Keeper Trait #15 – Initiative

iniitiativeMany potential employers put it directly in their ads – “must be a self-starter.” It is, apparently, an all too unusual trait.

Perhaps more than any other trait, it separates the successful from the failure, the winner from the loser, the prosperous from the poor. A person with initiative does not wait to be told to something, does not sit back blaming anyone for his or her lack of progress, but steps up and gets going.

C. Northcote Parkinson said that The man whose life is devoted to paperwork has lost the initiative. He is dealing with things that are brought to his notice, having ceased to notice anything for himself.

Stephen Covey adds in his perspective when he says that Employers and business leaders need people who can think for themselves – who can take initiative and be the solution to problems.

In a general sense, your associates, subordinates, and employees will fit somewhere on this chart.4 levels

The Forced Laborer is always there BUT you have to go find them, take them to the job site, show them precisely what needs to be done, and either stand over them yourself or assign someone to do so in order to keep them working. They completely lack initiative.

The Hired Hand is a bit more independent. They will do the job once it has been pointed out, once the tools or devices necessary to do it are supplied, and once the task has been defined. But you usually do not have to monitor them very closely.

The Reliable Assistant has a good deal of initiative but may be a bit reluctant to volunteer. Once you issue a directive or point out a general task that needs to be done (which you can do by either specifying the task or the objective), they will take it from there. What’s more, they will aggressively account to you once they are finished.

The Trusted Associate is so in tune with the objectives of the organization, the supporting objectives of his or her department, and with the comprehensive vision articulated by you, that they will see what needs to be done even before it is pointed out. Then they will take charge and make sure it is done then report to you.

Forced Laborers and Hired Hands cost less money but more in supervisory engagement. Reliable Assistants and Trusted Associates cost more money but they free up manpower and, most critically, they free up your time.

People with the trait of initiative make the world, make your world, a better place. Now, if you’re a control freak, don’t be surprised if you drive people with initiative away. They do not like, and will not tolerate for long, too much meddling. It seems odd that control freaks bring trouble upon themselves. They drive off the independent types who could really help, who could extend their reach, multiply their effectiveness, and divide their work. They limit themselves to associates, subordinates, and employees who require copious amounts of oversight and management causing control freaks to lament that all they can find are people who have to be constantly managed.

So, what do you do? Find those with initiative and integrate them into your work circle so they can do what they do so well. Keep cycling through the others until you build a team that can run the engine of commerce without your constant oversight.


Keeper Trait #11 – Truthfulness

360_lie_detection_0713The tasks of evaluation, decision-making, and determining action are constant for leaders and managers. We must, from start of day to its close, gather information, qualify that information, and prescribe appropriate responses.

This requires intelligence and I mean that in the broader sense of information and intelligence gathering not just in the “smart” sense. Leaders and managers need information and should demand it, should settle for nothing less.

This is where trait #11 comes in. The people we assemble into work teams and staffs must be truthful with us and with themselves.

A truthful person is:

Honest about what they do, have done and consequently will do. They build a track record of reliability in the capacity to accurately report what they have done thus we can trust what they tell us about what they can do and consequently what they will do.

Honest about what has happened. When giving account (trait #2), their account is accurate in three dimensions:

                They have told us what happened (the truth),

                They have included everything in their report (the whole truth),

                They have neither embellished nor interpreted the facts (nothing but the truth.)

In so doing they have become reliable witness upon whose testimony we can rely and from which we can make the best decisions and take the most appropriate actions.

Honest about how things are because you need information based on facts not fabrication. You need to make decisions and take action based on facts not speculation. Peril awaits on either side – exaggeration or it’s opposite, minimizing.

We need to fight and defeat immaculate perception. There exists within just about everyone an inclination to magnify the importance and validity of our own ideas. I call it immaculate perception, the tendency to ascribe to one’s opinions the attributes of omniscience and consequently the belief in one’s omnipotence. In short, we think too highly of our own ideas and truthful people are a balance to that.

We need truthful people because we cannot be everywhere all the time and we cannot know everything. Corporate structures are guilty of insulating decision-makers from reality because they are often physically removed from the places where decisions are put into practice. The TV show Undercover Boss substantiates this. In every case, bosses discover that their decisions have been both useful and harmful.

Information, accurate information, is on our side. It is not our enemy. Truthful associates make the company stronger. Truthful information does not weaken the company, it only shows us where the weakness is.

Truthfulness is sought here as a manifestation of good judgment because being truthful will imply that the person knows what to say, when to say it, to whom to say it, and how it should be said. Now, the question arises here about why people who work for you and with you do not tell you the truth. It could be because they are dishonest people. Those do exist and you know what to do about it. But it could be that they are afraid to tell you the truth because of you.

It might be that the way you react to the truth has shut down the flow of information. If that is the case, the world of fantasy will gradually displace the real world and the consequences can be dire.

Many surveys show that truthfulness is a key component of leadership because it implies reliability, trustworthiness, and credibility.

Frankly, truthfulness is not a valued trait in some workplaces. The powers that be have given themselves to delusion and want to hear only information and input that supports that delusion. Other leaders are insecure and must be continually propped up by sliver-tongued sycophants.

What do you do when someone tells you the truth? How do you react? What do you do when you discover someone has been dishonest? What can you do today to encourage truthfulness in your company or organization?

Trait #13 is stewardship. See you in a few days.

