Why Covey’s fifth habit doesn’t work for everyone (Dec. 3, 2019 issue)

Hi friends,

Starting today, you can find my newsletters archived here on my web site. This is based on requests from folks who prefer sharing links over forwarding emails. More proof of a key message of this newsletter: different folks need different strokes in leadership…and the rest of life.

Grand Theft Leadership Training

Master difficult conversations

Learn my best tips for staying cool under pressure and elevating your leadership in complex times.


“I woke up this morning and someone had stolen everything from my apartment and replaced it with an exact replica.”—Steven Wright

This sounds like most leadership development programs. They leave you no different than when you started. You pick up a new concept (“aha!”) and perhaps connect with the person in the seat next to you. All good, but at the end of the day, not much is different. You have the same conversations with the same people.

At some point, you realize that your time and your organization’s budget have been stolen.

What you’ve experienced is Grand Theft Leadership Training.

We can do better than this.

The key is deliberate practice. Repeated skill drills aimed at building muscle memory coupled with reflection on the experience. All aimed at rewiring neural pathways in your brain.

I don’t think this is a lot to ask. Why should we hold lower standards for a $5,000 professional development experience than we do for a $15 tennis lesson?

We have to do better than this.

Practical tip: ask yourself these two questions when thinking of registering for a leadership program:

1. Will it help me translate new insights into conversation skills?

2. How much of the time will be devoted to deliberate practice?


Reader Q&A

Q: “I am curious if you were serious about deep work being contraindicated for [Enneagram] Fives. Two I know well do this a lot.”—Deborah

A: I said it was contraindicated for some Fives. Still, your question raises a big point about that piece. In service of brevity, I left out nuance. Many Fives get great value from Deep Work. Consider a Five senior executive I once coached. His job required individual thinking time, but he rarely got it. The reason? He literally couldn’t close the door to his office—that’s how much he diminished his own needs. I helped him create time and space for deep work. It made a positive difference.

That was him. Many other Fives have no qualms closing the door. Their challenge is opening it and stepping out. My caution to them—and why I call this a contraindiction—is to avoid using the Deep Work practice as a rationale for avoiding contact with others.


Sleepy makes grumpy

Damn it if I didn’t just learn the same lesson all over again.

For much of November, I was grumpy more than average. Less patient, more anxious, way more likely to be snippy.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew sleep was involved. Our younger son was waking up multiple times a night and mistaking me for a father with a big heart. The two were clearly connected.

However, that’s not the explanation my mind used during the moments I was peeved. It blamed everything else: cloudy weather, not enough meditation, too few close friends, wrong profession, impeachment hearings, climate change, even a heating pad (long story!).

Then we moved our son to a new temporary bedroom. The first night, he slept well, as did I. The next four nights, things went even better.

Suddenly, Grumpy Gary had become Happy Harry—or, to be precise, Amiable Amiel. I was more patient and relaxed, less likely to complain, more inclined to smile and laugh. All without any substantive changes in the weather, my meditation, my friendships, etc.

It’s the sleep, stupid!


Works for some—Covey’s fifth habit

Different folks need different strokes…of advice. This week’s focus: Stephen Covey’s fifth habit: seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Covey gave us this principle in 1989 when Seven Habits was published. You’ve used it to enter new situations, sustain relationships, and talk with people who seem crazy. I find it handy 10-15 times a day. Literally. And ignoring it? Half of my top ten blunders in life stemmed from this.

Yet, like all good advice, it’s not for everyone, has side effects, and occasionally needs supplements. Let’s break this down:

  • Works for: managers with disgruntled direct reports or peers, parents with teenagers, dealing with families of origin, and anyone without wiring for inquiring
  • Contraindications (doesn’t work for): people wired to focus on others’ needs and ignore their own, like many Enneagram Two Helpers. People wired to merge with others’ agendas, like some Enneagram Nine Peacemakers. Severe verbal bullying. Threats of immediate bodily harm. Dealing with toxic people on social media.
  • Side effects: confusion if the other person rattles on forever. Frustration when they won’t reveal anything. Losing your place at the table if all you do is seek to understand.
  • Supplement with: using your mind to assess what you’ve heard and your body to sense how it lands for you. Getting clear on what matters to you and sharing it.

Cheerfully real,
Amiel Handelsman

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