When I was still a budding, young leader in the business world, I had a supervisor who was very much a mentor to me. However, being young and prideful, I didn’t always learn the lessons he was trying to teach until after the fact. One such lesson was the day he told me, “Don’t bring me problems; bring me SOLUTIONS.” (If you are familiar with Ken Blanchard’s ONE MINUTE MANAGER, this may sound familiar.)
At the time, that phrase frustrated me. “If I had the solution, I wouldn’t be going to you!” I would think to myself. I wasn’t sure if my supervisor just didn’t have time for me, thought I was a nuisance, or just didn’t have the answer himself. We would go round and round as I would go to him with issues, and he would turn me away to go find solutions before approaching him again.
Now that I am a seasoned leader who is beginning to teach other budding, new leaders, I get it. What my supervisor had been trying to teach me was INITIATIVE. It wasn’t so much that I needed to have the RIGHT solution when I approached him, but that I had SUGGESTIONS for solutions at all. He was teaching me to think for myself – to begin the process of solving my own problems without relying on someone else to always tell me the right move to make. Why is that so important? Because – if you are truly a leader – you will continue to climb the ladder. As you continue to climb , one day YOU will be THE leader that everyone comes to……and there won’t be someone else to turn to for the answers. So somewhere along the way, you have to make that switch from always looking to someone else for the answers to finding the answers within yourself (or your team). If you can’t make that switch, you won’t be able to gain respect from a following of team members, and you will cease to progress in your leadership journey.
Let me put this into perspective: Let’s say you need to have some dental work done. Your regular dentist is out, so you are seeing a new dentist that you’ve not seen before. As he begins to work on your mouth, he keeps having to leave the room to consult with someone else, because he is uncertain of what to do. Would you continue to allow that dentist to work on your mouth?
How about putting your faith in a hair stylist to put chemicals on your hair if she has to keep asking other stylists how to mix or use those chemicals? Or would you put your life in the hands of a new driver on the freeway, if he/she is still asking how to operate the car?
The bottom line is we only trust those who seem confident in what they are doing. When we have to constantly step away to ask others for the answers, our followers lose confidence in our ability to lead. That confidence to make decisions (right or wrong) and find solutions within yourself or within your team is what will ultimately set you apart from other aspiring leaders. The sooner you can make that switch to show initiative, the faster you will win the race to the top.
What is “initiative” anyway? Merriam-Webster defines it as “the power or opportunity to do something before others do; the energy and desire that is needed to do something; an introductory step.” Dictionary.com has another powerful definition: “leading action.” What illustrative words! “Power”…”energy and desire”…”LEADING ACTION”. YES!
If you are early in your journey to being a leader, take these words to heart and LEAD ACTION! Your mentors understand that you still need guidance, and from time to time will still need feedback or input on the course you have decided to take. But your mentor would rather refine a course you have chosen, than to have to paint the path for you. It is easier to promote those who are already LEADING ACTION, than to have to drag someone along or spur someone into action. The bottom line and food for thought: voicing concerns without suggestions for solutions is just complaining. And complaining just compounds the problem. So be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Show initiative, and LEAD ACTION!