Summit Highlights: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

Explore the private victory and learn why change begins with you.


As we prepare for the 2019 Summits, we’re brimming with anticipation and can’t wait to share some of the amazing opportunities students can look forward to this summer. Thus begins our latest blog series, Summit Highlights. Be sure to check back each week to preview our Summits: their activities, university campuses, and host cities.

We’re kicking off this blog series with a focus on the Leadership in Action Summits at Harvard University. During these Summits, students will attend a leadership workshop called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. This workshop uses the powerful book written by Sean Covey along with complementary learning materials. You can learn more about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by checking out the FranklinCovey website.

If you’re new to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, the book presents a framework for teenagers to improve personal and interpersonal habits. In a larger sense, though, it is a guide for how to live effectively and purposefully. Take it from someone who didn’t start learning and living these habits until adulthood, I wish I had learned about them as a teen.

The first section of Sean Covey’s book and The 7 Habits workshop cover what’s called The Private Victory, the three habits that spark personal growth. We start with the Private Victory because you must first help yourself before you can help others. As you read below, consider which of these habits come easily to you and where you have room to grow. For students attending the Summits at Harvard, this is a sneak peak of what’s on-deck this summer!

HABIT 1: Be Proactive!

This is one of my favorites! So what does it mean to be proactive and why would we start here? Being proactive means taking responsibility for your words and actions, taking initiative to meet your goals, and taking a leadership role to help others along.

Have you ever met someone so wrapped up in pointing out and “fixing” someone else’s weaknesses that she’s blind to her own flaws? Ever met someone who blames everyone and everything under the sun for his problems without taking any ownership? Ever met someone who’s claimed her lousy mood is your fault? Frustrating, right?!

The reason I like Habit 1 so much is because it sets you free. Habit 1 says you get to choose how you respond to the people in your life and any problems you face, and it empowers you to help the reactive people I described in the previous paragraph do the same. Of course, there are some things you can’t control, like where you live, how much money your family has, or what you look like. But what you can control is so much more important: how you feel, what you say, how you behave. It can feel scary to take so much responsibility, but once you begin to say, “I’m deciding to be in a good mood,” or “I’m not going to respond to that jab,” trust me, you’ll want to do it all the time. Once you realize you’re in control, you can step into leadership in so many other ways.

HABIT 2: Begin with the End in Mind

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Habit 2 is another good one! To illustrate the idea, I’ll borrow a scene from one of my favorite books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the novel, Alice becomes lost in the woods and meets the Cheshire Cat at a fork in the road. She asks him which path she ought to take, and he asks where she’s going. Of course, Alice doesn’t know and says so. To which, the Cheshire Cat replies, “Then it doesn’t matter.”

If you’re asking yourself how this applies to your own life, remember the adage, “Life is a journey,” and that journeys by their very definition have a destination. The more clear you are about where you want to end up, the easier it becomes to decide which path you take.

Some lucky few know from a very early age exactly where they want to go. For example, my cousin decided when she was a high school freshman that she wanted to be a defense attorney. That destination guided her choices for the next decade and a half. She worked hard to graduate top of her class, then went to UCLA on scholarship and finally attended USC law school. Now, she works as a defense attorney. Knowing where she wanted to end up made deciding her path easy.

On the other hand, some of us don’t have quite such clear destinations. For example, as a teenager, I only knew that I wanted to be successful and that my definition of success meant having a great education, helping others, and getting to travel. That’s not quite as clear cut, but each time I came to a fork in my life’s journey knowing what success meant to me helped me make smart choices.

I’m not suggesting that you have to plan out your whole life as a teenager, but cultivating a vision of your endgame does make deciding which path to walk much simpler. Remember, if you “go with the flow,” you end up wherever the flow goes, and that might not be a place you like.

HABIT 3: Put First Things First

Think of Habit 1 as the starting point; you’re in control of your life. Think of Habit 2 as the end point; decide where you want to wind up. Habit 3 strings those two habits together by helping you prioritize and say no to things that will lead you off your path.

Learn how to separate the majors and the minors. A lot of people don’t do well simply because they major in minor things. ~Jim Rohn

This can be a tough habit to master. In fact, in a follow-up survey of adults who completed their own 7 Habits workshops, respondents reported that Habit 3 was the toughest habit to consistently live. Today, more than ever, teens have a lot competing for their attention. Between their academics, extracurriculars, and social engagements, teens are busy. But there’s a difference between busyness and effectiveness, and Habit 3 helps differentiate the two.

If you don’t already keep some kind of planner, it’s time to start! Effective leaders make both long-term and short-term plans — in writing! Take time to sit down on a Saturday or Sunday and map out the week ahead of you, being sure to identify the most important activities in categories like “student,” “family member,” or “self.” In the nomenclature of The 7 Habits, these important activities are Big Rocks.

For example, I call my mom at least once a week to chat. We live several states apart and might only get to see each other a couple of times each year. To be sure we stay connected, we set aside time to talk once a week. That’s a Big Rock for me as a family member. No matter how hectic my work and social schedules get, I make time to talk to my mom. It’s a priority.

Your Big Rocks might be an upcoming exam or paper, an athletic event, or a family game night. Writing them down helps you carve out time for the people and activities that are most important to you. It also helps you keep your priorities aligned, so it’s easier to say no to less important things when they arise. By stacking your Big Rocks each week, you are actually defining the path you walk to reach your goals.


I could say so much more about each habit. We’ve only just scratched the surface! If you’re thinking to yourself, “this is just plain common sense,” I couldn’t agree more. The 7 Habits aren’t magic, but when you live by them consistently, you’ll be amazed at how much they positively affect your life. If you’re a student attending one of our Leadership Summits at Harvard, you’ll have the chance to explore the 7 Habits more and apply them to your own life and leadership.

Check back next week for our second blog on The 7 Habits, where we’ll survey The Public Victory!

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By Corie Bales

Corie is the Academic Affairs Manager of Ambassador Leaders. As a lifelong educator and avid traveler, she believes in empowering students and teachers to learn and lead through experiential education.