The seven habits of highly ineffective people

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FT dynamoThis article is submitted by FTdynamo.com, a management information resource recently launched to bring together articles and features on management thinking.

The UK’s Channel Four recently aired a programme, “Living by the book”, which featured two families attempting to live their lives according to the dictates of the management guru Stephen Covey. While the guru sat amid splendor, the families battled against the ravages of reality and the surliness of adolescents.

Covey’s books have sold over 10 million copies and he has created a corporate empire. But, as the TV programme suggested, Covey’s habits do not necessarily convert easily to business reality. Plain, unabashed inefficiency stalks the corridors of power. Of course, people are not quite as keen to buy books about bad habits as they are to buy books which promise success on a plate.

This is a pity because identifying the seven habits of highly ineffective people is potentially more useful. Eliminate your bad habits and you are automatically better. Trying to meet Covey’s exalted standards on the other hand is always liable to end in disappointment and disillusion.

The first habit of ineffective people is that they are reactive rather than proactive. You walk through the office door every morning and your in-tray is filled with things that need sorting out today. You receive 25 e-mails demanding an explanation as to why you didn’t finish what you were sorting out yesterday. Ineffective people are firefighters.

This habit can be easily cured. Simply, put your feet up and gaze out of the window. When you are asked why you’re not putting the fire out on the fifth floor, explain that you are taking a more strategic view. Becoming a Strategic Firefighter is a new job title and a beginning. Start by imagining where the fires are going to break out tomorrow. Soon, you will be able to completely ignore the immediate demands on your time. This is because in all likelihood you will be unemployed.

Being reactive leads naturally to the second habit of ineffective people: they begin with the beginning in mind. If goldfish could hold senior executive positions this is how they would behave. Forget the past (too awful); do not contemplate the future (potentially worse). If you get through the next day or two everything will be all right.

Ineffective people do not respond to long-term objectives, mission statements or visions. Words of carefully honed wisdom on specially laminated cards mean nothing to them. This means that ineffective people are cheaper and easier to manage.

Then there is the flip side.

Ineffective habit number three is to start at the end and forget about the beginning. Management fads and fashions usually bring out this ineffective habit most successfully. The chief executive reads a business book. The chief executive likes the book and buys the top management team copies. The chief executive is then interviewed by a journalist. Stuck for something to say, and anxious to give the impression that the recent disastrous downturn is a momentary blip, the chief executive blurts out that the company is now re-engineering itself; instigating leading-edge interpretations of intellectual capital; or some such phrase culled from the book. As a result, the company is successfully repositioned as thoughtful and fashionable.

Of course, in an efficient and orderly world, the chief executive would then have to tackle the thorny problem of making this happen. In inefficient reality, the chief executive has no such concerns. A few months later, the bright theory will be categorized as unworkable nonsense. The end is forgotten before how to begin to get there is even considered.

Ineffective habit number four is to make sure that you win, no matter what. Forget everyone else. Forget win-win. Teamwork is for wimps. Think of doing things that make you look good. You must invest all your time and energy in taking credit for the achievements of others; ensuring that colleagues look bad; and massaging the system to your own benefit. Total inefficiency should soon result.

The surly and unpleasant stepchild of habit number four is habit number five:

Do not acknowledge anyone else in the organization. There is a great deal of talk about synergy, about sharing knowledge and information. Don’t believe any of it. The joy of sharing is easily outweighed by the joy of possession. If another unit is performing woefully it is not a cause for concern but for celebration: the worse it does, the better your performance appears.

All this keeps the ineffective manager very busy indeed which leads to:

Ineffective habit number six: an addiction to action. The truly ineffective manager is addicted to action. Give them a problem and they will immediately leap up from their desk and run around making things happen. Managers afflicted with this ineffective habit, fire and then, eventually, aim.

The final habit of ineffective people is to call a meeting. Managers who spend their lives in meeting rooms wear dark glasses and mutter Sasco Year Planner like a mantra when they venture outside. Meetings are the melting pot of inefficiency. Ideally, you can fill your entire day with meetings. No need to do anything. No need to decide anything. Just indulgent inefficiency. Stephen Covey is probably in a meeting right now.

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