Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

There’s No Telling Where Initiative Will Take You

Two sons worked for their father on the family’s farm. The younger brother had for some years been given more responsibility and reward, and one day the older brother asked his father to explain why.

The father said, “First, go to the Kelly’s farm and see if they have any chickens for sale. We need to add to our stock.”

The brother soon returned with the answer, “Yes they have five chickens they can sell to us.”

That father then said, “Good, please ask them the price.”

The son returned with the answer, “The chickens are $10 each.”

The father said, “Good, now ask if they can deliver the chickens tomorrow.”

And the son returned with the answer, “Yes, they can deliver them tomorrow.”

The father asked the older brother to wait and listen, and then called to the younger brother in a nearby field, “Go to the Davidson’s Farm and see if they have any chickens for sale. We need to add to our stock.”

The younger brother soon returned with the answer, “Yes, they have five chickens for $10 each, or ten for $8 each and they can deliver them tomorrow. I asked them to deliver the five unless they heard otherwise from us in the next hour. And I agreed that if we want the extra five chickens we could buy them for $6 each.”

The father turned to the older son, who nodded his head in appreciation. He now realized why his brother was given more responsibility and reward.

The younger son showed responsibility, anticipation and negotiation skills. Bottom line, he showed initiative.

Top business leaders share a common trait: initiative. It is also one of the top attributes that employers look for. Words like self-starter and self-motivated are key in resumes.

Yet initiative is something they don’t teach you in business school. As my friend, the late Jim Rohn said: “Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.”

Learning to take initiative pays off in many ways. The first step is to do more than what is expected of you, as demonstrated by the younger brother. He anticipated his father’s questions and acted upon them. He was prepared.

Confidence is also a significant part of initiative. But confidence, like initiative, doesn’t come naturally to most people. Even the most successful people have struggled with confidence in their careers.

The good news is that you can develop confidence, just like any muscle or character trait, if you’re willing to work hard. Set small goals to build your confidence toward achieving larger goals.

Confidence enables you to be proactive and inspire others to perform to the best of their abilities, without the fear of failure holding them back. You have to think like a winner.

Another aid in developing initiative is to create a team mindset. Unity consistently produces greater results than individual endeavors. Teamwork divides the effort and multiplies the effect. The boat won’t go if we all don’t row, so motivate your team members to do their very best.

Actively solicit feedback. The natural instinct for most people is to be defensive, but it’s essential to learn to love feedback. Everyone can learn something from others who have more experience. Rather than viewing feedback as judgment, consider looking at it as an opportunity to grow, learn and acquire a new skill. Be grateful for the suggestions.

It also never hurts to have a positive attitude. Thinking positive has no negative.

Finally, share ideas for improvement. If I give you a dollar and you give me a dollar, we each have a dollar. But if I give you an idea and you give me an idea, we each have two ideas. A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. Everyone benefits from sharing ideas with others.

The 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” told the compelling story of Dorothy Vaughan, a Black female mathematician who worked as a “human computer” for NASA during the 1960s. When NASA installed its first IBM mainframe computer, Dorothy feared she and her team would soon become redundant, but anticipated NASA’s need for a programming team. She taught herself the FORTRAN programming language, then taught it to her team, who became NASA’s programming team.

One of my favorite aphorisms goes like this: Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

Mackay’s Moral: Initiative is finishitive.

About the Author Harvey Mackay, Founder & CEO

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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