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My Ideal Employee: On Initiative

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with many individuals. Most have been above average, a few made me cringe (waiting for the next crisis), and a select few have never failed to delight me. Today, I thought a bit about what separates the stars from the dogs (using the BCG framework). There are a couple of traits that I value over others. The one that I will discuss in this post is initiative.

The question ‘what should I do next’ really irritates me. It reminds me of 5 years olds whining ‘I’m bored!’.

Micro-managing is something that I like about as much as going to the dentist (which is NOT one of my favorite past-times).

I much rather prefer delegating responsibility and authority, If you want to impress me, keep a vigilant eye on the priorities of the organization, and set several priority activities or areas. Occasionally meet me for coffee and discuss how things are going, and make sure that we both have the same idea about the context, the goals and the constraints. Come up with your own plan and execute it, making use of your own initiative, chasing up the required stakeholders and using the God-given faculties, abilities and resources at your disposal.

Generally, the type of projects that I work on require a high-tolerance for failure, lots of adaptability, the ability to budget time, efforts and identify milestones, and truck-loads of persistence. In industrial research and technology transfer, you are working on strategic projects, but you will most likely fail many times as hypotheses do not pan out, and you’ll need a plan B, and then a plan C (and so on). You’ve got to be a one (wo)man army, able to do the impossible. We expect miracles daily in industrial research.

You may need to get to your objectives by very unusual routes. It is absolutely critical that you need to know how to roll with the punches, set up a sustainable system that allows you to keep improving the ‘solution’ for a (most likely) not completely understood problem. The projects you are working on will probably require you to become a world-authority in a very specialized area of knowledge which hardly anyone else know about.

Nothing beats initiative, confidence, persistence and adaptability in allowing you to succeed at tasks that 90% of the other practitioners will fail at

If you cannot think, and cannot exercise initiative, you’re in the wrong corner of the organization.

  1. October 12th, 2009 at 00:29 | #1

    Your post reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s “An ideal husband”


    but yes, agreed!!

  2. Kenan
    October 12th, 2009 at 02:32 | #2

    Agreed, I think initiative is the key ingredient. A complimentary quality to foster initiative from the management is giving the employee ownership of the goal. If the employees are able to own their own goals in the right context, they will certainly be more prone to initiate, execute and stay motivated.

  3. raheel rabbani
    October 13th, 2009 at 03:30 | #3

    I like the approach of being proactive rarher than being reactive which most organisations are looking for in their future managers/ workforce. I do rember a friend of mine mbeing refused a job because the interviewing panel thought that he is not a proactive rather reactive and therefore cannot lead a team . In the new global world we are living ,people in an organisations are looking for the leaders who can do more than they are told and bring results that can make organisations stand out ,but the question is how many of the schools , universities are teaching their students to be leaders rather than followers especially incase of a developing country . I would not have realsied these facts until I joined a uni for my masters in health management where it is tought how to lead rather than follow , make decisions rather than be dictated . The new approach to this concept of leadership has evolved and we need to train our upcoming student to think , reflect and synthesise . Its our duty to lead a way which will make difference .

  4. October 13th, 2009 at 10:47 | #4

    @talha I was not trying to set up a bar as high as was expected of Lord Robert by his wife. 🙂

  5. October 13th, 2009 at 10:48 | #5

    @kenan, you’re absolutely correct. The smart manager will delegate both responsibility AND authority. Giving someone lots of responsibility without the resources and leverage they need to succeed is an experiment in corporate torture.

  6. October 13th, 2009 at 10:52 | #6

    @raheel they teach you about vision, strategic analysis and goal setting in the better MBA programmes and probably in the armed forces’ officer training.

    However, these are universal skills that should be available to everyone, and really should form part of the ‘common sense’ or wisdom that people can rely on. I actually tried to introduce these topics to my students in the entrepreneurship classes that I taught, but yes, this is an unusual topic for lecturer’s to broach. Especially so, with the specialized curriculum and high time pressures that we operate under today.

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