Habits of Highly Effective Higher-Ed Professionals

illustration of an article

by Steven Riccio, Ed.D., SPHR,
Lecturer, International Business & Management, Dickinson College

Higher education does a great job educating others, but seldom do we work on ourselves. We don't take the time to 'sharpen the saw.' As a result, colleges and universities are filled with very sharp people who possess rather dull blades.

In a classic video vignette entitled "Big Rocks," from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the late Stephen R. Covey invited an audience member to join him onstage for an experiment. Most know the concept of Big Rocks, but I encourage you to watch this video if you haven’t already. In the experiment, Covey asks the young female executive to fit in all the big rocks he has provided into a bucket that is over half-filled with pebbles. The pebbles depict the day-to-day tasks, emails, meetings, and emergencies that we are all faced with and that fill up our lives.

At one point, the participant looks at the rock labeled "Sharpen the Saw," rolls her eyes, and places it back onto the table. Covey, who never shied away from a teachable moment, picks up the same rock asking the audience, "Who feels they don’t have time to 'Sharpen the Saw'?" As several hands are raised, Covey then follows with a great line, "Have you ever been too busy driving to take time to get gas?"

"Sharpen the Saw" was Covey’s analogy for self-renewal. He describes how we all work hard each day "sawing wood," but instead of taking time to sharpen the blade of our saw (self-renewal) we decide it is easier to just push forward and continue sawing with the same dull blade. For this reason, we don't get very far in our pursuits, despite working extremely hard. As you read this article, chances are you feel the same way.

Covey introduced this concept to us nearly thirty years ago. However, it's fair to say that thirty years later we continue to leave for work each morning with our lunch and dull blade in hand. As a result, colleges and universities are filled with very sharp people who possess rather dull blades. This is not meant to insult the reader but to share my research findings and experiences as a human resource professional in higher education.


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