Day 1: Composition
It’s a cliché to say that every journey begins with the first step, yet it is still true. Talent-plus people
don’t wait for everything to be perfect to move forward. They don’t wait for all the problems or
obstacles to disappear. They don’t wait until their fear subsides. They take initiative. They know a
secret that good leaders understand: momentum is their friend. As soon as they take that first step
and start moving forward, things become a little easier. If the momentum gets strong enough, many
of the problems take care of themselves and talent can take over. But it starts only after you’ve taken
those first steps.
Do people who take initiative have an advantage? Explain.
What are the risks involved with taking initiative?
INSIGHTS ON INITIATIVE
If you want to reach your potential, you have to show initiative. Here’s why:
1. Initiative Is the First Step to Anywhere You Want to Go
A tourist paused for a rest in a small town in the mountains. He sat down on a bench next to an old
man in front of the town’s only store. “Hi, friend,” he said, “can you tell me something this town is
“Well,” answered the old man after a moment’s hesitation, “you can start here and get to any-
where in the world you want.”
That’s true of nearly every location. Where you finish in life isn’t determined so much by where
you start as by whether you start. If you’re willing to get started and keep initiating, there’s no telling
how far you might go.
What are the ideal conditions in which to start your next project?
What is the likelihood that these conditions will occur on their own?
2. Initiative Closes the Door to Fear
Author Katherine Paterson said, “To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you
around is another. We all have fears. The question is whether we are going to control them or allow
them to control us.
In 1995, my friend Dan Reiland and his wife, Patti, went skydiving along with a group of friends
(including my writer, Charlie Wetzel). They approached the event with a mixture of excitement and
fear. At the skydiving center in Southern California, they received only a few minutes of training to
prepare them for their tandem jumps. Dan said they were feeling pretty good about the whole thing
until a guy walked into the room and made a pitch to sell them life insurance.
As the plane ascended to 11,000 feet, they became increasingly nervous. Then they opened the
sliding door at the back of the plane, at which point the fear factor went through the roof. Wishing
they had worn rubber pants, they approached the door, each of them harnessed to a jumpmaster,
and then launched themselves out of the plane.
Within seconds, they were hurtling toward the earth at 120 miles an hour. And after a free fall of
6,000 feet, they pulled their rip cords. When the canopy opened, with a forceful jolt they went from
120 miles an hour to 25 miles an hour. Dan said, “It made my underwear find places it had never
I laugh whenever Dan tells the story, but I was really surprised to learn from Dan and Patti that as
petrified as they were before they jumped, all their fear was gone the second they left the plane.
Author and pastor Norman Vincent Peale asserted, “Action is a great restorer and builder of
confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be
successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than
no action at all.” If you want to close the door on fear, get moving.
3. Initiative Opens the Door to Opportunity
Benjamin Franklin, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, advised, “To succeed, jump as quickly at
opportunities as you do at conclusions.” People who take initiative and work hard may succeed, or
they may fail. But anyone who doesn’t take initiative is almost guaranteed to fail. I’m willing to bet
that you have . . .
• A decision you should be making
• A problem you should be solving
• A possibility you should be examining
• A project you should be starting
• A goal you should be reaching
• An opportunity you should be seizing
• A dream you should be fulfilling
Circle the phrase above that needs to be addressed in your life. Write out the decision, problem,
possibility, project, goal, opportunity, or dream you need to consider. What steps need to be taken to
move you toward your goal?
No one can wait until everything is perfect to act and expect to be successful. It’s better to be 80
percent sure and make things happen than it is to wait until you are 100 percent sure because by
then, the opportunity will have already passed you by.
4. Initiative Eases Life’s Difficulties
Life may be difficult; however, that’s not most people’s problem. Their response to life’s difficulties
is. Too many people wait around for their ship to come in. When they take that approach to life,
they often find it to be hardship. The things that simply come to us are rarely the things we want. To
have a chance at getting what we desire, we need to work for it.
What do you desire?
How are you working to obtain it?
Philosopher and author William James said, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the hanging on of an
uncompleted task.” The longer we let things slide, the harder they become. The hardest work is
often the accumulation of many easy things that should have been done yesterday, last week, or last
month. The only way to get rid of a difficult task is to do it. That takes initiative.
What is on your list of things to do? Check the items that you will complete this week.
