Leaders Initiate

by  Mike Henry  |  Self Leadership
Leaders Initiate

“He made me mad.” “They irritated me.” “That ticked me off!” To initiate means to start something; to cause the beginning.

A reaction is never a beginning. It is always a second action. When we react to things we give some previous action or person the ability to dictate to us. We let them dictate our behavior or our attitude.

One of my favorite qualities of leaders is how leaders choose their response. When we choose not to react the way others might normally react, we exercise a little leadership. It takes courage and reserve and planning to choose actions when we might otherwise simply react. But every time we make a conscious choice, we exercise leadership.

Of course, if someone swerves into your lane and stops, you don’t have to hit the brakes, but you probably should. Reacting and avoiding an accident is much better than not reacting. Sometimes reactions are necessary for safety and peace. But often they are excuses to abandon the work of being our best self and leading with character.

Most of the time, you have the time to choose. When someone takes credit for something you did at work, what can you do? When someone cuts in line? I’ve recently been traveling quite a bit and just about anything that happens in an airport qualifies as an opportunity to choose a first action. It seems every delayed flight has one passenger who believes the gate attendant has the power to make the plane arrive sooner or make the weather clear up?

Many of us have default non-leader actions. My default non-leader action is anger. Anger is fear turned inside out. As I begin to fear a situation is slipping from my (perceived) control, I try to influence others by demonstrating decisive, harsh or even angry outbursts. It never works, but it worked in my family of origin, so it’s my fall-back procedure. 

We often fall back to what worked in our families of origin. Some get passive, or disengage; others seem outwardly passive yet are really actively resistant. But the world isn’t like my family of origin. My default behavior rarely works and often creates a negative outcome.

In every case, the leader (the one we admire) in us, on our team, or in our organization, chooses a first, courageous action. The moment we command our actions, choosing the right and courageous action, is a moment of leadership. We and our team and those around us are inspired. Life and hope return.

Rather than shrink to react, we rise to act and exercise leadership in a way that inspires. When we exercise the courage to initiate a first action, we are our best selves and we encourage others and make a greater future possible.

Sure, we could just react, fall back to our family of origin tactics, but those seldom achieve the team objective. Our nature is not to lead. Our nature is not to serve anyone but ourselves. Our nature must be led.

Leaders choose action over reaction. Leaders initiate. They create first actions where one didn’t exist. Leaders choose to take the energy to initiate a first action. Easy is never best.

It’s easier to look out for ourselves and hang on to our resources than it is to be generous and graceful. It’s always more natural to take than to give, unless you’ve trained yourself well.

Choose a first action instead of reaction today. Find an opportunity to initiate a new action and break the chain.

Have you encountered a time when a first action prevailed over a reaction? How did it feel?
Photo Credit: Nicola Vernizzi

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Paula Kiger  |  15 Dec 2014  |  Reply

I found myself shaking my head “yes” to most of this post! It’s a micro interaction in a way, but I find myself wishing more of us would take a “first action” in parking lots. When someone is backing out and hasn’t seen that you are driving by the spot, is it really that difficult to pause for a minute and let them complete backing out rather than laying on your horn? This may have touched a nerve!! :-)

Mike Henry  |  16 Dec 2014  |  Reply

Thanks Paula for the great comment. When you think about it, if we don’t “touch some nerves,” we’ll always do what we’ve always done. Glad to challenge. Mike…

Karin Hurt  |  15 Dec 2014  |  Reply

I have been teaching an MBA course of managing difficult people, and this is a key topic of conversation. One negative behavior often triggers another negative behavior, and the downward spiral continues. If there was more pausing and responding going on, workplaces would be much more productive

Mike Henry  |  16 Dec 2014  |  Reply

Karin, thanks for the comment. Interesting, too, that you mention “respond.” Seth Godin has a post today titled Retribution where he quotes Zig Ziglar and a comment he made about the difference between reacting and responding. Reactors are victims. Responders are heroes and leaders. Thanks again. Mike…

John E. Smith  |  15 Dec 2014  |  Reply

Hi, Mike:)

You had me immediately with all the passive voice statements, where the responsibility for actions, feelings, and such are thrown “out there somewhere”.

I like the idea of considering our behaviors as “second reactions”, which forces us to acknowledge that something comes before our behavior or emotion, and recognizing that is important.

Equally important in my mind is owning our behavior and emotions. Someone else may really make you want to act or feel in a certain way, but you always have a choice. The continuing popularity of Viktor Frankl’s ideas reinforces the value of this notion:)

Nice and useful post – thanks!


Mike Henry  |  16 Dec 2014  |  Reply

John, thanks for the comment. You’re right that we fail to own our behavior and emotions when we react. When we respond, we choose our actions, our behavior and our emotions. We never abandon responsibility. When we consider our actions and respond, we choose who we are. We remain responsible and we take the lead. Thanks again for the great comment. Mike…

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