If you are proactive and take initiative, you will advance in your career explains Christy Crump

In 1996, Harrison Ford played Linus in the movie Sabrina.  Every day, Linus was driven from his country home to his city business by his chauffeur, and on the drive, Linus traded stocks over the phone. At the conclusion of the movie, we learn the chauffeur made the same stock transactions he overheard Linus make, and had also achieved millionaire status.

I liken myself to the chauffeur.  For 25 years, I was an administrative professional; the last 15 years to high level executives.  In those years, I attended “behind closed doors” meetings.  I was the fly on the wall that many people wish they could be.  I watched supervisors fall backward and leap forward.  I saw what does and doesn’t work.  I learned what breeds success, and what fosters failure. Above anything, the actions that serve well and produce the most positive results are being proactive and taking initiative.

I recently surveyed 100 supervisors across the state of Florida and asked, “What is your number one complaint about your staff?” The top answer was, “My staff isn’t proactive.  They won’t take initiative. They won’t follow through or follow up without being asked or told to do so.  They won’t do what needs to be done without being asked to do it.” If I could give you a money back guarantee on anything in life, it is this…if you are proactive and take initiative, you will be advance in your career, and you will be successful.

Consider this story:  There were two wood salesmen.  John had been with the company ten years.  His supervisor asked what kind of wood was received in the morning shipment.  John reported, “The wood is pine.”  The supervisor asked the size of the boards.  “Six feet,” John reported.  The supervisor asked the price of the boards.  “Each board sells for $3,” John reported.  Next, the supervisor called Mark, who had been with the company five years.  The supervisor asked Mark what kind of wood was received in the morning shipment.  Mark reported, “The wood is pine, six-foot boards, and sells for $3 per board.”  The supervisor promoted Mark and gave him a pay raise.  John was irate.  He had worked for the company for 10 years.  Why was Mark promoted?

Mark took the initiative to offer more information than was needed or requested.  He gave 10% more than was asked.  He was one step ahead of the boss.  He anticipated the questions that might be asked, he was prepared, and he was rewarded.  The moral of the story is to be proactive and take initiative, and you will reap the rewards. The rewards may not always be monetary. They may be the rewards you set for yourself as a result of reaching your goals, but there will always be a reward.

Proactive means doing things before they need to be done, rather than doing things after the need is identified.  Initiative means an initial first step, the power or ability to begin and to follow through with a plan or task.  Taking initiative is one of the fastest way to get noticed and is often a leading factor in being considered for career advancement within a company. In order to be proactive and do things before they need to be done, you’ve got to understand your role in the organization and what is expected of you.  Then you have the knowledge to make a smart decision about what needs to be done, and you are able take the initiative to take the steps to do it.

Employers need employees who are self-motivated and take initiative with little direction

Employers don’t have time to continuously give instruction about every aspect of a job.  They need employees who learn quickly, follow direction with little supervision, and follow through and follow up without being asked.  Gone are the days of doing “just enough” to get by.  Employers need staff who do what needs to be done whether or not it’s in their job description.  Employees can ask themselves, “What can I do to be of more value to my supervisor and to my organization?  What needs to be done to further the cause of my organization?  How can I do it or make sure it gets done?”

Employers also need employees who are not afraid; they need employees who are empowered and confident. The more you do something, the better you get.  The better you get, the less fear you have. The less fear you have, the more confident you become.  Confidence grows exponentially. Often, we are not proactive because we are afraid. When faced with a fear, we do one of two things – take flight away from the fear or fight against it. Most of us take flight away from our fears, because it is easier than standing up and fighting.  Often, employees are afraid of their supervisor, so they take flight away from the supervisor, avoid them, and consequently appear as though they are not taking initiative. This is not a step towards success.

There are only two fears we are born with – the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds.  Every other fear we learn from our parents, siblings, teachers, and life experiences. We allow those fears to grow strong, and we become prisoner to our fears. We hold back advancement and fall short of reaching our goals, simply because we allow fear to be stronger than desire to succeed. Rather than taking flight away from fear, stand up to it, beat it down, and never let it control you again.

In order to be proactive and take initiative, you must have a positive, professional attitude. Attitude is how you take in information, process it, and react to it. We take in information, think about it, feel something about it, then react to it through words and tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and actions. Are your reactions serving you well?  Regardless of what you think and feel, are your reactions positive and professional? If not, you have the power to change your tone of voice, words, facial expressions, body language, and physical actions. You must realize what change is necessary then overcome your fear and change it.

Maintaining a Positive, Professional Attitude

A person with a positive, professional attitude takes work seriously, seeing everything as important in your overall career plan and understanding how your work relates to your overall goal.  Every minute of every day you should take steps toward your overall career goal by learning new things, cross training, asking questions, and offering to step up to do things that are outside your comfort zone.

A person with a positive, professional attitude cares enough to analyze how their work could be performed better even if it means making changes.  No system or process is ever perfect.  There is always room for improvement. And although change breeds fear in most people, if you have committed to overcoming fear, you will view change as a positive opportunity to learn and grow rather than as a negative, forced situation in which you will lose.

A person with a positive, professional attitude feels comfortable sharing ideas, enthusiasm, and skills with others.  Take time to teach and mentor those coming behind you. Teaching someone a new skill not only ensures there is someone else on staff to help complete the job, it hones your skills as well. Mentoring a colleague is a fulfilling experience.

A person with a positive, professional attitude underpromises and overdelivers.  Do what is asked, requested, and expected, then go one step farther.  Don’t offer to take on more than you can handle, but do what is expected of you without being asked to do it.  Then, give 10% more than is expected.  Remember Mark in the wood salesman story?  He was asked to identify the type of wood received in the morning shipment.  He underpromised.  He said he would identify the wood.  He overdelivered.  He told the boss the kind of wood, the size of the boards, and the cost.  And Mark was rewarded for being proactive (anticipating other information his supervisor might need) and taking initiative to go above and beyond that which was asked of him.

A person with a positive, professional attitude is part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Look ahead, be proactive, and see where future problems lie.  Then, take initiative to solve the problems before they become problems. Only 10% of the workforce is part of the solution.  Be in that 10%.

Remember, no matter where you work or what your position, people watch you, examine you, emulate you, and learn from you.  Your reputation for being a stellar employee builds, based on what people observe and experience in you and the attitude under which you work. Be the one who stands out from the crowd!

Christy Crump has 20 years of experience in high-level administrative positions and five years as founder and president of Crump & Associates, a training and professional development company with a client list including Fortune 500 companies. In ... (Read More)

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