5. Initiative Is Often the Difference Between Success and Failure
A man who was employed by a duke and duchess in Europe was called in to speak to his employer.
“James,” said the duchess, “how long have you been with us?”
“About thirty years, Your Grace,” he replied.
“As I recall, you were employed to look after the dog.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” James replied.
“James, that dog died twenty seven years ago.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” said James. “What would you like me to do now?”
Like James, too many people are waiting for someone else to tell them what to do next.
Nearly all people have good thoughts, ideas, and intentions, but many of them never translate
those into action. Doing so requires initiative.
Most people recognize that initiative is beneficial, yet they still frequently underestimate its true
value. Perhaps the best illustration of the power of initiative is a story about the patenting of the
telephone. In the 1870s, two men worked extensively on modifying and improving telegraphy, which
was the current technology. Both had ideas for transmitting sounds by wire, and both explored the
transmission of the human voice electrically. What is remarkable is that both men—Alexander Gra-
ham Bell and Elisha Gray—filed their ideas at the patent office on the same day, February 14, 1876.
Bell was the fifth person on record that day who filed for a patent. Gray, on the other hand, sent his
attorney, and the man arrived more than an hour after Bell, applying for a caveat, a declaration of
intention to file for a patent. Those minutes cost Gray a fortune. Bell’s claim was upheld in court,
even though Gray complained that he had come up with the idea first.
Talent without initiative never reaches its potential. It’s like a caterpillar that won’t get into its co-
coon. It will never transform, forever relegated to crawling on the ground, even though it had the
potential to fly.
PEOPLE WHO LACK INITIATIVE
When it comes to initiative, there are really only four kinds of people:
1. People who do the right thing without being told
2. People who do the right thing when told
3. People who do the right thing when told more than once
4. People who never do the right thing, no matter what
Circle the type of person that best describes you at this moment.
Anyone who wants to become a talent-plus person needs to become the first kind of person. Why
doesn’t everyone do that? I think there are several reasons.
1. People Who Lack Initiative Fail to See the Consequences of Inaction
King Solomon of ancient Israel is said to have been the wisest person who ever lived. Every time I
read Proverbs, which he is believed to have authored, I learn something. In recent years, I’ve en-
joyed reading his words in a paraphrase called The Message:
You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.
Nobody has to tell it what to do.
All summer it stores up food; at harvest it stockpiles provisions.
So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?
How long before you get out of bed?
A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt poor-life,
poverty your permanent houseguest!¹
Whatever we do—or neglect to do—will catch up with us in the end.
2. People Who Lack Initiative Want Someone Else to Motivate Them
Successful people don’t need a lighted fuse to motivate them. Their motivation comes from within.
If we wait for others to motivate us, what happens when a coach, a boss, or other inspirational per-
son doesn’t show up? We need a better plan than that.
Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex, Inc., offered this considered opinion: “I believe you don’t
motivate people. What you do is hire motivated people, then make sure you don’t demotivate
them.” If you want to get ahead, you need to light your own fire.
3. People Who Lack Initiative Look for the Perfect Time to Act
Timing is important—no doubt about that. The Law of Timing in my book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of
Leadership states, “When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go.” But it’s also true
that all worthwhile endeavors in life require risk. I love this Chinese proverb: “He who deliberates
fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.” For many people, the tragedy isn’t
that life ends too soon; it’s that they wait too long to begin it.
4. People Who Lack Initiative Like Tomorrow Better Than Today
One of the reasons non-initiators have such a difficult time getting started is that they focus their
attention on tomorrow instead of today. Jazz musician Jimmy Lyons remarked, “Tomorrow is the
only day in the year that appeals to a lazy man.” But that attitude gets us into trouble because the
only time over which we have any control is the present.
The idea of tomorrow can be very seductive, but the promise that it holds is often false.
Spanish priest and writer Baltasar Gracian said, “The wise man does at once what the fool does
finally.” Anything worth doing is worth doing immediately. Remember that for people who never
start, their difficulties never stop.
TALENT + INITIATIVE = A TALENT-PLUS PERSON
PUTTING THE TALENT-PLUS FORMULA INTO ACTION
To be honest, all of us are plagued by procrastination in some area of our lives. If something is
unpleasant, uninteresting, or complex, we tend to put it off. Even some things we like doing can
cause us difficulty.
In what area of your life do you tend to procrastinate? Why?
