Stop Waiting and Start Doing

I once changed roles in a company I was working for and I had the opportunity to review the team I was leaving behind with their incoming leader. We talked about the strengths and weaknesses and how he could help each of them to continue to grow. 

When discussing a particular employee I made the comment that this person would do anything you asked them to do to the very best of their ability. That was their strength. Their weakness was that if you didn’t ask them to do anything then nothing is exactly what they would do. Nothing! The person completely lacked initiative. 

That’s a huge challenge for many people in the workplace today. They wait and wait to be told what to do. When they are told what to do they will need explicit instructions on when to start and how to do it. You may tell them to do something every Monday morning for a year but the first Monday morning you fail to tell them to do it do not be surprised when it doesn’t get done. 

There are lots of reasons some people lack initiative.

Some have what’s called Bounded Rationality. That’s a fancy way of saying they can’t even consider doing something they are not told to do. If it is something not entirely within their comfort zone they won’t even consider doing it unless they are explicitly directed to do it. They may not feel especially qualified to do it and unsure where to start. That’s an initiative killer too.

Some people are lazy. They expend the majority of their energy finding ways to NOT accomplish something. But as a leader you should know this: they were not born lazy. Somewhere along the way they lost their motivation and with it their initiative. Perhaps a former boss or teacher told them they would never succeed. Maybe someone told them they didn’t have what it takes to excel. Sadly they may have believed that.

If you have the audacity the call yourself a leader then never give up on someone who may be lazy today. Discover their motivators and help them find their initiative again. That is not a burden for an Authentic Leader, it is a challenge they enthusiastically accept. 

Some people who seem to lack initiative have learned that if they wait long enough to take action that someone, likely you, will come along to rescue them. Their lack of initiative is strategic. 

They know that you or someone else you assign will swoop in to get the work done. In these cases you as a leader are at least party responsible for their lack of initiative. You have taught them that they do not need to be accountable. You deny them the opportunity to learn and grow. You limit their opportunities to learn decision making and correcting mistakes they may have made. 

If they are thinking they cannot succeed you have solidified their thinking. That’s not effective leadership. 

Sometimes too much initiative can actually lead to what appears to be a lack of initiative. When a person says yes to more than they can handle they may become so overburdened that they don’t know where to begin…so they don’t. 

As a leader you must not allow your people to become so weighted down with work that they can’t maintain their forward momentum. When that happens most leaders wonder what happened to their former top performer. What they don’t realize is that what happened to them was inattentive leadership. 

If you’re not yet a leader but you want to be then you must make taking the initiative a habit. If you hope for greater success in the future then stop hoping and start taking the initiative. 

 

Make no mistake about this absolute fact: if you always wait for someone to tell you what to do you can be certain that someone will always be telling you what to do.

What Great Leaders Understand

There are tangible reasons some leaders are better than others. Some people may believe it’s luck, others may think it’s karma, still others insist it’s just a timing thing.

 

But the fact is some leaders are better than others because they understand stuff that average leaders just don’t get. Chief among that stuff is that decisions matter and they matter because every decision changes something once it’s acted upon.

 

The best leaders are always at least a few steps ahead of weaker leaders. It’s like when you watch a good pool player. They are thinking where they want to leave the cue ball for their next two or three shots. Great Chess players are always several moves ahead of average Chess players.

 

So it is with the best leaders. They know that every decision has consequences, some could be good and some could be not so good. But they understand that every single decision comes with consequences and they not only consider the consequences they also consider the consequences of the consequences and the consequences of those consequences. They are generally way ahead in their thinking than average leaders.

 

Average leaders make too many decisions without thinking of even the first layer of consequences. They are more reactive decision makers than proactive and that puts them behind the curve pretty much every step of the way.

 

That’s why average leaders always seem to be scrambling to “fix” what wasn’t broken until they broke it. They often receive recognition for being a great “fire-fighter” when the fact is they are a Pyromaniac of a leader. Their poorly considered decisions cause many of the fires they are later applauded for extinguishing. 

 

People don’t follow Pyro Leaders because the heat they generate makes it too hard to succeed.

 

If you want to become a more effective leader then you simply must understand that your actions and decisions have consequences. Not only must you understand that but you must also accept responsibility for those consequences, especially if those consequences turn out to be less than desirable. It’s only by accepting responsibility for your decisions that you’ll learn to make better ones.

 

It’s pretty tough to get ahead when you’re perpetually two steps behind. Consider the consequences BEFORE you act on your decisions and your decisions will likely change considerably. 


Then you’ll have the chance to truly lead.

Proactive Leadership

The Minnesota Timberwolves, the NBA franchise in Minnesota has had numerous head coaches through the years. I think (I hope) all of them had the goal of leading their team to an NBA Championship. I also assume all of them knew a whole lot more about basketball than I do. 

Too many of them however knew far less about leadership. One such coach who shall remain nameless was a basketball genius. He knew exactly what his players needed to do to succeed. He understood the strategies of opposing coaches and the game plans they developed. He was a master at the X’s and O’s of the game.

What he wasn’t able to do was get his players to commit to his style of play. Actually he couldn’t get his players to commit to much of anything.

He was a very reactive coach. 

He would see a player make a mistake in practice but being a strident conflict avoider he didn’t point it out. Not surprisingly the player would make the same mistake in a game and the coach would be doing a slow burn but still he kept quiet.

Here’s the trouble with that slow burn deal; eventually the slow burn turns explosive. So it was with this particular coach; after seeing the same mistake again and again he exploded in a rage that was almost frightening. 

His reaction had the exact opposite effect of what he needed. Not only did it not correct the mistake, he lost the trust and confidence of the player he verbally destroyed and most of the other players on the team as well.

Once his players didn’t trust him it became impossible for them to commit to him as a leader. 

Reactive leaders seldom seem to fair very well, proactive leaders on the other hand often do very very well. 

Proactive leaders do not do the slow burn. They compassionately and quickly confront problems and mistakes before there is a danger of an explosion. They understand that conflict is a necessity of leadership. They don’t shy away from pointing out mistakes and offering suggestions in order to “keep the peace.” 

Proactive leaders would prefer to celebrate a noisy disheveled success rather than mourn a quiet and orderly failure. 

To lead effectively you must be willing to risk upsetting a few people for a short time. The alternative is to upset a whole lotta people for a very long time. One scenario has the chance of leading to eventual success, the other is a pretty darn direct path to failure.

Conflict avoidance doesn’t work, it never works. I don’t often recommend using the word never but in this case I’ll even repeat it. 

Conflict avoidance never works. 

The best time to coach your people is in the moment a coaching opportunity presents itself. If you’re truly a leader you’ll be prepared for that moment and you’ll be proactive in preventing the identical opportunity from presenting itself a second, or third, or fourth time.

Proactive leaders get in front of problems and mistakes before the problems get in front of them. After all, it’s called “leading” for a reason.