Take initiative

Nothing happens until something moves. Einstein

My favorite word in the English language is initiate and its noun form, initiative.

Life favors those who take initiative.

Most people live passive lives; others are aggressive. Aggressive is better.

This may be the single most critical difference between leaders and followers. Leaders initiate; they are proactive. They have an agenda. I’ve even noticed that good leaders walk fast, literally; they know their destination and want to get there quickly.

Kirkpatrick and Locke agree: “Effective leaders are proactive. They make choices and take action that leads to change instead of just reacting to events or waiting for things to happen; that is, they show a high level of initiative. Instead of sitting idly by or waiting for fate to smile upon them, leaders need to challenge the process.”

When teaching the Lead Well workshop, I ask delegates to consider the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. A thermometer merely reflects the temperature of a room; a thermostat has the ability to change the temperature. Leaders are like thermostats; they visualize a better future and take the initiative to make necessary changes.

Often, initiative must be paired with courage because you will inevitably pursue things that you have never done before, and that can be intimidating. Also, when other people follow your initiatives, you’ll sense a responsibility toward their effort and well-being, and that also takes courage.

Initiative requires a bias-to-action and a frustration with passivity. It likes movement.

Don’t always sit in the passenger seat. Be the driver.

“I would not sit waiting for some vague tomorrow, nor for something to happen. One could wait a lifetime, and find nothing at the end of the waiting. I would begin here, I would make something happen.” Louis L’Amour, Sackett’s Land Summary

The year 2019 lies before us like a blank sheet of paper. Write out some goals and objectives for the next 12 months. Don’t succumb to doing the same-old-same-old. Start small and go slow, but do start and keep moving.

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Have a healthy balance of these three types of relationships


When I first started my career as a minister, a friend gave me some good advice about maintaining a healthy balance of three types of relationships: takers, balanced, and givers. 

“Don, there are some relationships that will constantly drain you; you’re always giving to them but they seldom give to you. These are takers. You can’t totally avoid them (particularly in the ministry) but if they represent the majority of your relationships, you’ll burn out and lose all hope for humankind.

“In other relationships there will be a nice reciprocity; you give to them and they give to you. These associations are normal, healthy, and balanced.

“You’ll also have a few relationships in which people generously give to you with no thought of return; they will give more to you than you will give to them. Accept their magnanimity.” 

In life, it’s important to have a healthy balance of these three relationship-types. If you only have “takers” they will drain you dry. Balanced relationships, in which there is a mutual giving and receiving, should be the dominate type. And be extremely grateful if you have those rare friends who delight in freely and unconditionally giving to you with no thought of return.

I think I can live a reasonably sane life if I maintain a ratio of 30/60/10 (30% of my relationships are takers, 60% are balanced, 10% are givers).

For a moment, consider what type of person you are to other people. 

  • Are you primarily a taker; high-maintenance and selfish? 
  • Or do you strive to maintain balance in your relationships—you’re sensitive about the give and take ratio of relationships and work toward equilibrium.  
  • Name several adult relationships in which you are, by choice, the primary giver. 

I now express deep appreciation to these people in my life who have given more to me than I have given to them: Dean F., Mike F., David H., John M., Chuck S., Jay W., Ruth M., and others. 

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Periodically, take a chill-pill

Sometimes, I trip over inconsequential issues. I obsess about issues that won’t matter six months from now, or even six hours from now. When this happens, I need to take a “chill-pill” and drop it.

Figuratively or literally, carry some “chill pills” with you. Figuratively, when you need to settle down, just imagine putting a pill in your mouth. Literally, keep a small packet of breath mints in your pocket and use them when needed for halitosis, but also pop one in your mouth when you need to relax and ease up on an issue (the placebo effect may genuinely help).

We also need to learn the indispensable coping skill called “drop it.” Imagine holding something in your hand, perhaps a pencil. Now uncurl your fingers and drop it on the floor; as an act of your will, let it go. Sometimes I will “drop it” metaphorically—in my mind I’ll imagine my hand releasing the pencil. If an issue is harder to dislodge I’ll hold up a clenched fist and physically release the grip. If I’m deeply entrenched in an issue, I may literally hold an object in my hand and drop it on the floor.      

Here are some situations when we ought to swallow the pill.

  • When the issue is settled; it’s not going to change. When the pilot says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re having mechanical problems so we’ll have to switch to another plane,” relax, take a deep breath, and let go of your frustration. You can’t change the situation.
  • When I have little or no control over a situation. When my four-year-old grandson has a meltdown, all I can do is try to minimize the damage (if we’re in a restaurant, we’ll go for a walk). There’s no sense in getting upset and impatient—he’s a child.
  • When I’m inordinately emotionally peaked. Perhaps I can influence a situation but in order to do so productively, I need to decrease my emotional fervor and become more rational. 
  • When contemplating an issue over time will give me greater clarity. Often, my first reaction to a situation is not my best; but when I allow myself to think through a situation, I arrive at a better conclusion. Instead of reacting immediately, I need to take a chill-pill and delay my reaction until a later time.    

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