7 Habits, Leadership, Learning Lessons, Self-Awareness

A Proactive Challenge

This post is stemming from an email I sent to a mentor of mine. Coincidentally, he is also reading the book at the same time (this was not planned).

Email to my mentor:

I am reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Have you read this or heard of it? So far, I really like it, but at the end of each habit, there are a few tips to applying what you learned.

The first habit focuses on a being “proactive.” The premise is you control your response to various stimulus, and rather than blaming others or giving excuses (ie being “reactive”) you can choose to respond with a more “proactive” approach. The book defines proactive “…as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.”

The first chapter really dives into this definition and premise of choosing our responses. The book suggests becoming more self-aware of how “reactive” you and others around you are, so you can begin building a “proactive” habit. The author suggests doing a day long challenge, which I plan to do tomorrow (I actually did this on  3/15):

Full day challenge

Listen to your language and listen to the language of others around you. How often do you use or hear “reactive” phrases?

  • “If only…”
  • “I can’t…”
  • “I have to…”
  • “There’s nothing I can do…”
  • “That’s just the way I am…”
  • “He, she, it, they make me so mad…”
  • “They won’t allow that…”
  • “I must…”

My findings

The single biggest thing I noticed was how often my team members and I said, ‘I have to go to this meeting.’ I tried to move toward a more “proactive” response, especially during my team’s stand ups, to say ‘I am choosing to go to these meetings.’

It felt very uncomfortable to say I am choosing to go to 1 on 1s with my team members or choosing to go to a Scrum Ceremony because there may be consequence to not going to these meetings. (For context: The Family of Companies promotes Servant Leadership and Title Source Technology adopted Agile principles to our software development life cycle.)

Choosing to go to another meeting instead of attending a 1 on 1 may impact the relationship between me and my team member. Similarly, by missing a Scrum ceremony, I may lead my team to think ceremonies are less important than my other appointments. There are times where both of my teams’ ceremonies are at the same time. If this is the case, I try to balance my time or prioritize the importance of each ceremony to determine the one I should attend.

A few other observations

The most used phrase by far (I didn’t count the exact usage) was “I have.” The FOC culture does a really great job of pushing team members to be as “proactive” as possible by figuring out solutions when most would say “I can’t” or “there is nothing I can do.” This doesn’t mean I haven’t said these words or I haven’t heard team members say these things, but I definitely don’t hear it that often. Furthermore, I never noticed anyone say “That’s just the way I am…” or “He, she, it, they make me so mad…”

I believe two things played into this. First, I think the FOC promotes a very proactive culture. Second, the day I picked to be uber self-aware, I just didn’t catch myself or others saying these “reactive” phrases.

Moving forward and next steps

Try this challenge yourself and see what you find out! Once you identify reactive phrases, try turning them into more proactive attitude and behavior.

Reactive Proactive
“If only…” “I will…”
“I can’t…” “I choose…”
“I have to…” “I’ll choose…”
“There’s nothing I can do…” “Let’s look for alternatives…”
“That’s just the way I am…” “I can try…”
 “He, she, it, they make me so mad…” “I can control my feelings…”
“They won’t allow that…” “I can create a plan to change their mind…”
“I must… “I prefer…”

I will continue working hard at being more self-aware of my “reactive” and “proactive” behavior and attitudes. The critical thing I’ve realized is every meeting you choose to attend, action you choose to take or words you choose to use, matter. The critical component of being self-aware is learning when and how to control your response to these stimulus (meetings, actions, words etc.) and strive to choose your response (attitude and behavior) based on all the information you have. Sometimes you will choose to attend a meeting over a 1 on 1 or choose take an action in one direction rather than the other way. Again, these are your choices. You control your choices by your “proactive” response, rather than letting the conditions around you control you to trigger a “reactive” response.

If you take on this day challenge, feel free to share your findings here or directly reach out to me and let me know how it goes! #challengeaccepted

(Featured Image Citation: http://www.endare.com/blog/endare-challenges/)

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7 Habits, Leadership, Self-Awareness

Are you working on the most valuable story?

“Suppose you wanted to arrive at a specific location in central Chicago. A street map of the city would be a great help to you in reaching your destination. But suppose you were given the wrong map. Through a printing error, the map labeled “Chicago” was actually a map of Detroit. Can you imagine the frustration, the ineffectiveness of trying to reach your destination?

 You might work on your behavior—you could try harder, be more diligent, double your speed. But your efforts would only succeed in getting you to the wrong place faster.

 You might work on your attitude—you could think more positively. You still wouldn’t get to the right place, but perhaps you wouldn’t care. Your attitude would be so positive, you’d be happy wherever you were.

The point is, you’d still be lost. The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behavior or your attitude. It has everything to do with having a wrong map.

If you have the right map of Chicago, then diligence becomes important, and when you encounter frustrating obstacles along the way, then attitude can make a real difference. But the first and most important requirement is the accuracy of the map. 

Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities, and maps of the way things should be, or values.” [Quoted from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; emphasis mine]


Recently, I started reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey. The book starts out describing two social paradigms:

  1. Character Ethic (aka your map) – the primary principles of effective living and the only way people can truly find success and happiness

  2. Personality ethic (aka your attitudes and behaviors) – secondary techniques used to bolster the character ethic, but only effective if you truly understand what character ethic principles you need to change.

When we talk about working on valuable or impactful work, have you thought that maybe YOU are the most valuable work? Going a step further, how do you know if you are working on the right parts of yourself? If you are able to raise your level of awareness, like the book discusses, you will understand that focusing on your map (the character ethic) will provide you with a foundation for change and success.

If you want to change your current situation, first look at yourself and think about what you need to change about yourself to change the situation for the better.

My challenge for you: for one day this week, take the time to think about your actions and make sure you’re working on yourself as the most valuable starting point.