We’re constantly bombarded with a litany of articles, studies and discussions highlighting the generational differences in the workplace. These discussions often confuse and mislead readers by zeroing in on ‘key characteristics’ which supposedly define a generation while subtly stereotyping it at the same time. One of the topics that comes up often in these discussions is what makes for a good employee. This topic has permeated the business world for decades long before Gen-Z and Millennials entered the workplace over the last 10+ years causing a current day telenovela in the business world.
While the generations entering the workforce, and or exiting for that matter, may have a difference of opinion on what they want out of their careers and what they need in order to be happy in their jobs, there is one common trait which is synonymous with all generations and all employees for that matter. This common trait, or behavior, defines what a good employee is regardless of the stereotypes and or characteristics which accompany the respective generation.
When we take away generational characteristics, race, religion, gender and everything else used to categorize and therefore sort and stack people we’re left looking at people’s actions. Their behaviors. What I’ve found true over the years is behavior is indicative of the true nature of a person, not their words. If we say one thing but then do (act) another, our behaviors become the defining force for who we are, not our words. This is certainly true for employees and their effectiveness as we look at whether an employee is ‘great’ versus ‘average’, or worse.
So, what’s the difference between a great employee and an average one? An employee who excels versus one who mails it in operating at a mediocre level of performance. The difference is a little behavior known as INITIATIVE.
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s not groundbreaking information. I’ve known this for years.”
While we may know this, or have seen it in person, what’s remarkable are the number of people who actually deploy ‘initiative’ in their jobs.
In my 15 years’ of business experience, of which 13 of those years have been in management, and 4 owning a business, I’ve experienced both first and secondhand the difference initiative makes in an employee and leader. When we strip away all the categories and demographics, mentioned above, this behavioral trait is the one that keeps rising to the top distinguishing the great performers from the average, mediocre and under performing employees.
Initiative is everything!
What does initiative look like in a business setting?
When I think of great initiative in the work place the first thing that comes to mind is a situation I witnessed firsthand with an employee of mine several years ago. We had a client who was flying into Orange County to visit with several suppliers, our company being one of them. My employee, Megan, took it upon herself to pick up our client at the airport, coffee in hand, and bring them to our office for the meeting. Talk about service, yet her initiative to provide a great experience for our customer didn’t end there. She also took the client out to lunch in Laguna Beach (our client was from Idaho and had never seen the amazing beaches of Laguna). The client had also forgot to pack a bathroom bag for their travels so Megan took him to Target to pick up a couple items. After all this was done Megan shuttled him back to the airport.
Yes, this was an amazing effort by Megan yet what made it truly remarkable and just as memorable was the fact that she did this all on her own. She didn’t ask for permission; she just took it upon herself to deliver top notch service. Memorable service at that.
I still think about the initiative Megan displayed during this time and marvel at how impressive it was. Needless to say the client sent us an overwhelming email of appreciation thanking Megan for her time and willingness to shepherd him around. He said and I quote “It was the best business trip I’ve been on, I appreciate you [Megan] taking the time to ensure I had a good visit.”
While that story sounds great it’s certainly not the norm.
Rather than focusing next on the lack luster initiative most employees display at the office perhaps its better use of your time and mine to discuss the ways an employee can change their mindset and actions to better align with an initiative based work approach. Consider the following:
Possessing good initiative at work makes or breaks the quality of employee you are and often times how you are viewed in the organization. Are you a blessing to your team and company or are you dead weight? Having good initiative is the one behavior you can 100% control which in turn can directly impact in a positive way your job and career.
Stop making excuses for why you don’t act at work. Next time you see a problem or issue come up at the office which you are directly or close too take a chance and stand up and get involved. People who say ‘YES’ I can do that rather than ‘someone else can do that’ frequently experience better career
Article was written by guest writer Trisha Aure
Many of us live two lives. These two lives run on parallel tracks to one another yet few of us understand the dichotomy which exists by having a work life and a home life which operate separate from one another. We’ve been told growing up these lives need to be mutual exclusive of one another where we don’t bring our personal life and issues to work and vice versa.
This inevitably creates a variety of issues for us at both the home and office. The biggest issue it creates is our ability to grow as people which leads to our ability to grow as professionals.
Have you ever heard that personal growth is necessary for professional growth? It is, I just didn’t realize how critical this was till about 6 years ago. Some people believe separation needs to exist between work and home, or ‘work life balance’ as we commonly like to phrase it.
I’m not convinced ‘work life balance’ is possible, especially not if you are looking to create a long term successful career which your personal life benefits from.
This ladies and gentlemen is where my career ah-ha moment began – the idea of a ‘work life balance’ is garbage. We look at this phrase typically from the work side of things meaning we should work less in order to enjoy our personal lives more. Yet how often are we looking at this phrase from the personal side to understand how we impact our professional experience based on who we are outside of work. It goes both ways and to think a steady ‘balance’ between the two is possible is a dream in fantasy land.
