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The 7 habits of highly effective people: begin with the end in mind

Welcome to the second installment in our new series about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

If you missed the first installment, you can read it here. In it, we discuss the first habit in Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, and that is the habit of being proactive. This is all about your response to life’s challenges.

Are you passive when trials surface, letting things happen to you and believing there’s nothing you can do to change your situation? Or are you a self-starter, taking the initiative because you understand that there’s plenty you can control and influence, and so you create new opportunities for yourself? If you’re not certain, be sure to read part one of the series at the link above. It’ll result in a powerful paradigm shift that may very well change the way you do things heretofore.

Today, we’re moving on to discuss the second habit of highly effective people: beginning with the end in mind.

To be clear, Covey points out in his book that while this is common advice that’s regularly peddled across all kinds of circles, when he says ‘the end’, he truly means the end! As in the end of your life.

In fact, this particular chapter kicks off with a unique exercise, and that’s to imagine you’re at your own funeral just three years from now, listening to the speeches given by your family, friends, colleagues, and church/community organisation members.

From the book: “Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate? What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?”

It’s an incredibly powerful exercise, and it accomplishes a very important purpose: to help you gain clarity on what your fundamental values and principles are.

“The most fundamental application of ‘begin with the end in mind’,” writes Covey, “is to begin today with the image, picture, or paradigm of the end of your life as your frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else is examined. By keeping that end clearly in mind, you can make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole.”

Many of us might come to realize that the things we spend the most time on every day have absolutely nothing to do with the values that our most dear to us, the principles we would hope to be known for when the time comes for us to leave this world. But Covey presents a solution to this and it takes the form of a mission statement.

Author Siim Land says this: “Once you have a greater mission to pursue, you become the essence of your own proactivity. Your values have already determined the direction you’re heading towards. Both your short-term and long-term goals are also set – it’s a system-based approach that’s founded upon who you are as a person (or as an organization).”

Why this should matter to leaders? Often within organisations, you may discover that while there’s a lot getting done, you’re no closer to your goal than you were a month ago. This can often be due to a lack of direction and purpose. What are your company’s values? What are its basic principles? What are you striving toward? Where do you hope to see the company a year from now, five years from now, and beyond?

In the absence of these answers, an organisation becomes less effective. It’s why mission statements are so vital to the success of companies. So while you should certainly develop a personal mission statement for yourself, don’t neglect developing one for your team as well (ideally with the involvement of everyone who that mission statement will affect). When you do this, you’ll be better able to begin with the end in mind, which will allow you to truly accomplish your goals with more effectiveness and satisfaction.

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