The biggest selling self-help book

On NPR, yesterday, the son of Stephen Covey (who has passed away) was being interviewed for Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This self-help book made it to number 1 on the non-fiction best sellers’ list in 1989 and stayed there for a long while, selling over 25 million copies. It was also the first audio book to hit 1 million in sales.

So, what is all the fuss about? Covey sought to help us find our “true north” principles. He defined “effectiveness as the balance of obtaining desirable results with caring for that which produces those results.”

His seven habits are grouped under three headings – Independence, Interdependence and Continual Improvement.


1. Be proactive – take responsibility for your actions.
2. Begin with the end in mind – envision what you want and plan.
3. First things first – here he uses a two dimension matrix organized in four quadrants along level of urgency and importance (do the urgent/ important, plan the important but less urgent, delegate the urgent/ unimportant and eliminate the non-urgent/ unimportant).


4. Think win/ win – look for mutually beneficial solutions; Nobel Laureate economist John Nash said we make more money if we look to collectively win.
5. Seek to understand/ then to be understood – use empathetic listening; this jives with a favorite saying – you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.
6. Synergize with others as a team – there is a great book called “Play to your strengths,” which will help people work with others using their strengths to balance yours for a better outcome.

Continual Improvement

7. Sharpen the sword – seek to improve and grow.

The attached link will give a nice synopsis of each of the above as well as offer better context.

I was struck by the interview with Covey’s son. He used a couple of examples his father used. When the son did not get into a college class he needed, he told his father. His father asked what do you plan to do about it? When he asked for help, the father said contact the professor. He found out there was a waiting list. His father then suggested to go see the professor. The son did and got into the class. He took responsibility and was proactive.

The second example is his father was very much about owning up to mistakes. The son said the father would apologize often. Think about that. He used an example of a family trip when everyone was late and the father lost his temper. The son remembers the father apologizing for losing his cool, when he had every right to be irritated.

If you have not read the book, it is worth the read. If you want a brief glimpse, click on the link below.

26 thoughts on “The biggest selling self-help book

  1. Had to read this in a college class. I was surprise recently to notice the book is still getting high praise. Covey was really onto something(s). I’m afraid sending the book to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would do no good. They are not readers. Nor thinkers. Merely self-serving grifters.

  2. Note to Readers: The similarity in these habits to those found in other books is reinforcing. I mention a few connections above. A key tenet in the book “Built to Last,” about successful companies is “good enough never is” meaning focus on continual improvement.

    Covey”s son also spoke of a relationship bank. He said he is father spoke of doing small things in relationships to build a bank of trust. I like this.

  3. Being a very grumpy old man throughout my life (my wife reckons I was born thus) there is within me an innate suspicion of all books which tell/advise me how to do…..anything….. (go figure 🤷‍♂️.)
    However it has to be said (albeit grudgingly….Jill is used to this approach by the way) you make a very good case for this particular work Keith.

  4. Note to Readers II: Before I retired, our company worked through teams to help clients and perform projects. Everyone brought varying degree of skills to the table. One senior consultant was very innovative, but project management was not a strength. So, he had to be paired with some who was a very good project manager. Another senior consultant executed very well, but was slightly less innovative. Another talented thinker did everything last minute which was very frustrating to colleagues and staff. So, we must make everyone a little better encouraging improvement, but play to our strengths. If we did not, we would have failed to deliver

    • Janis, I agree with you on all counts. I am not one to read them either, but found the lessons pragmatic. Some self-help books are all about hooking the reader and less about actually help. Keith

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