First Law of Motion states that “A body at rest stays at rest, and a body
in motion stays in motion, unless it is acted on by an external force”.
As part of his general all-round cleverness, Sir Isaac Newton was,
among many other things, a shrewd businessman: appointed to the sinecure of
Master of the Royal Mint, he applied his brilliant mind to reforming the
whole system of coinage.
So it is tempting to wonder whether his experience as a
manager ever prompted him to apply his Laws of Physics to his dealings with his
It can certainly be frustrating when employees seem
incapable of doing anything unless and until told to do it – and when they keep
on doing the same thing until told not to do it.
This lack of initiative is – predictably – more pronounced
in the public
sector, but most private sector bosses have their own horror stories.
Yet, to be fair, an employee is under no obligation to show
the same degree of initiative as an entrepreneur. If he was, he would be an
entrepreneur, not an employee.
If an employer wants to encourage initiative among his
employees, it is down to him to do it. He must make it clear that he desires
it. He must reward it – and, more difficult, he must refrain from punishing
those who take risks which do not work out.
Of course, initiative is not desirable in all businesses.
Sometimes all you need are employees who do what you say, no more, no less. If
your business depends on the reliable performance of repetitive tasks, you have
to know that they will be performed without deviation
It is the entrepreneur’s responsibility to make it clear to
his employees whether he expects initiative or predictability. It is a bad
workman who blames his tools and a bad leader who blames his followers.