the likelihood of passing on his legacy one leader-generation to another.

He said further, that up until that experience with his father, he had knowingly taken the easier road, acting basically in a custodial role in the traditions of the past, and that he had chosen a life of mediocrity. But with his father, he resolved, as never before, to live a life of greatness, a life of real contribution, a life of significance -- one that really made a difference.

All of us can consciously decide to leave behind a life of mediocrity and to live a life of greatness -- at home, at work and in the community. No matter what our circumstances may be, such a decision can be made by every one of us -- whether that greatness is manifest by choosing to have a magnificent spirit in facing an incurable disease, by simply making a difference in the life of a child, giving that child a sense of worth and potential, by becoming a change-catalyst inside an organization, or by becoming an initiator of a great cause in society. We all have the power to decide to live a great life, or even simpler, to have not only a good day but a great day. No matter how long we've walked life's pathway to mediocrity, we can always choose to switch paths. Always. It's never too late. We can find our voice.

Once you make the choice to follow this "road less traveled," the pathway to finding your own voice is to:

1. Discover Your Voice by coming to understand your true nature -- what I call three magnificent birth-gifts (chapter 4) and by developing and using with integrity the intelligence tied to each of the four parts of your nature.

2. Express Your Voice by cultivating the highest manifestations of these human intelligences -- vision, discipline, passion and conscience (chapter 5).

Film: Discovery of a Character

I would like to share with you a powerful, true story that embodies this process of finding your voice. Several years ago, our firm participated with our local PBS station in broadcasting a video dramatization we developed and filmed in England. The central figure in this remarkable story is an Englishman who transcended a childhood spent as a street urchin to become a reasonably successful writer with a nice home and a loving family. At the time of the story, however, he had developed "writer's block." It seemed his creativity had turned off. His debts were mounting. He was under tremendous deadline pressure from the publisher. He was becoming more and more depressed. He began to fear that his own children would end up on the streets like so many he saw around, like he, himself, had as a youth -- particularly when his father was in debtor's prison.

He was discouraged. He couldn't sleep. He began to spend his nights walking the streets of London. He saw the poverty, the inhumane conditions of children working nights in the factories, the terrible struggle of parents trying to eke out a living for their families. Gradually, the full reality of what he was seeing began to hit him -- the impact of selfishness and greed and those who would take advantage of others. An idea touched his heart and began to grow in his mind. There was something he could do that would make a difference!

He returned to his writing with an energy and enthusiasm he had never known. The vision of contribution impassioned and consumed him. He no longer felt doubt or discouragement. He didn't worry about his own financial concerns. He wanted to get this story out, to make it as inexpensive as possible, to make it available to as many people as possible. His whole life had changed. He'd truly found his voice.

I invite you now to watch a brief film that dramatizes this remarkable man's true experience. You can view it by going to and selecting Discovery of a Character from the Films menu.

Inspire Others to Find Their Voice

Once you've found your own voice, the choice to expand your influence, to increase your contribution, is the choice to inspire others to find their voice. Inspire (from the Latin inspirare) means to breathe life into another. As we recognize, respect and create ways for others to give voice to all four parts of their nature -- physically, mentally, emotionally/socially and spiritually -- latent human genius, creativity, passion, talent and motivation are unleashed. It will be those organizations that reach a critical mass of people and teams expressing their full voice that will achieve next-level breakthrough in productivity, innovation and leadership in the marketplace and society.

Part 2 of The 8th Habit begins with chapter 6. It is to Inspire Others to Find Their Voice. Since most of the world's work is done in organizations, the focus is on principles you can apply to positively influence others in any organization (business, education, government, military, community, even family).

Most likely, you will also have many practical "yeah, but" questions come to your mind. To assist you, you will find a brief section of commonly asked questions and my responses at the end of each remaining chapter. I hope they are helpful to you, but feel free to skip them if you are not interested. Following the last chapter of the book you will also find a "chapter" dedicated to questions and answers that are more general and comprehensive in nature.

Getting the Most out of This Book: Learning by Teaching and Doing

If you would like to get the most out of this book and initiate powerful change and growth in your life and organization, I recommend two simple ideas to you. If you will do these two things, I guarantee dramatic results. The first is to teach others what you learn; the second is to systematically apply what you learn -- to do it!

Teach and Share As You Go

Almost everyone acknowledges you learn best when you teach another and that your learning is internalized when you live it.

