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Habits of Effective, Ethical Leaders

Revisiting Covey's Seven Habits

We’re all familiar with Dr. Stephen Covey’s seminal work The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that was named the #1 Most Influential Business Book of the Twentieth Century. First published in 1989, the Seven Habits explains a useful set of guiding principles that help you change personally as well as professionally, and so become more effective.

Covey describes three distinct stages of personal growth that we move through as we develop these habits:

  • Dependence: This is where we start, dependent on other people. And without personal development, we would stay stuck at this stage.
  • Independence: Through personal development, we become more independent and take responsibility for our actions. Still, however, we are not fully effective.
  • Interdependence: At this stage, we develop the understanding that, although we are self-reliant, we still need other people to accomplish our goals. At the interdependence stage we embrace the idea of working together for better results.

The Seven Habits help us move through these three stages of personal development. The first three take you from dependence to independence. The next three usher you along to interdependence, and the seventh is needed to reinforce the others.  I find it useful to teach the habits to my ethics students since good leadership and ethical behavior go hand in hand. Here are the 7 habits and thoughts I have about how they can enhance your leadership skills.

1. Be Proactive
2. Begin with the End in Mind

Essentially, these mean to develop a personal mission statement and proactively set and manage your goals

3. Put First Things First

Managing your time is essential to working more effectively

4. Think Win-Win

Try to find solutions that benefit each party in negotiations and conflict resolution

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Arguably, the most important habit because it is difficult for many people to listen to others – learn about their concerns and ideas -- before discussing their own ideas and solutions

6. Synergize

Here the leader seeks to bring the habits together to create a more comprehensive, beneficial result than if each was implemented independent of the others

7. "Sharpen the Saw"

I like to think of this habit as continuous improvement. Revisit the habits from time to time to see if you can become a more effective leader; embrace life-long learning.

I recently read a new leadership book by consultant, Jennifer Garvey Berger, Changing the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World. Berger points to three habits a competent leader practices regularly. The first habit is asking different questions. This is about expanding your curiosity. The second habit is taking multiple perspectives. This habit is about listening well and understanding the perspectives of others. The third habit is looking at systems, and that one reminds us that while the human brain likes to break things down into manageable parts, it is the unwieldy combination of those unmanageable systems that opens us up to new possibilities. The goal is to empower those in the workplace to achieve more than they might otherwise.

In my quest to teach ethics students about effective leadership I came across the 10 Habits of Effective Team Leaders by the consulting group, Aspina. I was particularly interested in their take on leadership qualities because my students work in groups to analyze ethics issues in case studies. The 10 Habits of effective leaders include: (1) lead by example; (2) set clear objectives; (3) manage performance; (4) praise good work frequently and correctly; (5) communicate effectively; (6) encourage ideas and initiative; (7) adapt your teams; (8) develop team members; (9) treat team members as individuals; and (10) learn from experience.

I’ve identified habits of an ethical manager that I discuss with my students. My goal with students is to establish a foundation for effective leadership in the workplace informed by underlying ethical values such as truthfulness, respect, fairness, caring, responsibility, accountability, and integrity. Here are the six habits of ethical, effective leaders.

1.      Treat others the way you want to be treated. There is no better place to start than with the “Golden Rule”

2.      Walk the talk of ethics; be ethical in word and deed

3.      Set an ethical tone that filters throughout the organization; establish clear policies and enforce them fairly

4.      Treat employees equally and with compassion; provide an environment of open and honest communication

5.      Accept the consequences of actions and decisions; reflect on and correct improper behavior

6.      Lead by example; act in a way that makes employees proud to be part of the organization.

I always end the discussion with my students of leadership and ethics by quoting the renowned management guru Peter Drucker. Drucker said:

“Mangers are leaders who do things right; leaders are people who do the right things.”

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 12, 2011