Take the Initiative

“If I can just make it through this busy time, I will be able to take a break…” At one time or another we have all either thought it or said it. It is what helped us get through a particular period of increased activity. It was the light at the end of the tunnel…so to speak.

I think what most of us missed in this scenario was that our work load was not increasing above its normal level. It was returning to its proper level.

There are always lulls in the business process. We tend to miss them as they don’t occur all at once. Gradually we find that we have more time to get things done, or drink our coffee, or any number of other diversions. With a little honest self examination you will know if you are working fully up to your potential.

It is at these times when you should take the initiative.

There are always important and significant customers that could use another “touch”. There are always budgets that could use another review, presentations that need to be updated and strategies that need to be revised. There are always things that we wanted to do to improve the business, or at least our portion of it.

In short, don’t relax. Don’t get busy. Get to work.

It’s hard to believe but it will invigorate both you and the team. It helps you maintain the “Act, don’t React” approach to business. Don’t wait for something to happen to drive your activity. Look to drive your activity in order to make something happen. It is not some trite platitude. It will actually work. It might sound a little odd, but taking the initiative to do more during a slower time will help keep the team more focused, and the business will run better.

Play to Your Strength

Management hires people to fill specific roles. If you need a sales person, you look for the best sales person you can find who will be compatible with the other personalities on the team and the overall company culture. You are usually not looking for a combination Marketing, Operations, Service, and Software Developing Sales person. Finding a sales person with these additional traits may be nice, but that does not make them the best Sales person. You are normally looking for depth of capability, not breadth of capability.

Each role will require a leader with a specific strength, be it Sales, Marketing, Finance, etc. Understand what your strength is and play to it. That does not mean to ignore the other disciplines. To the contrary, they are important and you should try to increase your capabilities in those areas. You should build your capabilities in your non-core disciplines by trying to surround yourself with people whose strengths lie in disciplines outside of your core strengths.

We all like to think that we have few if any weaknesses. This may be true. The point is that not everything we have is a strength. A little honest self analysis can help each of us pinpoint our strengths. We all tend to gravitate toward people who have similar personalities and interests. This can cause trouble for an organization. Once we are aware of our own capabilities, we should consciously try to look for people with different capabilities and strengths in an effort to “fill in the gaps” in the organization.

President Ronald Reagan was a leader who recognized as a great “communicator”.  He filled out his cabinet with people who were also recognized as some of the most talented individuals in their specific disciplines (Defense, Treasury, Economy, etc) around. President Reagan was a leader who played to his strength – communicating, but hired to his weakness – the mechanics and specifics of running the most diverse and complex country and economy on the planet. Looking back, it worked pretty well. We enjoyed some of the most prosperous times in recent memory. We would do well to learn from that example.

Write the Objectives AND the Reviews

 We have all been in the position where we have either brought new people into the organization, or have been put into a new role where it was time to write the annual objectives or the annual reviews. If it is the start of the year we are so busy with budgets and getting started that our first inclination is to tell the team members what the objectives are and then ask them to write and submit their own objectives for your review. If it is the end of the year we are so busy with the annual close that we ask them for draft self reviews for the same reasons. Admit it. We have all done it.

When these events happened to me I usually didn’t feel that my management was too busy to do my objectives or reviews. I felt I wasn’t enough of a priority in the organization for them to take the time to do it. I was busy too, but I guessed that someone had to do it and if I wanted a merit increase or a reasonable review that someone would be me.

One of the best ways to help build team commitment is to take the time to write their objectives and show them how their individual objectives and performance apply to the overall team’s objectives. Instead of treating the objective setting and review processes as necessary evils, you can turn them into a real team building opportunity by using them as a true method of communication with each individual team member. It takes more time than any of us would like, but it is the right thing to do.


Everyone wants to know where they stand in the business and how their work is helping and applies to the organization’s  progress. By sharing your objectives, and by taking the time and showing your commitment to the team by writing and reviewing their objectives you can assure both their alignment and commitment as well. When you as the leader demonstrate the importance of both the objective setting and review processes by devoting the time to personally complete them instead of delegating them back to the team, you show the team the value you place on them and the role that each member plays in the teams combined success. It means a lot. I know it did for me when my leaders did it.

Maintain a Healthy Level of Insanity

Many times we have all felt the urge to just sit back and laugh at the apparent insanity or absurdity of a business situation. My advice is to go ahead and do it. You need to find the humor in your job to really enjoy it.

I really enjoyed getting the corporate announcement announcing that there would be no more corporate announcements. (True story). Everyone else thought that was a good one too.

The job is important, and the goals need to be obtained, but it is not life and death. Depending on whom you talk to in the organization it and can be much more important than that. A good sense of humor and the good sense to share it are critical aspects of any job. It will make the tougher times easier to bear, and the better times even more fun. It can also provide a balance to those times and events that are serious.

As the leader it is your responsibility to convey the wishes and directions of the business to your team. It will be your sense of humor that will enable you to remain a part of the team while as the leader you must also remain apart from the team. It will enable the team to see that you also view issues and items from your own perspective, not just the one put forward by the business.

So the next time you get a notice telling you that the corporate training in how to run an effective meeting scheduled to start in 20 minutes will be delayed 30 minutes due to a scheduling conflict regarding the availability of the meeting room (another true story), be sure to share it. You could probably use the laugh, and so could the team.

Don’t Get Comfortable

We are all aware that the business environment is changing. We should all know that it is constantly changing. What we may not be aware of is that the rate of change in the business environment is increasing. Things are changing at an increasingly faster rate. These facts have led me to the following rule:

If you are comfortable doing what you are doing, you are probably doing it wrong.

Change does not breed comfort.  As you spend more time in your new leadership role, you learn its requirements and you get more comfortable. It is this “comfort level” that we all strive for that we should also be prepared to avoid. As the leader we can either react to change or we can lead it, but either way change is bound to occur.

Change requires effort. Those businesses that lead change force other businesses to react to it. As I have said, change causes discomfort. You have to learn a whole new set of requirements. However, I have found that it is almost always more preferable (and less stressful) to go through the change and learning process on your own terms instead of reacting to someone else’s.

As the leader you can either act on your own changes (new plans, processes, programs, organizations, etc.) in order to improve your business, or you can react to someone else’s changes as they try to improve theirs. In many cases you will need to change for both purposes. This may seem like a pretty simple view of things, but it is probably a pretty accurate description of the current business environment.

The point is that if you are too comfortable in your job, there is a good chance that you are not changing as either an action or reaction to the environment, and that will be a cause of even greater stress and discomfort in the future.