In case you hadn’t heard, author and leadership guru Stephen Covey passed away last summer at age 79 from injuries suffered in a bicycling accident. Covey is perhaps best known for his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. It’s the second-best book on leadership I’ve ever read (neck and neck with Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People).
There isn’t room to adequately capture Covey’s contributions in a single post, so I’d like to briefly share a bit from Covey’s first habit: Be Proactive. This is where effectiveness begins.
Heavily influenced by the writings of Viktor Frankl, Covey built his first habit on the fundamental principle of human nature that “between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.” In layman’s terms, this simply means there’s always something you can do about you. The determining factor in your effectiveness isn’t what happens to “out there.” It’s what happens on the inside, where we choose how we will respond to what happens to us.
I can’t think of a more poignant time for this habit than in today’s age. People increasingly assume their success is dependent on outside forces: the government, education opportunities, job opportunities, family background, faith background, etc. These can all play an enormous role to be sure, but they are never the ultimate determinants of success and effectiveness.
The opposite of being proactive is being reactive. Reactive people assume there is nothing or very little they can do about their circumstances or concerns. Proactive folks realize that even if they can’t change some circumstances, they still have the ability to influence many outcomes – and here is the key – they are committed to changing what they can change. As a result, their circle of influence is always growing and their circle of concern naturally decreases the more proactive they become.
This is the reason I get so tickled when someone asks me if they can, in fact, be a leader. Leadership never begins with a followership (i.e. on the outside), it begins with being proactive (i.e. on the inside). When you come to the point where you realize that in every circumstance you have the ability to choose your response – to influence your own attitude, your own life, then the lives of those around you, and the environment you find yourself in for the better – you are already headed down the path of effectiveness.
What is one circumstance that required you to take a proactive approach and exercise your freedom to choose a positive response?
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.