Douglas Jason Way-7 HABITS ON THE INSIDE

Author of Book: Dr. Stephen R. Covey
Date Read:

Book Report


Dr. Stephen R. Covey changed my life. Countless people make that same claim and it is no exaggeration. The principles he illuminated in his masterwork, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, are transformational when put into practice. I was fortunate to to be exposed to his work when I was fresh out of college and beginning my career in the mid-’90s. Three decades later I have an opportunity to help carry Dr. Covey’s message of principle-centered living forward in this environment that so desperately needs it by serving as a Core Group facilitator in the 7 Habits on the Inside class.

My first job after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was in sales for a small consumer products company owned by a serial entrepreneur. The owner, Mark, was a devotee of the Franklin Quest planning system and he invested in his new hires by putting us through their seminar. When Franklin merged with the Covey Organization, Mark continued to develop his team by buying us copies of the 7 Habits and sending us to the training.

I was newly sober at that time and learning through the recovery process how seriously my character had deteriorated. I was immature, selfish, dishonest, irresponsible, and self-destructive. I needed an overhaul to my core. Dr. Covey’s explanation of the “private victory” achieved through internalizing Habits 1-3 dovetailed perfectly with the housecleaning I was undertaking in my new spiritual tradition. I came to understand the harmful impact of my behavior on others as well. Dr. Covey promised that there was a “public victory” available to me through the practice of Habits 4-6 that would allow my relationships to heal and thrive.

The 7 Habits became the compass in Mark’s companies. I ascended to a leadership role and our management team actively employed the principles in our work together. The 7 Habits gave us mutual understanding and a shared language that was invaluable. We attended classes together and even had a consultant from Franklin Covey, the incomparable Glade Tuckett, facilitate our executive retreats. It was a heady time that culminated with my attendance at the Covey Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City in October, 2001. I had the privilege of spending time with Dr. Covey and confirming that he was the real deal.

In every organization where I subsequently worked, I introduced the 7 Habits to my teams and the results have always been the same. Those teams performed better and the individual members reported that as they practiced the principles, they saw benefits in their lives beyond the workplace.

When the Bureau of Prisons published its catalog of First Step Act approved productive activities, I couldn’t have been more excited to see a 7 Habits class on the list. Much of the BOP’s programming is of dubious quality, but I felt that the 7 Habits material was so powerful that it could create real change where other programs did not.

I contacted Thomson’s supervisor of Education, shared my background with the 7 Habits, and offered to teach the class. I was told that 7 Habits on the Inside had to be led by a staff member and that none had gone through the training yet. There was no timeline for getting the program to the camp at Thomson. As staff changed in Education, I periodically followed up and received similar responses. At one point, I even considered putting together a guerilla version of the class, but decided against it out of concern about blowback on the participants.

While I was waiting for the introduction of the program, a new guy arrived at the camp. Mike had previously been across the street at the low security main prison. One day he held up the 7 Habits and asked if I had ever read it. I jumped at the chance to reconnect with Dr. Covey’s insights in the context of my incarceration experience. What I found was that the principles were as alive and powerful as ever. As renowned researcher and author Jim Collins wrote in his forward to the 30th anniversary edition:

“The ideas embedded in the framework are timeless. They are principles. This is why they work, and why they speak to people in all age groups around the globe. In a world of change, disruption, chaos, and relentless uncertainty, people crave an anchor point, a set of constructs to give them guidance in the face of turbulence. Covey believed that timeless principles do indeed exist, and that the search for them is not folly, but wisdom.”

Change, disruption, chaos, uncertainty, turbulence–those words apply just as much to life inside prison as they do to the world at large. Dr. Coveys’ Habits, and the principles embedded therein, are a powerful antidote to the destructive forces that I face every day. As I prepare for my release, I realize that achieving another private victory during my time inside sets me up for another public victory when I return home to begin the next phase of my life.

My renewed zeal for the 7 Habits coincided with the arrival of the 7 Habits on the Inside program at the camp. A sharp, young guy named Dre went through the process to get accredited to teach the class at another institution. When he arrived at Thomson, he immediately began proactively badgering the administration to get the program going. He was successful, staff members were trained, and the first cohort begins soon.

According to the Covey Organization, Dr. Covey’s teachings are already having a profound effect on the institutions where the program has been embraced. Recidivism rates among participants have dropped from 50%-60% down to 8%-9%. Incident reports have decreased 75%-85%. They explained how this is happening, “…the prison is safer for both staff and inmates. Ultimately, the 7 Habits on the Inside changes the culture of the prison. Inmates become more compliant and hopeful, and staff have better balance in their lives.”

I wanted to be a part of change like that during my remaining time, so I volunteered to be a Core Group member of the program. Like Dre was, I will initially be both a participant in and facilitator of the class. I will continue to play the facilitator role in future cohorts as well.

The responsibilities of the Core Group include: leading table discussions with 4-5 participants; conducting reviews of the prior week’s lessons; generally assisting staff with the class to keep it running smoothly; and tutoring classmates who are behind or who are struggling with particular concepts.

And most important, I will be expected to lead by example. The designers of the program stressed this point: “The primary role of the Core Group member is to live the 7 Habits and to encourage others to live the same principles. They are examples of what the 7 Habits can do to change lives.”

Change is not easy, especially in a culture as strongly dysfunctional as Thomson’s and the BOP’s. This environment is degrading for both residents and staff. There is distrust and deep cynicism among all parties that is warranted because of a shared history of extreme ineffectiveness. It will be fascinating to see how the 7 Habits content and group experience affects this new audience.

Can Dr. Covey break through to them in the same way that he did with me and many of my colleagues over the years? I believe he can. I believe that his habits change lives, even those of the most jaded among us. And I believe that the power of injecting mutually agreed upon and lived principles into an organization can lead to a turnaround, even in one as troubled as the BOP. To paraphrase Dr. Covey, where mores (shared principles) are weak, laws (rules and policies) are insufficient. Where mores are strong, laws are unnecessary.

Over the coming week, I will share more observations and experiences from 7 Habits on the Inside as I continue to change and find out if others do too.