The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families

 I had the very great pleasure of interviewing Dr. Stephen Covey, the author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families”. I have interviewed over 100 people as part of our Teleconference series, but there is something special about Stephen Covey. When you speak to him and listen to him, you can tell that he comes from the heart.

Examine your priorities on a regular basis and
actively work on keeping them in order.


I followed Dr. Covey’s advice and our family came up with our own mission statement. Here’s how we did it.

I handed out index cards and each family member wrote down what they liked best about our family and which activities were most important to them. (My children are older; 16, 13 and 10)

Then, the next week I put together a master list of what everyone had written and each person voted for their top five.
The week after that, I showed them a final list of what we had voted on as our top choices.
I followed Dr. Covey’s advice and divided all this up over several weeks because as soon as the kids started getting bored with the process, I stopped for the night. I didn’t want this to become a ‘have to’ item or have us rush just to get it done. I really wanted us to think about it and have fun with it.
On the final night we put our values into sentences and my daughter then wrote it out in calligraphy and we put it in a frame.

Here’s what we discovered.

Our kids said they love it when we play games together as a family so we now have family game night every Tuesday night. They invite their friends over and we have a special dessert. No matter how busy we are, we don’t miss this night.
Our kids also love it when we go camping, so now we make sure we spend plenty of time each summer camping and hiking. This was not my top choice, but I was outvoted and the kids love to say “it’s on our mission statement, you have to come with us.”
We discovered that for all of us travel and learning languages is a top priority so now we make sure we budget time and money for international travel.
We’ve become more aware of other family’s priorities like sports, music, or art. They now see that it’s okay to be different and that everyone has their own priorities
Below, is the text version of our interview with Dr. Covey and also a play button so that you can listen to the recording of his interview from your own computer. You have our permission to burn your own CD of the interview or upload it to an MP3 player. The interview is 60 minutes long. I hope that you get as much out of the interview as I did.

Dr. Covey, voted by Time Magazine as one of the “25 Most Influential Americans,” is still a solid family man who takes the time to examine his priorities on a regular basis and actively works on keeping them in order. He shares this philosophy with his family; in fact he has incorporated this into regular family meetings and developed it into a shared value system, which he says everyone can do.


The Benefits of Having a Family Mission Statement


According to Dr. Covey,


“Every decision we make is ultimately governed by some kind of interest or goal or objective or value or principle, whether we know it or not. A Family Mission Statement is an effort to bring to an explicit level what your goals and values are so that people are on the same page.”


However, the process is as important as the final product, says Covey, since it is critical that every member of the family feels they contributed to the development for full buy-in.

“The process involves a great deal of empathy, patience and time, Covey said. “But it’s a fun process and very powerful in getting everyone to emotionally connect to the values that are produced. It’s important to make sure everyone feels their ideas are respected and honored.

“Such an emotional buy-in and connection will create an almost self-governing family.

“[This happens because] even though everyone is doing their own thing sometimes, there’s something at the bottom that unites us. The culture of the family is very committed to a common vision and mission and set of values.”

Covey explains that is works especially well when a Family Mission Statement is developed intergenerationally, so that the full family is using the same values in their relationships and actions.

As an example Dr. Covey shared the Mission Statement that his family developed:

To create a nurturing place of faith, order, truth, love, happiness and relaxation and to provide opportunity for every person to become responsibly independent and effectively inter-dependent in order to serve worthy purposes in society through understanding and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Main Elements of a Good Mission Statement


Dr. Covey’s Mission Statement contains all the main elements of a good Mission Statement. Those parts include:

  • Characteristics of the home – nurturing, etc.
  • Effect on individuals –independence and interdependence
  • Effort to be a family of significance – service & contribution
  • Source of the power


The process for developing a Mission Statement can begin as simply as holding weekly family meetings and starting by asking open-ended questions. Parents should ask their children questions such as:

  • “What kind of a home do you want to bring your friends home to?,”
  • “What type of family do you want?,” and
  • “What’s important to you?”
  • The answers to these questions will start to form an outline of important values for everyone in the family. Kids will gradually begin to see it taking shape and the buy-in will become stronger.”It’s important to learn to empathize more than question”, says Covey. “Start with open-ended questions and then reflect on what they say.Most parents have not been told how to listen. Most people listen within their own frame of reference and are inwardly planning their reply. It’s better to restate the other person’s thought before you reply. The more they sense you are listening they will communicate more authentically. When that happens there’s a level of bonding that’s almost indescribable.”


    Other families can use a more visual approach, using poster paper to list values or what makes them happy. Families with younger children might try creating a poster using magazine pictures to represent what is important to them.


    The key is to not ignore the children’s input and just present the Mission Statement to them. They must feel they helped to produce it.

    Covey adds that you don’t have to use the word values or mission statement. Some families call it a motto, or a creedo, or come up with their own tagline.

    One of the benefits of the process is that everyone is involved and so a sense of interdependency develops. “The more you can get kids to buy into interdependency you have resolved 90% of the challenges and problems that come into a family,” says Covey. “It creates a friendship between siblings that is emotionally generating. They begin to think of siblings as their best friend, and they support each other.”


    Using Your Family Mission Statement


    Once the Mission Statement is generated, families must make an effort to follow it. This requires a lot of long range planning and calendaring.

    “The key is to discuss them constantly (at least once a week) to see how well the family is living up to it (even the parents),” cautions Covey. “Everyone governs themselves by the mission statement if they feel genuinely involved.”

    It’s also important for everyone in the family to prioritize and “put first things first.” The items that the family has come up with in their mission statement and the goals that flow from them are the “first things.”

    “Most people put 2nd things first – for instance, work, even though they say they really value family,” says Covey.

    “They neglect health, neglect integrity (which should be first things.) They neglect their deepest values all in the name of social pressure. The ability to say no to the second things is the key to saying yes to the first things. You have to have a burning sense of yes about the first things to keep them first.

    That’s why there must be an emotional engagement over time in developing the value system of the family because those become first things. The family then gets social courage when they live that way so it’s not hard to say no. They can say no pleasantly and cheerfully and smilingly. When someone hasn’t decided what the first things are they can’t say no to social situations.”


    The family members must do long-term planning so that family comes first. For example, if health is a priority, schedule time to exercise with family. Use a calendar so family comes first and mean it.


    Family meetings must be a priority too. Members have to get permission from the group and must justify it to other members. Nothing should supersede the meeting; not homework, friends, or phone calls, etc.

    Covey adds, “Little by little children grow up thinking ‘family is where it’s at.’”


    One final thought…
    Remember Habit 7
    Be sure to renew your own batteries by meditation, reading, exercise, and getting into nature.