Drive and Initiative

When you were growing up, did you hear this question (I bet you did)?  “Why do you have to wait for me to tell you to clean up your room?”  One or both parents would make this nagging request.  Yeah, I thought it would bring back memories.

What were our parents trying to do?  Were they just bored and looking for something to gripe about, harping on us, making our lives unpleasant?  No.

What they were trying to mold in us was this:  Initiative.  Self-discipline.  Drive.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and realize that the difference between excellence and mediocrity boils down to whether one is a self-starter or has to be told, constantly, what is the next step in any given enterprise or series of tasks.

Understand this:  Your boss, like your parents, can spot initiative.  And initiative taken, even if the performance is not up to speed, gets favorable attention from those who are in positions to help us.  The opposite is true as well.  Our betters can spot laziness and a “just enough to get by” attitude a mile away.

I studied French for six years in high school and college.  One phenomenon I’ve heard about a few times comes from people who’ve either visited France or Quebec.  The French are notoriously jealous of their native tongue.  And they should be for it is a beautiful language.  Those who take the initiative to try and communicate in French with native French speakers, even if their own skills are marginal, often have the reward of the French trying to help them, honored that someone took time and effort to try.  Such initiative has an ingratiating quality about it.

Here’s the challenge:  Find something in your job, your vocation, your home, wherever, that you can do without being asked.  And then make a habit of this.  “It’s not my job” must not be within a million miles of your credo.  You are meant for far more than that.  And the habit for doing more than is expected will be rewarded.

Remember, people are watching.  Up the ante.

 

Suggested Resources:

A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results (Paul Gustavson & Stewart Liff)

The Go-Getter: A Story That Tells You How To Be One (Peter B. Kyne)

 

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Start Stuff!

Seth Godin is funny, bright and gets to the point.  I learned today that human beings have an attention span of about seven seconds.  And that puts us bipeds behind goldfish who can pay attention for eight seconds. (Kudos, Michael Levin, for that insight.)  So for this reason, among others, you should read Seth or watch his TED talks.

Back to Seth.  In his book, Poke the Box, Seth talks about initiative.  In answer to the workplace question “what do you do here?” Seth points out that “almost no one says ‘I start stuff.’”

How do you start stuff?

Seth says you “poke the box.”  You try something out.  Sit at a piano and start hitting keys and listen to what comes out.  Initiative is something we take; it isn’t handed to us.  Failing to take initiative will tend to make us reactive rather than proactive.

I’ve learned the hard way that if I wait around for  inspiration to drop by my apartment for a cup of coffee, I will never write anything.  Inspiration usually shows up after I just start.

Okay.  What kind of stuff can you start?  Remember feeling and inspiration aren’t the most important variables in actually getting something rolling.  A decision is.  Try these and add your own:

  • A regular exercise program—weights, walking, cardio. Start small.
  • A blog. Write enough to fill one screen’s worth of space, about 200-400 words.  Or like me, start writing again in the blog you already have.
  • A well-crafted, eye-catching résumé. Put it together and post it on LinkedIn and Indeed. Or update the one you’ve already posted.
  • A regular, undistracted reading program.  “Regular” = every day. Start small—maybe all you can manage is ten minutes.  Start there and build it up.  And unhook your connections to the outside world so you can focus.
  • Teach yourself to write code and try it out (Seth’s suggestion, this). The reward center in your brain will light up when it works.

Go!

Suggested Resources:

Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something For the First Time? (Seth Godin)

17 Anti-Procrastination Hacks: How to Stop Being Lazy, Overcome Procrastination, and Finally Get Stuff Done (Dominic Mann)

 

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Initiative, Effort, Excellence

Initiative Effort ExcellenceWhen you were growing up, did you hear this question (I bet you did)?  “Why do you have to wait for me to tell you to clean up your room?”  One or both parents would make this nagging request.  Yes, I thought it would bring back memories.

What were our parents trying to do?  Were they simply bored and looking for something to gripe about, harping on us, making our lives unpleasant?  No.

What they were trying to mold in us was this:  Initiative.  Self-discipline.  Drive.

I thought about this today and realized that the difference between excellence and mediocrity boils down to whether one is a self-starter or has to be told, constantly, what is the next step in any given enterprise or series of tasks.

Understand this:  Your boss, like your parents, can spot initiative.  And initiative taken, even if the performance is not up to speed, gets favorable attention from those who are in a position to help us.  The obverse is true as well.  Our betters can spot laziness and a “just enough to get by” attitude a mile away.

I studied French for six years in high school and college.  One common occurrence I’ve heard about more than once comes from people who’ve either visited France or Quebec.  The French are notoriously jealous of their native tongue.  And they should be for it is a beautiful language.  Those who take the initiative to try and communicate in French with native French speakers, even if their own skills are marginal, often have the reward of the French trying to help them, honored that someone took time and effort to try.  Such initiative has an ingratiating quality about it.

