Whole person development takes good habits

by Alex Lai

Maintaining work-life balance boils down to seven simple maxims

Winnie Chiu
senior consultant
Right Management Hong Kong Limited
Photo: Wallace Chan

The fact that human capital plays a crucial role in corporate success was the underlying theme of a recent Career Times seminar co-hosted by Winnie Chiu, senior consultant, Right Management Hong Kong Limited. Based on the hugely popular self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, the seminar sought to inspire attendees looking for a more resolute and effective life.

Throughout the seminar, Ms Chiu provided helpful hints on how to adopt Covey's seven habits whilst sharing her insight on developing healthy and prosperous relations with others.

According to Ms Chiu, most corporations currently stress employee engagement and communication, along with strategy, its implementation and change management. The overarching goal is the development of personal and public effectiveness. She quoted Aristotle who said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Thus, she recommended creating an effective habit chain which is near unbreakable.

"Habits should provide the basis for an individual's character, which then shapes a person's destiny," Ms Chiu added. "A habit is an inside-out characteristic in the sense that it is both internal and visible. If we want accomplishment, we need to internalise and embody Covey's seven habits."

Feeling the desire to act in a certain way or be perceived in a particular light matters most if a habit is to be truly embodied. Ms Chiu noted that a culture of dependence often prevails in the workplace since many individuals refuse to accept blame for mistakes because of the limitations placed upon them. An example being: "I didn't finish the report because the printer ran out of ink." Ms Chiu said that independence should be encouraged in the workplace and employees should take proactive steps to rectify problems. Once independence and accountability are established the culture of blame disappears and a situation of interdependence will ideally follow where work efficiency is maximised as nobody is pointing the finger.


Pro-activity (habit one) is always the number one priority, which is the mother (or activator) of all other habits. "It is based on the principle that I am free to choose and am responsible for my choices. It is better to seek alternatives and hidden resources rather than remain stationary at roadblocks," Ms Chiu noted. "Therefore, we can take the initiative, stick to the original plan or embrace change when facing choices. She advised also that instead of focusing on final results, people should focus on positively influencing the process of change. "The circle of influence can eclipse the circle of concern if we adopt a positive attitude," she said.

Many companies have discovered this and incorporate positive influencing techniques into employee training programmes. "It is a journey from the initial discovery of personal effectiveness to an increased level of overall greatness. In other words, find your voice, talent or ability, and help others discover theirs," Ms Chiu remarked.

Goal setting

Begin with the end in mind (habit two), to Ms Chiu, means simply buying a train ticket with a destination in mind. "It is of substantial relevance to project management when we adopt a see-do-get approach," she said. "We see things through different windows which form our mental maps or paradigm."

Everything is created twice, Ms Chiu quoted Dr Covey. "Our mental creations, dreams or visions, precede physical creations," she explained. "While setting goals, hold on to that original cerebral desire with singleness of purpose."

Ms Chiu elaborated that the root of a tree is a person's invisible core character while the trunk is visible and represents his or her external image. "Strong roots support a strong character which in turn helps an individual envisage concrete goals," she stressed.

Once aims are targeted, focus on positive action so a paradigm shift is possible to open new doors. "And develop success from failures," Ms Chiu added, noting that with human assets the process is often as important as the product. In other words, dream first but follow the dream with a realistic process.

Positive individuals make a strong team and a few strong teams make a great organisation. "It is all interwoven," Ms Chiu said, adding that success, after all, equals character plus competence.

First things first

In line with Dr Covey's third habit "first things first", action with purpose is all important according to Ms Chiu. "We must balance our key priorities," she noted. The difference between urgency and importance is detailed in the following table:

"Quadrant II is where we should always aim for. If we put aside an important but non-urgent task, we eventually become a kind of fire extinguisher at the last minute," she explained. "For example, ignoring the need for a budget plan until we have overspent."

On the other hand, Quadrant III serves as deception, for example meeting other peoples' unnecessary priorities, while Quadrant IV represents time wasted for example unnecessary hours spent surfing the Internet.

When faced with multiple tasks, always ask yourself:

  • Do I have to do it now?
  • Do I have to do it at all?
  • If I do it, would it contribute to my objective?
Dr Covey suggests using a weekly compass to help plan an effective schedule not only for work but also for family and friends. "Instead of scheduling quick, unnecessary appointments, we need to determine where we should block out large chunks of quality time in our schedule to achieve our overall goals," Ms Chiu said.

Create influences

Networking can be maximised by adopting a win-win (habit four) mindset. "This eventually fosters mutual respect and understanding, which in turn is particularly useful for resource allocation across departments, or mergers and acquisitions," Ms Chiu emphasised, stating also the importance of adopting an abundance mentality.

She noted, "Constant comparisons make us unhappy, so life should be viewed as a cornucopia where everything can be enjoyed by everyone, rather than adopting a scarcity mentality believing cut-throat competition prevails."

No assumptions

Dr Covey's habit five suggests people should seek first to understand, then to be understood. He warns that giving out advice before understanding a person and their situation may result in our advice being rejected.

Ms Chiu added, "We ought to manage by facts not assumptions if we are to communicate effectively and carry out certain employee surveys before action can be taken." This involves thoroughly listening to another's concerns instead of dealing out advice based on personal viewpoints and situations.

Synergising (habit six) is equally important in problem solving and understanding others. Diversity should be celebrated and collaborative decision making encouraged, while team work is all important. "One plus one is greater than two when we value differences," Ms Chiu remarked.

Work-life balance

One cannot live alone, therefore family and professional life needs to be balanced in the sense that neither of them can be neglected. "A CEO with serious family problems may not be a company's best asset," Ms Chiu stated.

Sharpening the saw (habit seven) according to Ms Chiu, occurs when individuals engage in continuous learning and seek ongoing personal improvement while embracing and leveraging innovation.

"It comes in spiritual, mental, emotional and physical terms," Ms Chiu explained. "Most importantly however, is to become either the candle which spreads the light, or the mirror that reflects it. The choice is always ours." To achieve unity with ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and our working associates is the ultimate goal which can result from adopting the seven habits, Ms Chiu said. Building a character of total integrity and living a fulfilling life is not effortless, but it is conceivable. She continued, "If we start with daily goals and work from the inside out, positive results are already on the way.

As Ms Chiu highlighted, Stephen Covey's theories behind the seven habits were an amalgamation of both eastern and western cultural beliefs. "The reasoning is not new but now it is well-structured and simple for everybody to embrace in a turbulent world. Adopting the habits will result in improved self-management, better leadership capabilities and improved effectiveness on a professional and personal level, achieving an altogether better work-life balance," she concluded.

Taken from Career Times 02 November 2007
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