A marriage counselor recently shared a common complaint about husbands; the lesson is equally applicable to the workplace.
I generally write about work, not relationships. But many issues apply to both, communication, for example. Marriage counselor Corrin Voeller recently shared one of the top complaints by women about their husbands. The insight applies in the workplace as well as in the home; learning this will help you succeed at both.
She talks about “active responsibility” versus “passive responsibility.” Passive responsibility is being around, but only doing something when asked. If the kids need help, or the dishes need washing, do you wait until your spouse tells you to do it? Active responsibility is checking on how the kids are doing with their homework without them coming to you to ask or noticing the windows could really use a cleaning and then just cleaning them without anyone asking you to do so. Many wives complain that their husbands only take “passive responsibility.”
Do you just do what was asked and no more
The same thinking applies to your office. Do you simply wait for your manager to tell you what to do? Do you just do what was asked and no more, perhaps thinking, “This makes no sense to me, but it’s what they said so I’ll just do it without asking questions or raising concerns?”
The better employees, the ones companies and managers want, are the ones who take active responsibility. At more than one startup I was the guy who bought bathroom supplies like toilet paper. In one case, as the company grew the soap dispenser would run out faster than the cleaning staff would maintain the bathroom. All it took was going out and buying larger soap dispensers. None of this was in my official list of responsibilities as a CTO but it clearly needed to get done. (Remarkably no one, even the founders, sadly, did anything about it and were just waiting for the cleaning staff to be by in a day or two to bring more toilet paper or refill the soap then.)
People who are actively responsible look to deliver more than just what was asked of them
Obviously, it’s not just about sanitation. Do you take initiative on projects? Do you propose ideas? Do you offer to help a co-worker with a mountain of work to do? Maybe you even pro-actively ask them if they need help, even if you don’t see that mountain of work. If you see an issue, a risk, a concern, or simply something that you don’t understand, do you speak up, as opposed to just saying, “that’s not my job?” Do you ever look at something given to you and ask, “how can I make this even better than what was asked?” People who are actively responsible look to deliver more than just what was asked of them.
This doesn’t mean you have to jump in and just do it. In some companies the culture is one of permission, not forgiveness; or maybe you’re not sure what to do or how to do it, so you ask your boss for guidance. Asking is fine. It’s the proactive effort that is key, not if you know exactly what to do or just do it without checking.
Think back to the past few months. Were there times you could have taken the initiative? Why didn’t you? Try it for a few months and see what happens. And, of course, don’t just try this at work, your spouse and children will appreciate it, too.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.