While teaching at the university years ago, I met a visiting professor, Dr. Walter Gong, from San Jose, California. He taught a one-semester class for faculty entitled How to Improve Your Teaching. The essence of his program was this great principle: The best way to get people to learn is to turn them into teachers. In other words, you learn the material best when you teach it.

I immediately started to apply that principle in my work and at home. When I first started university teaching, my classes only had about fifteen to thirty students. When I started applying Dr. Gong's principle, I found that I could effectively teach many more students; in fact, some of my classes were packed with nearly a thousand students, and yet the students' performance and test scores actually went up. Why? When you teach you simply learn better. Every student becomes a teacher, and every teacher a student.

Now, the common paradigm is that the teacher-student ratio is critical -- fewer students means higher-quality teaching. But if you turn your students into teachers, you gain leverage. You move the fulcrum over.

Also when you teach or share what you're learning with others, you implicitly commit socially to live what you teach. You will naturally be more motivated to live what you're learning. This sharing will be a basis for deepening learning, commitment and motivation, making change legitimate, and enrolling a support team. You will also find that sharing creates bonding with people -- especially with your children. Have them regularly teach you what they are learning in school. My wife, Sandra, and I have found that doing this simple thing essentially eliminates any need for external motivation with their studies. Those who teach what they are learning are, by far, the greatest students.

Integrate What You Learn into Your Life

To know and not to do, is really not to know. To learn and not to do is not to learn. In other words, to understand something but not apply it is really not to understand it. It is only in the doing, the applying, that knowledge and understanding are internalized. For instance, you could study tennis as a sport by reading books and hearing lectures, but until you've actually played it, you wouldn't really know the sport. To know and not to do is not to know.

There are at least four approaches you could take in applying what you learn in this book:

1. The first would be to simply read the book straight through. Then decide what you want to apply in your life and work. This is the way most people approach a book. It reflects the desire many of us have to get emotionally or mentally connected with a flow of ideas in a book and then run with it.

2. The second approach would be to read through the entire book and then use the comprehensive understanding and cumulative motivation to go back and read the book a second time -- this time with the intent to apply as you go. This could work very well for many.

3. A third approach -- one that I personally believe will yield the greatest results -- would be to adopt it as a yearlong personal growth and development program. Take a month for each of the remaining twelve chapters. Start by reading the next chapter, teach it and then apply it the rest of the month. You will find that if you will actually seek to apply what you learn in each chapter for a month, the insight you gain in the chapters that follow will profoundly increase.

4. The fourth approach is simply to adapt the third approach to your own timeline. Some readers might want to go faster or slower than one chapter a month. Read and apply a new chapter every week, every two weeks, every two months, or in whatever time frame you choose. This retains the power of the third approach yet allows you the flexibility to adapt it to your own desires and circumstances.

To assist you in applying the principles in each chapter of the book, regardless of which approach you choose, I have put together a number of application ideas and exercises to get you started. You may access them by going to I've also included on the last two-page spread of the book a chart that will assist you in completing what we could call "The 8th Habit Challenge." The Challenge involves accomplishing Development/Action Steps for each chapter:

1. Read the chapter.

2. Teach the chapter to at least two people, including work colleagues, family members, friends, etc.

3. Make a sincere, concerted effort to live the principles included in the chapter for one month.

4. Report the results and your learnings from seeking to live the ideas in the chapter to a trusted colleague, family member or friend.

Once you have completed the entire "8th Habit Challenge" chart, you can certify you have done so at and you will receive a special recognition for your accomplishment.

As we move now to Part 1: Find Your Voice, consider the words of Abraham Lincoln: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present." We must think anew. We must develop not only a new mind-set but also a new skill-set and a new tool-set that flows from it. This is difficult to do; it throws everyone out of their comfort zones. But a new reality has emerged, a new economy, a new challenge. This new challenge -- not only surviving but truly thriving in this new reality -- requires a new response, a new habit. Remember, habits lie at the intersection of knowledge, attitude and skill. As you develop these three dimensions of the 8th Habit, you'll increasingly become equal to the new challenge and to your unlimited possibilities.

Copyright © 2004 by FranklinCovey Co.


Excerpted from The 8th Habit by Stephen R. Covey Copyright © 2005 by Stephen R. Covey. Excerpted by permission.
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