When taking a leadership role can make all the difference

Is initiative the one behaviour that separates the successful from the average?

Photo by Kylee Alons on Unsplash

I came across a “parable” the other day that was designed to speak to the importance of initiative, said by the author to be the one behaviour that separates the successful from the average.

In the story, a farmer gathers his two children and tells them that it is the younger who will inherit the farm. (By the way, not for any particular reason in the story, I’m making this a gender-neutral parable.)

The older of the two is, not surprisingly, unhappy with this announcement but the father tells the older to go to a neighbouring farm and see if he would be able to buy some cows.

When the older of the children returns, the message is a simple one: the neighbour is willing to sell six cows.

The father then sends the younger of the children on the same task. But when the younger returns, the story is quite a different one:

“The neighbour is willing to sell six cows, each for XXX [a price is quoted]. If we are thinking about buying more than six cows, the farmer would be willing to reduce the price by XXX. He also said they are getting special jersey cows next week if we aren’t in a hurry, it may be good to wait. However, if we need the cows urgently, he said he could deliver the cows tomorrow.”

The father graciously thanked the younger child for the work. He then turned to the older child and said, “That’s why my younger child is getting the farm.”

I thought about this story and how the difference in behaviour of the two children really had to do with the initiative taken by one and the obedience of the other. The father had asked both to see about more cows. Nothing mentioned about how many, how costly or any other factor. A yes/no answer was all that was asked.

One of the children, the younger, came back with a great more detail, a strategically helpful answer. The older did exactly as was asked, no more, no less.

And then I thought a bit about our own society, and how some people seem to have a “transactional” mindset when it comes to their chosen occupation, how they do exactly (no more, no less) than what they’re asked to do, day after day.

Is that how we want to live life? Clearly, there are those for whom that’s the case.

But there are others who just naturally (or by design) want do more, think more, work to deliver more than they are asked to do.

My experience has been that those are the ones that seem to succeed.

A friend of mine once worked as a carpenter in an industry where it was important to calculate the materials needed when building a structure, the idea being that to do so successfully would reduce cost for the employer and ultimately the client.

He told me that when it was necessary to adjust staffing levels, he was usually the last to be let go.

To be clear, there are always other factors in play. But taking the initiative, giving more than is expected, is rarely a bad thing and often will make the difference when you’re looking to succeed.

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