Keeper Trait #3 – Emotional and Psychological Security

confidenceYou’ve encountered them, those insecure types who have a point to prove, weight to throw around, and a chip on a shoulder they are just hoping someone will knock off. Ok, it does sound like a cliché festival but it is true. (Clichés became clichés because their observations are both obvious and common.)

Remembering that the singular objective for all associates and employees is to solve problems. Their problem-solving skills must always exceed their problem-creating leanings. This series is laying out those 16 traits that are found in keepers, those not-so rare individuals who make life better. There are plenty of them around, perhaps most of them are thus. It seems odd to me that so many employers, leaders, and managers keep the less than best ones on the rolls. Skill for the job is critical but by no means the only criteria. Yes, I know there are labor laws that must be honored and having run my own businesses with employees, I know what they are. But the initial probationary period can and should reveal much so don’t squander that time.

In the early days of my millwork business I was interviewing potential shop workers. One man came in with impressive credentials. After he left the interview, my business partner revealed that he knew the man having worked with him earlier. It seems that the man’s ability is beyond question. However, my business partner explained that within one hour in the shop he would have everyone in there angry at him and each other. The guy’s personality was so abrasive he just could not fit in anywhere.

So, why am I telling you this? To encourage you that problem employees can possibly be redeemed. But failing the best efforts of yourself and whatever assistance you can muster, do not hesitate to put the needs of the business or organization ahead of an associate’s obvious need for growth and maturing at best, for therapy at worst.

I’ve written about it before here at TPL because it has been a recurring theme of mine for decades. The theme is that those people who join my team are there to:

Extend my reach

Multiply my effectiveness

Divide my work

Anything less cannot be ignored. It is a philosophy and a commitment that has always rewarded when followed and penalized when not.

This is part three of my series on Keepers, those people whose abilities and personalities are what you want to be permanently part of your team. The first two were:

Trait #1 – Resource-fullness

Trait #2 – Aggressive accountability

This post is about emotional and psychological insecurity. As is often the case, we can see qualities of light when it contrasts with dark so let’s look at the symptoms of an insecure employee or associate first.

  • Lack of confidence revealed by a reluctance to venture into new territory. This could be from a fear of failure (see the point that just follows) or it could be from fear of success (indicating deeper psychological issues) or it could come from unfortunate past experiences where venture was slapped down.
  • Evading responsibility when something they did goes wrong.
  • Fear of failure evidenced when an associate takes a failure to heart instead of to mind. You and I know that everyone fails from time to time, but that does not make them a failure. We know that failure keeps our feet on the ground but it does not and should not bury us under it. We know that failure shows us what will not work. Insecure people take it to heart and regard themselves as losers. The mere possibility of this provokes all sorts of defensive and evasive mechanisms, well beyond the scope of this post.
  • Over-dependency demonstrated by the employee’s constant checking in with you to be sure everything is ok. Accountability is one thing, an insecure need for continual positive feedback is another. It indicates either a lack of confidence in their ability or lack of clarity in your expectations.

Not so surprisingly, insecure employees often do not act insecure. They can seem confident, even boastful. They can be loud to the point of domination. They can be outspoken and opinionated. They can be Cliff Claven types ready with an answer for questions no one asks… or cares about.

Dr. William Menninger, co-founder of the Menninger Clinic and the Menninger Foundation lists out these characteristics of an emotionally secure person:

1. Ability to deal constructively with reality.

2. Capacity to adapt to change.

3. Few symptoms of tension and anxiety.

4. Ability to find more satisfaction in giving than receiving.

5. Capacity to consistently relate to others with mutual satisfaction and helpfulness.

6. Ability to direct hostile energy into constructive outlets.

7. Capacity to love.

All of them are important signs of emotional maturity. They have been the subject of volumes of material so we are free to narrow our focus to the context of working relationships and job performance, particularly working with you as their leader or manager or both.

First, when an associate or employee can confront a problem and respond with more objectivity than subjectivity, s/he has the ability to deal constructively with reality.

Second, change is constant. Secure associates can manifest whatever skills and attitudes may be mandated by present circumstance and modify them again as the next set of changes emerge. Insecure people retreat into routine and process for security. Secure people find security in their capacity to meet the challenge and adapt as necessary.

Third, aside from the odd and unusual genetic predisposition to ulcers, secure people don’t develop them. They handle problems and change calmly and objectively. Insecure people can’t. One non-profit I worked with had an extremely capable secretary whose high degree of competence made her a great part of the team. She was, however, fragile in the sense that any variation in the process, however slight, became a big, big deal. Fortunately, she worked in an office completely by herself which insulated others from her. Anxiety and nervousness has a way of going viral.

Fourth, secure people are contributors. They are team players and consensus builders. They are not users. They do not manipulate others to gain advantage for themselves. They seek advancement for the whole not the part.

Fifth, they bring others along, share information, show the way, and give assistance without expecting a return.

Sixth, they fight fairly. I do not want to even imply that secure people never disagree. They do, and probably should from time to time. But when they do, they do so constructively. They offer a counter perspective, substantiate it with sound logic, and offer a solution.

Finally, they are people who genuinely care about someone other than themselves. They are just nice people to be around. They are not abrasive and would be missed if they were gone.

Emotionally secure people are not rare but they are in demand. When you find them and can recruit them, keep them.

The next trait is personal and organizational loyalty. Check back in a couple of days.