When a colleague loaned me Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People many years ago, it took me about three months to get round to reading it. I now realize that I wasted those three months. In fact, I read it three times in order to ensure that I had fully digested the wisdom therein.

While I cannot claim to have experienced an epiphany of epic proportions, it did cause me to make fundamental changes in the way I conduct business. In reality, I was practicing much of what Covey suggests, but I was doing so in a fairly unstructured and ill-disciplined way. However, in what I now term my “post-Covey” period, I do ensure that I audit myself regularly and I would urge you to do the same.

Covey is also responsible for the book Principle-Centered Leadership and many of his ideas and approaches relate to the management of people. Covey’s view focuses on interdependence, on what he calls “mature interaction.” When we are truly interdependent, then we have achieved and are practicing all seven habits. The habits are in fact steps, leading us from dependence through independence to interdependence and making use of our innate human characteristics—moving us in effect from what Covey terms “private victories” to public victories.

In any situation, our natural human response is to look for similarities to situations we have previously encountered. In doing this, we fail to recognize the situation we are actually in and the unique opportunities and challenges presented to us. In effect, “the way we see the problem is the problem,” which accounts for why we find ourselves repeating patterns of frustration and feeling unable to respond appropriately to situations facing us.

Albert Einstein observed, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Covey develops this theme into what he calls an “inside-out” approach. This means to start first with the self; even more fundamentally, start with the most inside part of self—your principles, your values, your motives and your character—in order to achieve changes in your outer reality.

We each have and can develop further our various assets. Covey’s view encourages wider recognition of these assets and the maintenance of them. Once we take for granted, say, effective working relationships, then we cease to actively maintain them. The result could well be a reduction in the effectiveness of those relationships and, therefore, of a very important asset. The key is to balance the use of any asset and the maintenance of it.

Sadly, Stephen died in July this year, but he leaves a legacy of insight into personal development that shall not soon be forgotten.

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Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author, consultant and chairman of The JF Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates. For more information and tips from Jonathan, visit http://www.topsalesworld.com/, or go to his blog at http://www.thejfblogit.co.uk/.