Your Second Worst Nightmare: The Idiot with Initiative

Linda Henman

Your Second Worst Nightmare: The Idiot with Initiative

I have often said that a smart sociopath is a leader’s worst nightmare. These snakes in business casual generate more havoc in a shorter period of time than anyone else—and they often make doing so look good, at least in the short run.

But we don’t give enough attention to the second biggest problem: the overachieving, nose-to-the-grindstone, works-sixty-hours-a-week go-getter idiot. These people proudly put in more face time than anyone else, take the jobs that other eschew, and smugly announce that they have no time for a balanced life because their work defines them.  Although this list contains laudable behaviors, the operative word we should consider is “idiot.”

A smart person who works hard and overcomes obstacles will be your dream come true. But the idiot with initiative will prove to be your undoing.

Leaders use words like “solid citizen,” “hard worker,” and “good guy” to describe this kind of individual. Often these same leaders say things like “I can count on Joe. He’ll work longer and harder than anyone else.”

My repeated question? “What does Joe actually accomplish?”  Too often the client has concentrated on Joe’s input, not his results.

The problem with the Joes of the world is they simply can’t prioritize. They want to give each task first place position and build the case that “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” Joes can argue persuasively for quality, compliance, and perfection. After all, who’s anti-perfect? My best clients are.

Perfect takes too long, costs too much, undermines excellence, and pays too little return on investment. Success, on the other hand, involves a high percentage of accuracy but not the wasted time of precision. Joe and those of his ilk have a preoccupation with failure and a reluctance to simplify. (If you run a nuclear power plant, disregard this article, and mirror Joe’s approach, except for the idiot part).

If, however, you run another sort of organization, and you have too many Joe’s working for you, you are leaving money on the table, resisting innovation, and establishing a risk-averse culture. You won’t learn from your mistakes because no one will make any.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? A successful life and business? Or like Joe, have you condemned yourself to spinning your wheels, creating friction, abrasion, ongoing frustration, and the status quo?