Here’s the challenge:  Find something in your job, your vocation, your home, wherever, that you can do without being asked.  And then make a habit of this.  “It’s not my job” must not be within a million miles of your credo.  You are meant for far more than that.  And the habit for doing more than is expected will be rewarded.

Remember, people are watching.  Up the ante.

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Ants and Employers

I work in a growing IT company.  From its humble beginning back some thirteen years ago, we’ve become an entity that does a lot of remarkable things.  Relational database management, AutoCAD drawings and classes, loads of printing and plotting, software development, data collection and a whole lot more.

As a company grows, there will ensue the inevitable growing pains.  This is not a bad thing but a corollary to growth.  And these outcomes simply need to be managed.

Today, our staff had a brief meeting to address a few such growing pains.  All of us are professionals and the meeting went well.  We’re in a good position vis-à-vis a very tough economy.  And we want to stay competitive.

As I’ve reflected on the meeting, I got to thinking about an insect mentioned in the Bible.

The ant.

In the Proverbs we are instructed to go to the ant, learn her ways and be wise.  Paraphrasing the passage, we’re told that an ant doesn’t need a boss looking over her shoulder to make sure she is putting away food for the winter.  The ant is a heavy lifter–as much as fifty times her own weight–and is the embodiment of initiative.  She is self-motivated and need not be hounded.  You can read about her in Proverbs 6:6-11.

How about you?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I a self-starter or do I need a boss looking over my shoulder? It matters not whether you are self-employed or working for another.  If you had no boss, would any work get done?
  • Do I manage my income prudently and put aside for tough times?  The ant doesn’t work simply to work.  She’s harvesting grain and other foodstuffs because cold weather is coming where food will not be readily available.
  • Do I prefer rest and sleep to exertion?  The point of the proverbs lesson is that love of rest, leisure and sleep will leave you poor.  Why not learn to love work and production, your contribution to the world?

Warmer weather is on its way.  As the birds and insects come out this year, take some time at your nearest ant hill and watch how the ants behave.

You’ll be all the wiser for it.

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Lee Iacocca On Leadership

“Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then, by God, do something. Don’t just stand there. Make it happen.”

Lee Iacocca.  Father of the Ford Mustang.  Brought Chrysler out of bankruptcy in the late 1970’s.  Helped bring the quality of US car making to another level entirely.

His grandmother gave this bit of sound advice [above quote] about leadership and initiative.  One really can’t improve on it.

“Apply Yourself”

Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.  If you’re going to make a difference in your career, your social circles and organizations, you’ve got to have initiative.  Be a self-starter.  Remake yourself into an individual who doesn’t require external motivation and motivators—read bosses—to get into gear.  Take the ball and run with it.  Don’t wait for permission.  People will be amazed.

“Get All The Education You Can”

I’m at the mid-point of my life journey.  To get ahead to places I want to be and to do the things I want to do require me to learn more.  Go back to school.  Lots of people are going back to college or getting specialty training in all sorts of fields: IT, medicine, law, banking, social sciences.  College is not just for the young and you’ll be surprised how many older people are returning there, refusing to rust away.  My mom earned her Ph.D in her sixties.  You can do it and so can I.  Check out the possibilities.

“Do Something”

Simple physics tells us that a body at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted on by an external force and a body in motion tends to stay in motion the same way.  The law of inertia.  Get busy, get schooled and get going.  Activity and effort bring a return.  Do this and enjoy the rewards of your labor.

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A Super Bowl Champ On Life

“Blame no one. Expect Nothing. Do Something.” (Bill Parcells)

I snagged this quote this morning as I visited one of my favorite blogs.  It sums up an awful lot.  And, as someone remarked quoting it, the Coach is not saying, “Ah, suck it up.  Don’t be a wuss.”  He’s pointing the way to excellence.   He’s won a couple of Super Bowl rings. Obviously he has gotten results from such a perspective.  You will too.

“Blame No One”

Take responsibility—all of it—for your life.  Don’t buy into the lie that you can’t do something meaningful and profitable because…your family was a mess…the economy is bad…you’re too old…you’re too young…someone beat you to it.  Our choices have brought us to where we are at present.  Our choices will earn us a Hall-of-Fame life.  But it is our choice.  Take charge of your life and don’t wait around for someone to give you permission to do so.  The fact you are breathing is permission enough.

“Expect Nothing”

Don’t let entitlement thinking cloud your judgment and stick to you like snowflakes.  I’m sure Parcells did not mean by this, “Don’t get your hopes up.”  It’s wrong to expect others and God to do for you that which you are able to do for yourself.

“Do Something”

Take action.  This is a call for initiative.  For forward momentum.  Make a decision and see it through.  If it doesn’t turn out quite right, make the mid-course correction but by all means don’t stop.  God and the universe reward effort.  If you exert, you will see a return on investment!

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