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed, “To put your ideas into action is the most difficult thing
in the world.” Yet to reach our potential and become talent-plus people, we must show initiative.
Here are some suggestions to help you as you strive to become a talent-plus person in this area:
1. Accept Responsibility for Your Life
Greek philosopher Socrates said, “To move the world we must first move ourselves.” Show me
those who neglect to take responsibility for their own lives, and I’ll show you people who also lack
initiative. Responsibility and initiative are inseparable.
Everyone experiences setbacks. We all face obstacles. From time to time, we all feel that the deck
is stacked against us. We need to show initiative anyway. Dick Butler asserted, “Life isn’t fair. It isn’t
going to be fair. Stop sniveling and whining and go out and make it happen for you. In business I
see too many people who expect the financial tooth fairy to come at night and remove that ugly
dead tooth from under the pillow and substitute profitability just in the nick of time at the end of
the fiscal year.” There’s a saying that great souls have wills but feeble ones have only wishes. We
cannot wish our way to success. We need to take responsibility and act.
Are you more likely to make excuses or to make progress when a task is difficult? Give an example.
2. Examine Your Reasons for Not Initiating
Chinese philosopher Mencius made this point: “If your deeds are unsuccessful, seek the reason in
yourself. When your own person is correct, the whole world will turn to you.” If you lack initiative,
the only way you will be able to change is to first identify the specific problem.
Think about the reasons people lack initiative already outlined in this chapter. Circle all that apply to
• Are you in denial about the consequences of not taking initiative and responsibility for yourself?
• Are you waiting for others to motivate you instead of working to motivate yourself? • Are you
waiting for everything to be perfect before you act?
Are you fantasizing about tomorrow instead of focusing on what you can do today?What issue pre-
vents you from taking action?
What’s important is that you separate legitimate reasons from excuses. An excuse puts the blame
on someone or something outside you. Excuses are like exit signs on the road of progress. They
take us off track. Know this: it’s easier to move from failure to success than from excuses to suc-
cess. Eliminate excuses. Once you’ve done that, you can turn your attention to the reasons—and
how to overcome them.
3. Focus on the Benefits of Completing a Task
It is extremely difficult to be successful if you are forever putting things off. Procrastination is the
fertilizer that makes difficulties grow. When you take too long to make up your mind about an
opportunity that presents itself, you will miss out on seizing it. In the previous chapter, I wrote
about the importance of aligning your priorities with your passion. To become effective and make
progress in your area of talent or responsibility, you can’t spend your valuable time on unimportant
or unnecessary tasks. So I’m going to make an assumption that if you do procrastinate about a
task, it is a necessary one. (If it’s not, don’t put it off; eliminate it.) To get yourself over the hump,
focus on what you’ll get out of it if you get it done.
How will completing the tasks you’ve been putting off move you closer to your goals?Will com-
pleting the task bring a financial benefit? Will it clear the way for something else you would like to
do? Does it represent a milestone in your development or the completion of something bigger? At
the very least, does it help to clear the decks for you emotionally? List your rewards. (If you seek a
positive reason, you are likely to find one.)
Once you find that idea, start moving forward and act decisively. U.S. Admiral William Halsey ob-
served, “All problems become smaller if you don’t doge them, but confront them. Touch a thistle
timidly, and it pricks you; grasp it boldly, and its spines crumble.”
4. Share Your Goal with a Friend Who Will Help You
No one achieves success alone. As the Law of Significance states in my book The 17 Indisputable
Laws of Teamwork, “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.” Lindbergh didn’t fly solo
across the Atlantic without help, Einstein didn’t develop the theory of relativity in a vacuum, and
Columbus didn’t discover the New World on his own. They all had help.
There is no way to put a value on the assistance that others can give you in achieving your
dreams. Share your goals and dreams with people who care about you and will encourage and as-
sist you in accomplishing them. It means taking a risk because you will have to be vulnerable in
sharing your hopes and ambitions. But the risk is worth taking.
List the people who are helping you or who could help you achieve your goal.
In the next ten days, connect with one of the people who could help you achieve your goal. How will
you enlist his or her help?
5. Break Large Tasks Down into Smaller Ones
Once you remove some of the internal barriers that may be stopping you from taking initiative and
you enlist the help of others, you’re ready to get practical. Many times large tasks overwhelm peo-
ple, and that’s a problem because overwhelmed people seldom initiate.
