SHARPENING THE SAW
As most readers know, we are living practioners of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as codified by Stephen R. Covey in 1989 when he was 57 years old. We lost Stephen to a bicycling accident in 2012 but the principals he wrote in the “7 Habits” have been and continue to be life-changing for those who subscribe to a ethics-based life in both personal and business matters.
We believe so firmly in the principals of the 7 Habits that we re-read them and act upon them regularly. We recommend that you pull it down from your shelves (at 25 Million sold, I know that most of us have at least one copy somewhere) and re-read it yourself. If you can’t find your copy invest in a new one. The message never gets old.
But for those who may view the 7 Habits from a generalist’s standpoint we would like to re-iterate the habits specifically for insurance agents. As you will see over the next eight months (we won’t publish a Habit in October, our annual Composite Group issue) every Habit applies to us within our own industry.
Agency Consulting Group, Inc. has incorporated the 7 Habits in all of its consulting and training modules. Many of our clients will find these principals very familiar indeed.
SHARPENING THE SAW
Covey’s 7th Habit is labeled based on the old adage of the wood-chopper who is so concentrated on cutting trees that he never stops to sharpen his saw. The result is that he loses efficiency by working an ever-dulling saw, never refreshing himself and replenishing his tools.
As consultants to insurance agencies we often see agency owners who spend seven days each week from morning to night concentrated on the various business needs that will maximize the growth and profit of their businesses. What began as a desperate need to fund their families’ needs became habit. It’s easy to become so engrossed in our business lives that we displace the REAL priorities in our lives, our families and living a “good” life. Eventually these agents begin to ‘believe the hype’ and feel that it is their “responsibility” to work harder than anyone else and that the agency would suffer and dissolve were it not for their early mornings and sleepless nights. In fact, when the inevitable occurs (they are forced to take a vacation or their physical condition deteriorates sufficiently to require their absence from the agency) the agency functions without them – perhaps not quite as well, but functions nonetheless. The worst examples are the “martyrs” who portray themselves as pitiful because only they can properly satisfy the needs of the agency. Even if others are perfectly adequate and working hard, the martyrs will continue to be in the agency (or on agency or insurance business) at all hours of the day and night. Martyrs are easily recognizable. Their business cards always carry their home phone numbers and they encourage their clients to call them anytime. There is a BIG DIFFERENCE between dedicated and competent and obsessed. Martyrs are obsessed with the business and their careers where the most effective managers and agents are dedicated and competent and spend just enough time in their business efforts to keep it in check while they spend an equal amount of time or more doing the REAL important parts of life – living it fully for themselves and for their loved ones.
Covey’s final principle is a constant commitment to balance our lives. We’ve all seen people burn out on work. Many of us have heard of well-to-do people who commit suicide because they indulged in too much of a good thing and lost the meaning of their lives. Our industry is rife with workaholics who work 24 hours a day, then play at golf as if it, too, was work. Covey asks us to stop and investigate our lives on a weekly basis to determine if we are preserving and enhancing our greatest asset, ourselves. He suggests that we challenge ourselves to balance our spiritual, physical, mental and social/emotional selves each week. This exercise permits us to continue to pursue the other six habits to becoming the most effective people possible.
And even the workaholics are surprised when the renewal of all four dimensions of our lives, like the woodsman sharpening the saw, renews and enhances their business lives as well as their personal well-being. If you suffer from a ‘dull saw’ – if you find yourself (or your wife, children, partners or employees find you) short-tempered, defensive, and not as effective as you, yourself, know you can be, re-read Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and concentrate on Habit 7 – Sharpening the Saw. Go through the exercise of identifying and renewing your physical well-being (exercise, nutrition, stress management), your spiritual well-being (clarify your values), your mental well-being (plan – write something – read…), and your social and emotional well-being (be with family and friends, perform some service …). You’ll come out of it feeling better and even being more effective at work.