What book has influenced you most? How often can we say of a book – I am no longer the person I was before I read that. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen Covey is probably the most powerful book I have ever read in challenging my own character development, and in laying out foundational and life-changing coaching principles. It is well-known and widely read, and three decades on, the habits outlined therein remain as relevant and transformational as ever. But how do we live out the habits in our own lives as coaches, and what impact does that have on our coaching practice and ministry? And how do we see the habits modelled by Jesus?
Whilst sometimes categorised as a management or systems book, it is primarily a book about character. It teaches skills to build inner character, rather than seeking external success and acquisition for personal happiness, a message needed today more than ever.
My favourite saying, oft quoted by my wise and long-departed grandfather is
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
Reading the book, you learn to fish rather than just enjoying a one-off fish supper. And is this not the central role of coaching?
What matters most is not what we do or what we have, but who we are. The first three habits focus on inner character:
- Be proactive.
- Begin with the end in mind.
- Put first things first.
They teach the central importance of identifying and living according to our principles, and the need for regular self-reflection. As coaches, creating space for the Holy Spirit to identify what needs to change in our own character allows us to bring the best of ourselves to our clients. We cannot manufacture Godly character. But we can ask ourselves in each and every decision we make: who am I becoming in this decision – more or less like the person Jesus sees me to be? And, therefore, what do I most need to surrender to God and seek from Him?
Being proactive is primarily about self-awareness, which is at the root of all our coaching work. A s we listen to the emotions expressed and the language used by our clients, we can identify where they are putting the locus of control – onto external circumstances and other people, or onto themselves. Our greatest power is our power of choice – choosing to work on the one thing over which we do have control, which is ourselves. Only when our clients see and understand the importance of personal responsibility are things going to change. Are we as quick to apply this principle in our own work as coaches? What do you need to take responsibility for in your work and ministry?
Equally, we choose to be proactive in putting first things first each day, rooted in knowing why we do what we do. How do you plan out your day, and decide what is most important? What does it mean to live today aligning yourself with the vision God has given you for your work and ministry? We often work with clients on prioritising the important over the urgent, but how often is this true of ourselves? The challenge here is to make time to regularly stop and prayerfully reflect on our personal mission, our values, and the principles by which we live.
Habits 4 through 6 direct us to consider our external lives, addressing teamwork, communication and co-operation:
- Think win/win.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
- Creative co-operation.
Imagine how different our world would be if everyone sought to understand each other first!
Wrapped around the first 6 habits is the life-blood for them all:
- The importance of balanced Self-renewal.
Good boundaries round our work are important, but as coaches, we are caring for and giving much to our clients. Regularly stopping to pay attention to what we need – in the spiritual, physical, emotional and mental dimensions of our lives – allows us to be sustained in God and His resources for all that we do.
For me, the true power of the Seven Habits lies in the fact that Dr. Covey had a deep Christian faith, and Biblical principles clearly underpin all the habits. The author never makes the work about him, despite it’s phenomenal success. According to his family, Dr. Covey simply assimilated the wisdom of others, and saw himself as a steward of the work, giving credit to others and always to God.
Our coaching is never about us – it is about the transformation in our clients that God brings about, and we are simply partnering with the Holy Spirit. The world would drive us to achieve success. But what does success look like as Christian coaches? In Jesus, we have everything we need. Imagine if the end that we began the day with was the commitment to honour God with who we are and what we do that day. What difference would it make to our coaching, to how we showed up with our clients?
Jesus was an extraordinary model for the Seven Habits. He came to earth with a very clear mission, and lived proactively, constantly motivated by moving towards the cross. He was absolutely secure in who He was within the Trinity, and confident in His Father’s affirmation of Him. From that self-awareness and self-belief, He challenged, comforted, confronted. He prioritised time in quiet prayer with His Father, no matter how busy He was. He taught us to store up treasures in Heaven, and not be seduced by the temptations of instant gratification. He constantly took the initiative, reaching out with love and grace to those on the periphery. He listened deeply, seeing through the words and the emotions to the heart of what was really going on.
Dr. Covey’s overarching principle was that if God is at the centre of your life, everything else will find its proper place. Reading, absorbing and living out the habits transforms the way we live and coach. He defined leadership thus: leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves. Amen to that!
As a postscript, I recently wrote a whole blog series on the impact of the seven habits, for more click here Seven Habits blog series.
About the Author:
Catriona Futter is a Life Coach with a particular interest in life purpose and transitions. She is passionate about helping people identify, understand and celebrate their unique God given design and purpose. She lives in Glasgow in Scotland, where she initially worked as a physiotherapist (physical therapist) for the National Health Service for more than 20 years. Looking for a new challenge, and a different way to use her skills, she retrained as a Life coach, and in 2012 set up her own Life coaching practice, Equip for Life Coaching. She works with groups and individuals in Glasgow and further afield, and much of what she does now is informed by her experiences as a physiotherapist of helping people set goals, overcome obstacles, and understand behaviour patterns. She is a practical, enthusiastic strategist who loves to make people think! She is married and has teenage daughters.