Many things discourage initiative, one of the critical attributes of the mindset necessary to succeed in B2B sales (and just about anything else; see The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need for more on this mindset). Certain behaviors repress and suppress initiative, all of which are worth avoiding when possible.
Telling: It is no doubt faster and easier to tell someone what to do. You can also achieve speed by telling people exactly how they are to do something, and when it is critical, like brain surgery, that might be the very best choice available. But if you want people to grow, telling them what to do and how to do it will prevent the growth of the individuals on your team.
Criticizing Decisions and Choices: If you want to ensure that the people on your team are never proactive, criticizing the decisions they make will, over time, prevent them from taking any action on their own. Instead, they’ll ask, and you will tell. This makes your people dependent upon you while ensuring your role as a firefighter and not a leader.
Devil’s Advocate: Killing every idea while it is still in the crib by playing Devil’s Advocate will annihilate creativity and eliminate independent action. When your people know that everything they propose will be greeted with a contrarian opinion, they will stop coming up with ideas, knowing that none will be good enough.
Encouraging and Enabling Initiative
Withhold Your Answers: Instead of telling, withhold your answers. It is uncomfortable not to answer a question, but if you want to enable initiative, then asking a question is a good start. Asking what the person believes to be their choices of action requires them to discover what might be possible. Asking how that might do something can help with the evaluation of their options. I am not a proponent of force as a choice for leaders, but in this case, forcing the person to answer questions for themselves is a positive choice.
Coaching Instead of Criticizing: One reason coaching is such a powerful skill is that it allows you to explore what people believe and how that belief drives their actions. When you criticize, you cause people to become defensive and shut down. When you coach, you open them up. It doesn’t often make sense to punish people for making mistakes when they make an effort to act independently. Coaching encourages initiative while allowing you to modify the beliefs and behaviors through conversation.
Angel’s Advocate: It feels horrible to share what you believe to be a great idea only to have it picked apart before you have even had a chance to develop it. Some of the best ideas require iteration, and discussing ideas with an open mind is one of the best ways to create a breakthrough. By encouraging discussion and executing ideas, including executing them after they’ve been matured a little, will ensure a steady flow of new ideas, and often by the people closet to the challenges you need to overcome.
If you want the people in your charge to take the initiative and to be accountable for results, you need to encourage those behaviors. It would help if you also discouraged anyone from discouraging those same people from taking action.
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