What Can I Do? Thoughts on Nurturing a Culture of Self-Initiative

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Watching ESPN last Sunday night, I was struck by a comment that analyst (and former Super Bowl QB) Trent Dilfer made about championship teams and what makes them different. He talked about how players on a championship team were different in mindset. They always ask themselves: “What can I do to help my team? How can I be better?” These players do not wait on others to make the first move. There are no dependencies or excuses; just a dead-on focus for ways they can improve and contribute to the team as individuals.

As someone who hires for and manages a team, I’m curious about how I can better encourage a culture in which members of our team default to a “what can I do” attitude. I think for the most part, everyone we have has exhibited this type of behavior. From time to time, I’ll notice that there are comments that point the finger at other teammates, at clients, or at the lack of an existing process or policy. I know I’m guilty of this as well, especially in moments of frustration where I feel a bit helpless. So the challenge is, how can I help minimize this and foster an environment that emphasizes taking initiative and continual self-improvement?

I think a big part of it may be in the way I engage with my employees. I’ll have to do a better job of moving away from a “this is what you should do” stance and asking key questions in a way that empowers. The questions may be as simple as: “what do you think?” or “how would you approach this?” The goal would be to nurture and coach people by consistently encouraging them to think through problems independently and to feel more confident about trying different approaches without the fear that I may disapprove or reject. It’ll take practice and some work, and it’ll also require me to be both open-minded and very patient, a tall order for someone who draws confidence on getting things done quickly and┬áloves to solve problems on the spot.

When I think about the type of culture I’d love to build and see in action, I imagine a team that is self-motivated and one that constantly finds opportunities in new challenges. It’s a team that handles adversity in stride and is selfless in crediting teammates while relentless in doing better the next time. It’s a team with a patient and trusting leader who empowers everyone to find their own way. I can see that there’s so much I can do as an individual to help set us in that direction, and in the scheme of things, any difficulty in changing my ways will totally be worthwhile.

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