Here’s how I suggest you proceed in breaking an intimidating goal into more manageable parts:
Divide it by categories. Most large objectives are complex and can be broken into steps for func-
tions. The smaller pieces often require the effort of people with particular talents. Begin by figuring
out what skill sets will be required to accomplish the smaller tasks.
Prioritize it by importance. When we don’t take initiative and prioritize what we must do accord-
ing to its importance, the tasks begin to arrange themselves according to their urgency. When the
urgent starts driving you instead of the important, you lose any kind of initiative edge, and instead
of activating your talent, it robs you of the best opportunities to use it.
Order it by sequence. Dividing the task according to its categories helps you to understand how
you will need to accomplish it. Prioritizing by importance helps you to understand why you need to
do each part of it. Ordering by sequence helps you to know when each part needs to be done. The
important thing here is to create a timetable, give yourself deadlines, and stick to them. The biggest
lie we tell ourselves when it comes to action is, “I’ll do it later.”
Assign it by abilities. When you divide the large task into smaller ones by category, you begin to
understand what kinds of people you’ll need to get the job done. At this stage, you very specifically
answer the why question. As a leader, I can tell you that the most important step in accomplishing
something big is determining who will be on the team. Assign tasks to winners and give them au-
thority and responsibility, and the job will get done. Fail to give a specific person ownership of the
task or give it to an average person, and you may find yourself in trouble.
Accomplish it by teamwork. Even if you break a task down, plan strategically, and recruit great
people, you still need one more element to succeed. Everyone has to be able to work together.
Teamwork is the glue that can bring it all together.
6. Allocate Specific Times to Tasks You Might Procrastinate
Dawson Trotman, author and founder of The Navigators, observed, “The greatest time wasted is
the time getting started.” Haven’t you found that to be true? The hardest part of writing a letter is
penning the first line. The hardest part of making a tough phone call is picking up the receiver and
dialing the number. The most difficult part of practicing the piano is sitting down at the keyboard.
It’s the start that often stops people.
This week try scheduling a specific time for something you don’t like doing. For example, if dealing
with difficult people is a regular part of your job, but you tend to avoid doing it, then schedule a set
time for it. Maybe the best time would be between two and three o’clock every day. Treat it like an
appointment, and when three o’clock rolls around, stop until tomorrow.
7. Remember, Preparation Includes Doing
One of the questions I often hear concerns writing. Young leaders frequently ask me how I got start-
ed, and I tell them about my first book, Think on These Things. It’s a small book comprised of many
three-page chapters, but it took me nearly a year to write it. I remember many nights when I spent
hours scribbling on a legal pad only to have a few sentences to show for my effort.
“I want to sell a lot of books and influence a lot of people like you do,” these young leaders will
“That’s great,” I’ll answer. “What have you written?”
“Well, nothing yet” is typically the response.
“Okay,” I say. “What are you working on?” I ask the question hoping to give some encour-
“Well, I’m not actually writing yet, but I have a lot of ideas,” they’ll say, explaining that they hope
they’ll have more time next month or next year or after they get out of school. When I hear an an-
swer like that, I know that it will never happen. Writers write. Composers compose. Leaders lead.
You must take action in order to become who you desire to be. Novelist Louis L’Amour, who wrote
more than one hundred books and sold more than 230 million copies, advised, “Start writing, no
matter about what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
What are you currently neglecting that is preventing your talent from becoming activated? Is it a
decision you should be making? A problem you should be solving? A possibility you should be
examining? A project you should be starting?A goal you should be reaching? An opportunity you
should be seizing? A dream you should be fulfilling? Figure out what it is and determine to tackle
it using the steps outlined in the chapter:
1. Define it.
2. Divide it into categories.
_________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________
3. Prioritize it by importance. (Number 1, 2, 3, etc.)
Order it by sequence. (List what three things need to be done first.)
_________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________ _________________
4. Assign it by abilities. Accomplish it by teamwork. (Write the name of the person who is best
equipped to lead or complete the task next to each item. You may need to build your team.)
Desire isn’t enough. Good intentions aren’t enough. Talent isn’t enough. Success requires initia-
tive. Michael E. Angier, founder of Success Net, stated, “Ideas are worthless. Intentions have no
power. Plans are nothing… unless they are followed with action. Do it now!”
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