I was in a new company and aggressively working on advancing my career. I had a lot of personal baggage I thought I was leaving at the door before I walked into the office. I had some deep heartache within my family dynamic that I never figured out how to live with, so I decided to act as though my life was perfect and I ignored my past. This act forced me to live two different lives and I will tell you, this was not only one of the hardest parts of my life but it was definitely the loneliest.
This is where I learned I wear my heart, and therefore emotions, on my sleeve. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because that is where my passion comes from, the heart. What I learned is when you are essentially living two different lives, it starts to take a toll on both your career and personal life. I had received some hard feedback and it was based on my attitude because I was aggressively trying to hold my personal struggles back. If anyone has ever been here before you know that holding feelings back only creates a blow up later down the road and mine happened at work.
Luckily, I had great people around me that cared about me professionally AND personally. I obtained a mentor and started receiving coaching on how to deal with my struggles that I quite frankly kept pushing down for over a decade. It was not an easy nor short process. Then again, anything worth having or doing right isn’t easy in the first place. I started working on building a healthy mind, body and soul, and 6 years later I’ve continued this quest not stopping once.
Growth is an everyday event and I have built some great routines that have helped me merge my two lives between home and work.
After 6 years of focus, dedication and some really hard work to improve myself I have lost 40 pounds (and kept it off), I’m in a leadership role with a company I’m part-owner in, I’m actively involved in the community and constantly improving my life on both sides. I honestly do not believe I would be where I’m at today if I continued to try and live two different lives.
To tie this all together, I believe that growth within your career begins at home. Have you ever heard, you can’t love someone until you love yourself? I believe that this internal love for yourself will only push you to cross any and all boundaries that you put up yourself. Stop putting up boundaries, and add some goals to your life. Once you start pushing forward, it’s crazy how that turns into unstoppable.
Key Take Away
You must take care of yourself in order for you to strive in other parts of your life. In regards to work and life, this is an AND, not an OR. We need to be confident in both in order to grow in both. I’m continuously reading leadership books and I can relate what I read in both my professional and personal life. We need to do away with catchy slogans like ‘work life balance’ because all they do is drive us to live a lifestyle which isn’t attainable.
If you are stagnant in your career, or struggling with something personally and you see it hindering other aspects in your life, find someone to talk to, find a mentor, find a coach to help you figure out how to get over that hump. I currently have a mentor which I found on micromentor.org. This is a free site and it matches you with people that are looking to grow their career in various areas. Growth is definitely uncomfortable and no one likes change, but building a strong support system will help guide us in achieving our goals and creating a well balanced successful life.
As we grow in our profession, we naturally pick up things here and there which aid us in operating as a professional. These little nuances of professional life often times can’t be learned in a class room setting or text book, especially when it comes to behavioral tips like how to handle yourself in certain situations, shaking hands and introducing yourself at a networking event, overcoming challenges, etc.
Over the course of my career one of the best sources for information and perspective have come through mentors. I’ve been blessed to have four (4) mentors throughout my adult life, each of them providing a different perspective and approach that I’ve been able to utilize to craft my own personal style of ‘me’. For what it’s worth, I’m grateful beyond words to these four people for instilling in me valuable lessons about life, family, work and relationships.
Through these relationships I’ve learned a vital lesson that I will carry with me throughout my career, which is:
The only person responsible for your career is YOU.
Each one of my mentors have preached this lesson, using their own approach to reinstate the fact that we [you and I] are ultimately in charge of our own careers. No one else. Not our parents, not our teachers and certainly not our bosses. It’s a universal truth I’ve tested now dozens of times and I still get the same outcome – it’s up to us, not them.
When we develop a mindset of self accountability we learn that it is in fact up to us [you] to drive our careers in the direction we want them to head.
When people aren’t responsible for their own careers it shows up sounding like the following excuses: “my boss didn’t do anything for me”, “that’s not my job responsibility”, “I didn’t know I could do that”, “no one told me that was possible”, “that mistake wasn’t my fault” and on and on.
Casting aside the multitude of excuses we can drum up, once we learn it’s our ultimate responsibility to drive our careers it then becomes easier to ask for help while navigating the many facets of a career. Once we ask for help and start getting it we remain in the drivers seat asking questions, following up and initiating conversation. As a result we take responsibility for the outcomes. What comes from this type of mindset and approach is an increasing attitude and desire to improve, learn and grow.
Key Take Away:
Asking for help and guidance is a big step. It means you want to improve yourself, congrats as you’re already ahead of many people around you. When you ask for help from someone, whether that be a mentor, boss, teacher, friend, it’s up to you to drive that interaction. It is your responsibility to drive the communication, follow up and request for direction. Don’t sit back and wait for that person to do the work. They are there strictly as advisors to give feedback and perspective, you must put in the time and effort.
Spend some time in a quiet place thinking about your own career and how you’ve gotten to where you are. Happy with the present circumstances? If you still have more you want to achieve go get yourself a mentor asap. A good place to start is www.micromentor.org. It’s a free service, one I wholeheartedly endorse.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.