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Covey - The 7 habits of highly effective people

Taking the Initiative

Taking the Initiative Our basic nature is to act, and not be acted upon. As well as enabling us to choose our response to particular circumstances, this empowers us to create circumstances Taking initiative does not mean being pushy, obnoxious, or aggressive. It does mean recognizing our responsibility to make things happen. Over the years, I have frequently counseled people who wanted better jobs to show more initiative -- to take interest and aptitude tests, to study the industry, even the specific problems the organizations they are interested in are facing, and then to develop an effective presentation showing how their abilities can help solve the organization's problem. It's called "solution selling," and is a key paradigm in business success. The response is usually agreement -- most people can see how powerfully such an approach would affect their opportunities for employment or advancement. But many of them fail to take the necessary steps, the initiative, to make it happen. "I don't know where to go to take the interest and aptitude test." "How do I study industry and organizational problems? No one wants to help me." Many people wait for something to happen or someone to take care of them. But people who end up with the good jobs are the proactive ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles, to get the job done. Whenever someone in our family, even one of the younger children, takes an irresponsible position and waits for someone else to make things happen or provide a solution, we tell them, "Use your R and I!" (resourcefulness and initiative). In fact, often before we can say it, they answer their own complaints, "I know -- use my R and I!" Holding people to the responsible course is not demeaning; it is affirming. Proactivity is part of human nature, and although the proactive muscles may be dormant, they are there. By respecting the proactive nature of other people, we provide them with at least one clear, undistorted reflection from the social mirror. Of course, the maturity level of the individual has to be taken into account. We can't expect high creative cooperation from those who are deep into emotional dependence. But we can, at least, affirm their basic nature and create an atmosphere where people can seize opportunities and solve problems in an increasingly self-reliant way. Act or be Acted Upon The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don't is literally the difference between night and day. I'm not talking about a 25 to 50 percent difference in effectiveness; I'm talking about a 5000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware, and sensitive to others. It takes initiative to create the P/PC Balance of effectiveness in your life. It takes initiative to develop the Seven Habits. As you study the other six habits, you will see that each depends on the development of your proactive muscles. Each puts the responsibility on 41

you to act. If you wait to be acted upon, you will be acted upon. And growth and opportunity consequences attend either road. At one time I worked with a group of people in the home improvement industry, representatives from 20 different organizations who met quarterly to share their numbers and problems in an uninhibited way. This was during a time of heavy recession, and the negative impact on this particular industry was even heavier than on the economy in general. These people were fairly discouraged as we began. The first day, our discussion question was "What's happening to us? What's the stimulus?" Many things were happening. The environmental pressures were powerful. There was widespread unemployment, and many of these people were laying off friends just to maintain the viability of their enterprises. By the end of the day, everyone was even more discouraged. The second day, we addressed the question, "What's going to happen in the future?" We studied environmental trends with the underlying reactive assumption that those things would create their future. By the end of the second day, we were even more depressed. Things were going to get worse before they got better, and everyone knew it. So on the third day, we decided to focus on the proactive question, "What is our response? What are we going to do? How can we exercise initiative in this situation?" In the morning we talked about managing and reducing costs. In the afternoon we discussed increasing market share. We brainstormed both areas, then concentrated on several very practical, very doable things. A new spirit of excitement, hope, and proactive awareness concluded the meetings. At the every end of the third day, we summarized the results of the conference in a threepart answer to the question, "How's business?" Part one: What's happening to us is not good, and the trends suggest that it will get worse before it gets better Part two: But what we are causing to happen is very good, for we are better managing and reducing our costs and increasing our market share Part three: Therefore, business is better than ever Now what would a reactive mind say to that? "Oh, come on. Face facts. You can only carry this positive thinking and self-psych approach so far. Sooner or later you have to face reality." But that's the difference between positive thinking and proactivity. We did face reality. We faced the reality of the current circumstance and of future projections. But we also faced the reality that we had the power to choose a positive response to those circumstances and projections. Not facing reality would have been to accept the idea that what's happening in our environment had to determine us. Businesses, community groups, organizations of every kind -- including families -- can be proactive. They can combine the creativity and resourcefulness of proactive individuals to create a proactive culture within the organization. The organization does not have to 42

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