What if the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Were Applied to Nations?

By Al Mytty

The bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey was released in 1989. In August 2011, Time magazine listed 7 Habits as one of “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books”.

When I first read the book in 1991, I was busy in my professional career trying to balance work, life, family, business relationships, community causes, and my spiritual life. Personal peace, relational peace, and world peace were not in my thoughts, values, and actions.

I watched the news on television and believed the U.S. Gulf War was a just war to defend the people of Kuwait and force Iraq to leave Kuwait. When the Soviet Union dissolved, I was glad. I thought democracy had prevailed. The U.S. had won the Cold War. Americans were the good guys, or so I naively thought.

I paid little attention to the Iran-Contra scandal when the U.S. illegally sold weapons to Iran and used the profits of those sales to support the Contras in Nicaragua. I knew little about the U.S. training of assassins, and the assassinations committed in Central America. 

The Balkan states were confusing to me. I ignored the expansion of NATO, the placement of weapons much closer to Russia, the U.S. military bases and installations scattered all over the world, and the threat the U.S. was to world stability.

Over the years, my attention to U.S. foreign policy increased. I have come to realize that U.S. policies focus first on military might and force, while we “defend our national interests.” Our addiction to war, militarism, military interventions, CIA plots, and coups, are the methods by which we claim to support freedom, democracy, and the rule of law around the world.

Now retired and devoting my time and energy as an activist for peace, I re-read 7 Habits. I wonder, “If those habits make for effective people, and effective corporations, can’t they also make for effective societies and even countries? Can these 7 Habits be part of a framework for a peaceful world?”

Fundamental to the 7 Habits is an abundance mentality, a way of thinking that there are enough resources for all humanity. In contrast, a scarcity mindset, zero-sum game thinking, is founded on the idea that if someone else wins, someone must lose.

Covey describes the habits people need to move from dependence to independence and progressing to interdependence. Similarly, societies and nations, can move from dependence to independence to interdependence. However, independence (my country first) without progress to interdependence…leads to adversarial relationships, competition, and war.

We can accept and embrace our interdependence and adopt an abundance mentality, believing there is enough food, water, space, air, renewable energy, healthcare, security, and other resources for all. Then all of humanity can thrive not just survive. 

The global pandemic has been an opportunity to reveal our interdependence. Mitigating global climate change is another. Human trafficking. Drug trade. Refugee crises. Human rights abuses. Nuclear weapons. Demilitarizing space. The list goes on. Sadly, we squander opportunities to be effective and embrace interdependence, and the world sinks into violent conflict and war. 

Let us see how using Covey’s 7 Habits at the tribal, societal, and national levels might work with an abundance mentality instead of zero-sum game thinking.

Habit 1: Be Proactive. Proactivity is taking responsibility for one’s reaction to events and taking the initiative to respond positively. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We have the responsibility to make things happen. Look at the word responsibility—”response-ability“—the ability to choose your response. Proactive people recognize that responsibility.

At the societal and national level, nations can decide how to respond to events in the world. They can look to new treaties, mediation, unarmed civilian protection, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, a reformed UN General Assembly all as ways to proactively seek solutions to conflicts.

Habit 2: “Begin with the end in mind”. What is the individual, societal, national vision for the future—the mission statement? 

For the U.S., the mission statement is the Preamble to the Constitution: WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” 

For the UN, the mission statement is the Preamble to the Charter: “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

So, is the U.S. fulfilling its mission statement? How about the United Nations and its member nations? We have a long way to go if we want an “effective” world.

Habit 3: “Put first things first”. Covey talks about what is important versus what is urgent

The priority should be the following order: 

  • Quadrant I. Urgent and important (Do)
  • Quadrant II. Not urgent but important (Plan)
  • Quadrant III. Urgent but not important (Delegate)
  • Quadrant IV. Not urgent and not important (Eliminate)

The order is important. What are the urgent and important issues facing the world? Global climate change? The refugee and migration challenges? Starvation? Nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction? Global pandemics? Sanctions imposed by the powerful upon others? Exorbitant amounts spent on militarism and preparation for war? Extremists?

How would the peoples of the world decide? How about the UN General Assembly, without the threat of veto from the Security Council?

Interdependence. The next three habits address interdependence–working with others. Imagine a world where all people recognize their interdependence. How would we manage pandemics, global climate change, famine, natural disasters, hostilities, and violence? Think with an “abundance mentality.”  Can we work together so that humanity can survive?

Habit 4: “Think win–win”. Seek mutually beneficial, win–win solutions or agreements.  Valuing and respecting others by seeking a “win” for all is better than if one wins and the other loses. 

Think about our world today. Do we seek win-win, or do we think we must win at any cost? Is there a way for both sides to win?

Habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”,  Use empathetic listening to genuinely understand the other position.  That empathetic listening applies to all sides. All peoples and nations should seek to understand what their adversaries want. Imagine if seeking first to understand could become a habit. Understanding does not mean agreement. 

Disagreements and conflicts will always occur. However, war and mass slaughter will be less likely when people genuinely understand one other.

Habit 6: “Synergize”. Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Imagine what societies and nations could accomplish when they seek win-win relationships, seek to understand each other, and work together for goals that they cannot do alone!

Habit 7: “Sharpen the saw”. Just like individuals need to take care of their tools, so nations need to evaluate and hone the skills and tools needed to be effective. The tools of war and violence have not brought peace. Other tools are available and ready for us to use.

“World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus, we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When will we adopt a new way of thinking? We need to replace our habits of environmental destruction, war, militarism, and violence with new habits. Dr. King also told us that humankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to humankind.


Al Mytty is the Coordinator of the Central Florida Chapter of World BEYOND War, and Founder and Co-Chair of the Florida Peace & Justice Alliance.  He has been active with Veterans For Peace, Pax Christi, Just Faith, and for decades, has worked on a variety of social justice and peace causes. Professionally, Al was the CEO of several local health plans and devoted his career to expanding healthcare coverage and making healthcare more just.  Educationally, he has a Master of Social Work, and attended the United States Air Force Academy, voluntarily resigning because of his growing distaste for war and militarism.