Stephen Covey's popular 7-Habits of Highly Effective People is a book I re-read several times a year. The purpose for this repeat read is to remind myself of priorities and goals in my life. Also, this is one of those books that has different meaning in your life based on the time in which you read it. Different circumstances require you to reflect differently on the messages Covey conveys. For a long time, I merely thought that what I was seeing out in the industry -and the world for that matter, what simply a result of lack of accessibility to the material. As I grew in my career I embraced these habits not only in my own life, but sought to encourage those I led to follow a similar path.
In recent years my professional career has demanded that I function in a greater leadership capacity and less of a management capacity. I have personally found this transition to be both welcomed and challenging. I knew based on previous experience building teams, that success would be built on inspiring and energizing members of the team and less on managing their day-to-day responsibilities. I have found that my daily responsibilities have increasingly involved much more of the latter than the former. In Covey's terminology, too much habit 3, not enough habit 2.
I am an enthusiastic consumer of what could be classified as "self-help" books and leadership development materials. The more and more I read and the more often I spend in the field, the greater the divide seems to become between contextual industry materials and actual operational execution. It was time to get back to basics, and re-read the first and most often revisited book, The 7-Habits.
Covey classifies his system by indicating that this is not a quick fix program but rather function of our development of individualized character. Embracing these habits is a realization that we will not allow ourselves to be a victim of circumstances; we are in control. Internalizing these principles is a road map of enablement, allowing us the ability to gain that control. Moreover, this will significantly improve the quality of our interpersonal relationships whether they be social, family or professional. Our capacity to influence others will be enhanced through motivation and encouragement. This fosters an increase the spirit of growth and learning by innovating every day experiences. At this point, I pause to ask myself, is our ability to recognize this opportunity unique to our individual character, or something we can actively pursue?
Taking a bigger picture approach, if we zoom out from the individual and look at group behavior, what impact do these character habits have on larger groups? Call the group families. Call the group business. Call the group organizations. These internalized principles will have a dramatic effect on all groups. The higher the adoption rate, the more positive the influence. The lower the adoption, the bigger negative progress we see. Therefore my struggle with our failure of wide-spread adoption of these habits is baffling from a personal improvement perspective but more so a lack of personal responsibly in the groups we participate.
If you want to significantly change people's behavior, you must change their perception of their role. Covey, ultimately speaks to the term paradigm -or the way you see your role in perceived reality. It's the way YOU see the world. Understanding the concept of paradigm allows us the opportunity to both examine our our placement in society, or in a group. More importantly, it allows us the opportunity for empathy in understanding those around us. Life is rarely about what actually is, and more often about what it is perceived to be.
Managing others isn't always about getting the job done. Certainly that's the tangible result, but I would argue that getting the job done is only part of the challenge of leadership. The more difficult and less commonly achieved outcome is getting the job done with a team that passionately wants to do it. There is no secret that of the three forms of resources, financial, physical and human -it's the human resources that are the most difficult to manage.
Therein lies the challenge: How do you create a culture that has both the ability to achieve a desired result and achieve that through the enthusiastic willingness of the participants? The dynamic outlined here is what Covey calls the maturity continuum. On the low-end of the scale is dependency and on the high end, interdependence.
The dependency attitude is one of "YOU." YOU take care of me. YOU decide for me. YOU provide for me. YOU tell me what to do. The attitude of independence is "I." I will do. I have the ability. I will take responsibility. Interdependency is centered around "WE." We will do. WE can accomplish it together.
I have always used a very subtle interview technique to help me understand Chefs and what environment they are truly accustomed to working within. Next time you watch a cooking program on Food Network or some other television programming listen to the language used by the Chef as they present a dish. I created vs. WE created tells this story.
It doesn't take much to understand what the mature thought pattern is around interdependence. It also doesn't take a lot of thought to understand:
In order to be effectively interdependent, we must first be responsibly independent.
Covey's habits 1-3 are habits that allow us as individuals to transition from a state of dependency to one of interdependence.
