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The 8th Habit

By Stephen R. Covey

Free Press, 409 pages, $37.50

In 1989, Stephen Covey published The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. With its call for principle-centred leadership and the habits it recommended -- such as, be proactive, begin with the end in mind, think win-win, and seek first to understand and then be understood -- it went on to become one of the most highly regarded business books of all time.

Now Mr. Covey is back with an "8th Habit." And it is: "Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs."

That sounds simple enough. But the sprawling book with accompanying DVD of inspiring film clips lacks the sharpness of the seven habits that preceded it. Indeed, succinct as the new habit is, without looking it up after reading the book, I couldn't even remember it, and certainly not the road map to make it come alive, despite repeated charts outlining it in the book.

Nevertheless, it's still an occasionally fascinating and instructive read; while the habit and road map are foggy, the overall subject is vital, and some of the techniques Mr. Covey outlines as he meanders through his road map are highly appealing.

The newest habit is intended for managing knowledge workers. It involves breaking away from the traditional Industrial Age approach of organizations to control people. He insists that we are managing people like we manage things, alienating them rather than tapping into their highest motivations and talents. "Voice is essentially irrelevant," he says.

Instead, we have to adopt a whole-person approach, based on four aspects of human beings:

Mind: People want to grow and develop -- to learn. They want to be used creatively.

Heart: People are concerned with relationships and want to love. They want to be treated kindly.

Body: People have a survival need. They expect to be paid fairly.

Spirit: People want to leave a legacy -- they seek meaning and want to make a contribution. They expect to serve human needs in a principled way.

"If you neglect any one of those four parts of human nature, you turn a person into a thing, and what do you do with things? You have to control, manage and carrot-and-stick them in order to motivate them," he says.

The 8th Habit requires you to discover your own true nature and voice. That requires figuring out how to enlarge your own freedom to act in the organization, keeping yourself constantly growing, learning and contributing. Your voice lies at the nexus of your natural gifts and strengths, passion, what the world needs from you, and your conscience about what is right.

By building trust with others, and giving them freedom to act within organizational goals, you can help them to express their voice. "Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves," he writes.

There are four steps in the 8th Habit. The first is modelling: By exemplifying character and competence, you create trust in your organization. Ninety per cent of all leadership failures are character failures, Mr. Covey cautions.

Next you must "pathfind" -- create shared vision, values and strategy. Then comes aligning goals and systems for results. And finally comes empowerment -- unleashing human potential without external motivation.

Little of that structure is new. And picking your way through it is dizzying. Mr. Covey cautions readers to spend a year on his book, a chapter a month, applying the ideas in a steady fashion. It was a deliberate pace I didn't heed.

The best part is not in his road maps and paradigms, but in some of the inventive ideas and techniques he has, such as his "third alternative," in which people needing to work together meet. They are asked: "Would you be willing to search for a solution that is better than what either one of us have proposed; and would you agree to a simple ground rule -- no one can make his or her point until they have restated the other person's point to his or her satisfaction."

By creating understanding through this technique, Mr. Covey has had remarkable results, and that's what I will remember from the book, not the 8th Habit, worthy as it is.

In Addition: When William Clay Ford Jr. announced, despite being an untested senior executive, that he would replace supermanager Jacques Nasser as chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., employees erupted in a standing ovation.

To some extent, that reflected their anger at how "Jac the Knife" had been trying to remake the company that Mr. Ford's great-grandfather built, even taking down the legendary Ford oval sign from company headquarters to indicate that Ford was evolving into a broader consumer company.

But it was also probably an indication that they sensed Mr. Ford was a leader with attractive qualities: humble and considerate, but willful and focused. In Ford Tough (John Wiley, 256 pages, $39.99), David Magee chronicles how Mr. Ford has been battling to rebuild the company. It's an interesting, inside look at the leader and the industry, although a bit too cheerleaderish at the end.

Just In: The Handbook of Work Stress (Sage, 710 pages, cct$224.90), edited by Julian Barling of Queen's University, E. Kevin Kelloway of St. Mary's University and Michael Frone of the State University of New York, covers 27 major topics in academic detail, from organizational justice and poor leadership to terrorism and gender issues.

Perfect Phrases for Customer Service (McGraw-Hill, 222 pages, $14.95) by Robert Bacal and Perfect Solutions for Difficult Employee Situations (McGraw-Hill, 236 pages, $21.95) by Sid Kemp both offer advice on how to approach tricky situations.

Marianne Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis of the technology-consulting firm Gartner Inc. show information technology managers how to deliver results in The New CIO Leader (Harvard Business School Press, 340 pages, $44.95)

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