Inc. Magazine asked their readers to define what makes the “Best Employee Ever.” The words that came back most frequently included trustworthiness, reliability, dedication, enthusiasm, humility, passion, a sense of humour, and being a team player.But one word came up more than any other: proactive. (Taking initiative and having a "solutions-oriented" attitude.)
In practice this quality means that when there's a problem at work, you go to your manager with solutions, options and alternatives—not just “there’s a problem, what should I do?”
Fans of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People will recall the first habit is "be proactive"—a habit that is viewed as the foundation of growth and success.
The 7 Levels of Initiative
In exploring the idea of being proactive, Stephen Covey provides a great diagram in The 8th Habit (the follow-up to 7 Habits).
Moving up these steps progressively increases people’s willingness to trust you, and ultimately, promote you.
“I Intend To” -- The Captain’s Example
While sailing in the Hawaiian Islands on the USS Santa Fe, a multibillion-dollar nuclear submarine, Covey observed a captain and his crew carry out simulated war games. During the day, Covey noticed something odd. Officers would regularly approach the captain and say, “I intend to.” For example, “I intend to take the boat down to four hundred feet.” The captain would sometimes ask questions in reply or simply say “very well.” When Covey asked the captain about his leadership style, he explained that he wanted to empower his people as far as possible within the confines of the naval context. The idea was to have people operate with a “solutions first” mind-set, and never come to a supervisor with a problem without first considering the best options and alternatives. Instead, they should always think through the best solution, coming fully prepared to carry it out.
“I intend to” is different in kind than “I recommend.” The person has done more analytical work, to the point that he/she is totally prepared to carry out the action. The sailors had a real sense of adding value and of being trusted—an experience they had not had with other skippers when they’d been in “wait until told” mode.
What mode do you generally operate from?