Dr. Francis Eberle

Recently a client of mine who is a self-starter decided to change jobs. Moves like this take a great deal of effort. They disrupt your routines, your work style and sometimes relationships. For my client, the new position required moving to a new state and learning new roles, people and systems. As we talked, I realized she wasn’t talking about her Why: what drives her and why she wanted this position.

So I asked her, what about this position was worth all the transitions and new challenges? Without much hesitation she stated her reasons. It was not really a surprise that they were grounded in her principles and values.  

I tell you this because self-starters can often be quick to action. They can sometimes do things without asking or try new things to just to test them. Throughout my management career and coaching work, I’ve seen that it’s not just about the action itself. In fact, self-starters who are successful have a deeper, more intrinsic reason for their actions, even if those decisions are made quickly.

In the case of my client, she looked at that new position as helping her meet her purpose in life of helping a particular population of people. That is what is motivating to her, not the better salary or the title. While those things might be nice, in her case, those alone did not satisfy her intrinsic desire.  

We know self-starters when we see them, but they can be difficult to define. They seem both excited about what they are doing and also to enjoy it. And when in the flow of work, they demonstrate initiative and willingness to work without waiting for direction. They often seem to have a strong work ethic and belief in getting results regardless of circumstances, and they usually remain positive. Where does this all come from?

It would be unrealistic for me to say, do these things and you will be a self-starter. It is not that easy. Self-starting begins with you, and then emanates out into the world with the way you apply or use the knowledge you have about yourself and others. There are many characteristics of self-starters and here are a few that resonate with me.

Purpose: People with purpose get up in the morning with an energy to work toward accomplishing their goals. They enjoy the work. It is rewarding and motivating. At a couple of points in my career, I changed my professional roles. Looking back at them, in each case each there was a common purpose: helping others see things they may not have seen themselves. This motivates me, and now as a coach for leaders and teams, it excites me to help them improve, advance their roles and satisfy their purpose.

To help others become self-starters, think about how you can show you value them and appreciate what they are good at. Help them shine with their purpose.

Clarity. Self-starters have clarity about what they what to accomplish. This can come from their internal desire to meet their purpose or in clear expectations that help define what they need to do. This clarity can be a framework for exploration and categorization or guidance on completing a task. 

To help others become self-starters, check to see how well you communicate clear expectations. Ask for feedback as to whether you are clear.

Accomplishment. Everyone likes to check off things on their lists. It’s motivating. The feeling of “getting it done” is rewarding. The momentum that comes from the completion of tasks can compel someone to continue to push themselves to accomplish more. Successful managers and leaders know that using positive feedback is much more effective in the long term for supporting employees to getting tasks done. Honing feedback is an important skill.

To help other become self-starters, think about the nature of your feedback. Make it as specific as possible, such as, “The examples you used in the report were terrific.”  And try to give feedback as soon as it occurs.

Best Fit. This last one is a bit different because it’s about self-awareness. Self-starters know what they are good at, and this awareness can help them tackle challenges while working with others. There are several assessments you can take to learn about your strengths and tendencies. I like the TTI Success Insights TriMetrix HD assessment for many reasons, specifically because of a section called Ideal Environment. This section outlines the conditions in which a person will thrive. If some of those conditions are a part of a person’s job, they are likely to be more motivated. If not, they are likely to be stressed, which can be demotivating.

To help other become self-starters, have them take an assessment and apply the knowledge in that assessment to the workplace. Go further than identifying their tendencies.

Knowing yourself, having purpose, clarity of expectations, and a sense of accomplishment can turn a non-starter into a self-starter. Self-starting is internal, but it can be supported and encouraged with positive supervision. As you gain success, self-starting is easier and you can become more self-assured, persistent, conscientious, and assertive—leading you to complete projects and work with people more effectively.

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