What drives your actions: interruptions or initiative?

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The more Capitalist Hero biographies we read, the more we start to believe that initiative, drive, spark–whatever you call that motive force inside a leader that turns ideas into reality–is the essential quality that we should bring to work every day. Except, of course, when you shouldn’t.

[Note: I was recently reminded that this knock-knock joke is not quite as funny when “cow” is replaced with “husband.”]

Ironically, the vast majority of leadership roles–across industries, up and down the ranks of various size organizations–require the opposite type of trigger for action. Interrupt-triggered leaders, meaning the ones who are masters of prioritization, delegation, and execution of tasks that originate externally, are far more effective in the situations where you show up to work with a 5 gallon pail only to have 10 gallons of, er, sunshine piled on your desk every day.

I came across the idea for this post buried deep in a refreshing book by Ben Horowitz called The Hard Thing About Hard Things. I believe it was in a chapter about memorable hiring mistakes. In fact, most of the book is about memorable mistakes from his career as a technology entrepreneur, interspersed with hardcore West Coast rap lyrics, which makes for a very refreshing alternative to most Silicon Valley Hero books I’ve encountered.

So with the concept of leadership actions triggered by interrupt vs initiative out in the open, here a couple questions for you to consider as you take the concept with you to work tomorrow:

  • Am I more naturally triggered to act by interrupts (reactive style) or initiative (proactive style)? Here’s a test to help you decide: imagine a meeting gets canceled at the last minute and you find yourself with a free hour. Do you grab that crumpled bar napkin/receipt/sticky note off your desk with the “big idea” you wrote down last week and start working on it, now that you finally have some time? Or, do you wait a couple minutes for some hot new emails to arrive, and if nothing comes, take a lap around the office asking if anyone needs a “roadblock removed?”
  • What style of leader will my team need most in the next 12 months? Remember, there is no judgement between interrupt- vs initiative-triggered leaders. They are just different styles, suited for different situations. I won’t, however, open up the can of worms about whether the interrupt- or initiative-triggered leader is the cause or the effect of the organizational situation. Let’s just acknowledge that when they fit, the right kind of work gets done at the right pace to move the group forward.

Who is the quintessential interrupt-triggered leader in your life? Who is the embodiment of initiative? When do you find that one style is more effective than another? Leave a comment and let the leadertainment community know!

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