Habit #1: Be Proactive. Take responsibility for yourself. An individual's behavior is a product of their own decisions based on their experience. It didn't take me long to understand if I did not mise en place my station properly, during the rush I would drown. The opposite of proactive people are reactive people. Any service I have ever worked, I needed to make that very conscious decision: (1) I could hustle at the beginning of my shift and be well prepared for a busy night or (2) I could slack off and live a nightmare in the weeds when my mise ran out.
The reactive person is constantly in a state of being the victim. The reason we're in the weeds is because the restaurant was flat-seated. The front of the house server was sandbagging orders. We left the hostess up to determining the flow of customers. Never will they blame themselves for having been ill-prepared. In reality, the line cook has the ability to choose their response. If they are proactive and always prepared for a busy night, it doesn't matter which circumstances happen, they will be prepared.
Habit #2: Begin with the end in mind. Have a blueprint and follow it. This is the habit of planning. In my mind this incorporates quite a few aspects of the culinary world. If you do not plan correctly you do not have the right amount of food in house. If you do not schedule a dishwasher you will have a mess on your hands. If you do not adequately train your staff by showing the proper plating of the special, you will have to continually be adjusting that throughout service. Decide your own philosophy -your own mission statement. I will not serve a dish that does not meet my standards. What is your standard? This can be as simple as hot food hot cold food cold or a could be his complex as serving a dish consistent with the identity of your restaurant.
Habit two is the leadership habit and has to do with direction
Habit #3, Put first things first. While habit 2 is the habit of leadership, or direction, habit 3 is the habit of management. It's taking all of the priorities and vision established in habit two and making it a reality. In the culinary world it is managing the service. Putting first things first is literally about understanding that one table comes before another or one dish that takes longer to cook must be started before the reheating of a garnish or sauce.
If you are the Chef for your operation and you find yourself to be deeply involved with management and not leadership then you are focused in the wrong area. Management is a function of your sous chefs and production team to execute the culinary vision of leadership that you provide.
With all that said, and reviewed, I guess I always walk away from that material thinking, DUH, everyone WANTS this, right? I had always assumed that this was a common goal that everyone was striving to reach. If you can control life around you, why in the world would you allow yourself to be victim of the circumstances around you? Conceptually it's very easy to explain. I have found myself saying more and more frequently:
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
I've always perhaps assumed that the pursuit of these goals was naturally in everyone's best interest and a common goal. If only everyone had access to this information, this knowledge. I am beginning now to understand that the character qualities pursued here is not necessarily inherent in all people. The choice must actively be made and habits adopted. The sad, unfortunately truth seems to be that many choose NOT to adopt these habits.
In the culinary world I've always questioned whether or not we we want to have the ability to choose control or reaction. I've seen countless line cooks choose to squeak by doing the bare minimum. Sometimes they got lucky, but mostly it came back to bite them later on. This is not isolated to the kitchen. This behavior seems to permeate our culture. I frequently see people choose to allow outside circumstances to dramatically influence their lives, rather than proactively controlling factors to allow them to maximize the positive influence of life.
It's simply not enough to consume this material and understand it but what's most important is that we internalize these processes and live it on a daily basis. We must be, the quintessential embodiment of these habits or principles. I am extremely enthusiastic about building teams and highly functional groups. The reality is that groups cannot be built until trust is earned. The trust that a group's members are first responsibly independent before the pursuit of a mutual sense of interdependence. This is the true embodiment of the cliche term -a team is only as strong as its weakest link.
At the beginning of this post I indicated that I frequently revisit this material. Understanding your placement in the team or the degree of independence you exhibit in your interpersonal relationships needs to be examined on a regular basis. The paradigm discussed earlier changes frequently and we should embrace the regular opportunity to self-examine our degree of success at being responsibly independent. Integrity is the value we place upon ourselves to be truthful and self-disciplined to bring value to our relationships. Once again, I find myself asking: am I responsibly independent?