This past summer Stephen Covey passed away. He is the author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989, and which sold over 20 million copies. As a manager, I found Covey’s take on how one should live one’s life to be an exceptionally helpful perspective on all forms of personal relationships.

These 7 principles, for that is what they are, are a sound guideline for how one lives one’s life. I even based my marriages vows on these principles, and they have served me well! Here they are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin With The End In Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win/Win
  5. Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood
  6. Synergize Sharpen The Saw

These principles are interactive; none stand alone. The first three deal with independence. The second three deal with interdependence. The seventh and the one that seems to be receiving scant attention in the hustle and bustle of modern living is Sharpening the Saw.  The concept is that one must take the time, perhaps make the time, to renew and re-energize. This means taking care of your person: things like nutrition, exercise, studying, planning and otherwise developing one’s self.

Community service in an important aspect of Sharpening the Saw. In my professional life I have always made it a personal objective to give back through financial contributions to causes that are important to me, but even more importantly, to give my time and energy to them. This could be as volunteering for a local organization, running a committee, being on a Board, or providing pro bono work. The opportunities are endless. Think of it as an investment. This investment of time can yield tremendous benefits for the recipient organizations. And even better, there is always a positive return on the investment for the one donating the time.

Between my various current volunteer commitments and pro bono work, I give back on average ½ to 1 day a week. This varies – while on a major project I may not do any community service for several weeks. As I write this, I am returning from a pro bono project in Europe where I supported the staff from a number of countries of an international humanitarian organization on developing a solution for a common problem. With travel, prep, and the work itself, I have invested five straight and fully dedicated days in this organization.

A major contribution, yes, but I am coming away reinvigorated. I have met and worked with energetic, caring and enthusiastic people. We have explored new boundaries, and come up with results that will make a real difference in this global organization – so they can do even more and better good work.

For one two year period, as the Chair of a national charity, a full 25% of my professional time was devoted to that charity. This took a toll on my practice, and of course my billings were down. But would I do it again? In a flash! I came away with much more than I gave.

What does this have to do with being an effective manager? Everything. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will not be operating at our best. Sharing our gifts with others is part of taking care of ourselves.

So – remember to sharpen the saw! One important tool for doing that is community service. Try it – you’ll like it!