Education competencies: Action oriented

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies.


Performs work with energy and drive; values planning, but will take quick, decisive action when an opportunity presents itself.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Is a hard worker; is energized by a good challenge Energetically pursues tasks he or she sees as challenging Performs work with energy and drive while exploring other opportunities to contribute Has a contagious and positive work ethic, inspiring others to rise above their own comfort levels and abilities and to break through barriers
Appreciates a well-thought-out game plan and participates in the operation of it Considers planning important but will readily jump into an urgent situation without a plan rather than lose the moment Regularly develops and implements strategic plans for new projects and redirects activity on plans that aren’t working Develops and implements dynamic strategies that are driven by tangible actions; plans build, sustain, and project momentum throughout the organization
Success is his or her goal Seizes an opportunity when success is attainable Supports others in their activities with the attitude that even mistakes are profitable Views a challenge as a chance to exercise new muscles and builds strength in the organization

Sets the pace for productivity by example in a firm but unthreatening way

Overdoing action oriented

  • May be a workaholic
  • May push solutions before adequate analysis
  • May be non-strategic
  • May over-manage to get things done too quickly
  • May have personal and family problems due to disinterest and neglect
  • May not attend to important but non-challenging duties and tasks
  • May ignore personal life or burn out

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:
  • What do my team and I need to accomplish today?
  • What can I do today to make progress and gain momentum?
  • How can I accomplish more in less time with fewer resources?
  • What decisions do I need to make to move forward?
  • What opportunities can I act upon right now?
  • What opportunities will I miss if I fail to act quickly enough?
  • What specific steps can I take immediately to get stalled projects moving?
  • What did I do today that made a positive contribution to the organization’s success?

To avoid overdoing action oriented, ask yourself:

  • Am I acting so quickly that I may overlook the longer-term consequences of my actions?
  • Am I responding so quickly that I may overlook important nuances of the situation?
  • Am I focusing on accomplishing tasks at the expense of interpersonal relationships?

Interview questions

  • Think back to a period of time in which your positive work ethic even inspired others. Share with me the details.
  • Share some instances that demonstrate your capability to regularly develop and implement plans for new projects and to redirect activity on plans that aren’t working.
  • Think back to a recent period of time that reveals your skill to view challenges, and even mistakes, as an opportunity to grow.
  • Describe the most complex, challenging situation in which you needed to be the one who set the pace for productivity by example, in a firm but unthreatening way.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).

  • Avoid procrastination: Plan and schedule time to do tasks at hand (divide them into thirds to make them manageable). Do 10 percent of each task immediately to better gauge what it takes. Don’t wait until the last moment to act (even if you think you function better that way).
  • Overcome the need for perfection: Try to decrease the need to be right all the time. Worry less about what people will say. Spend less time waiting for the perfect solution, or gathering all the data to make the perfect decision, in order to avoid criticism. Reach a balance between thinking and taking action.
  • Analyze without being paralyzed: Act as soon as you can with a reasonable amount, though not all, of the data. Start by making smaller decisions more quickly, without overanalyzing.
  • Build up your confidence: Focus on your strengths and use them when making decisions. Even small, successful tasks will serve to bolster your self-confidence. Seek advice on how to augment your confidence, one area at a time.
  • Be a risk taker: Take a few risks, push the envelope, and try some bold, new initiatives. Recognize mistakes or failures as opportunities to learn and grow. Break big tasks down into smaller tasks. Go for small wins, and work your way up to the bigger ones.
  • Rekindle your passion: Try to schedule your work activity to match your interests as much as possible. Do your least-preferred activities first each day to get them out of the way, and delegate what you can. Focus on your sense of accomplishment rather than on the activity.
  • Set better priorities: Purpose to achieve three to five things that are most important to your task. Focus and spend at least half of your time working toward these goals, avoiding trivial distractions.
  • Organize: Get and use resources (people, money, materials, support, time) to assist you in your task ahead of time.
  • Get others involved: Influence others before taking action. Enlist others’ involvement with positive reasoning. Hone your negotiation, bargaining and trade skills.
  • Be committed: Give as much to your job as you care to give. Determine whether your work ethic matches what your job requires and make changes accordingly.

Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).

  • Plan and start up something small (a new club, group, or team).
  • Launch a new procedure or initiative.
  • Manage a temporary group of resisting people through an unpopular change or project.
  • Manage a temporary group of people in a project.
  • Take on a tough and undoable project, one that others have tried and failed.
  • Take on a task you dislike or hate to do.
  • Resolve an issue in conflict between two people or groups.

Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.

  • Learning to learn better:
    • Teach others something you don’t know well. Pick something new, different, unfamiliar.
    • Commit to a tight time frame to accomplish something. Establish a firm plan and stick to it.
    • Do something on “gut feel” more than by analysis. Take a chance, take some risks, and learn to deal with making mistakes.
  • Learning from experience, feedback and other people:
    • Take the initiative. Actively seek and orchestrate feedback.
    • The more feedback, the better. Get feedback often from as many credible sources as you can.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Get feedback from your direct reports. Set a positive tone, and don’t retaliate if you don’t agree.
    • Learn from limited staff. Look for ways to bring out the best in others who may lack skills or experience. Motivate by being a positive force, even in negative situations, and by giving feedback. Recognize when it’s time to stop trying something and start over.
    • Learn from mistakes. Focus on “why” more than on “what.” Don’t avoid similar situations for fear of repeating mistakes, but learn from them and try again. Don’t repeat what went wrong more diligently, but try something new. Look for patterns that may be causing the problem.

Recommended readings

  • Bandrowski, James F.Corporate Imagination Plus—Five Steps to Translating Innovative Strategies Into Action. New York: The Free Press, Inc., 2000.
  • Belasco, James A., and Jerre Stead.Soaring with the Phoenix—Renewing the Vision, Reviving the Spirit, and Re-Creating the Success of Your Company. New York: Warner Books, 1999.
  • Block, Peter.The Answer to How is Yes: Acting On What Matters. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2001.
  • Bossidy, Larry, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck (Contributor).Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York: Crown Business Publishing, 2002.
  • Collins, James C.Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • Collins, James C.Turning Goals into Results: The Power of Catalytic Mechanisms. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Conger, Jay A., Gretchen M. Spreitzer, and Edward E. Lawler III, (Eds.).The Leader’s Change Handbook: An Essential Guide to Setting Direction and Taking Action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999.
  • Kaplan, Robert S., and David P. Norton.The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.
  • Kotter, John P., and Dan S. Cohen.The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Niven, P.R.Balanced Scorecard Step-by-Step: Maximizing Performance and Maintaining Results. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.
  • Pfeffer, Jeffrey, and Robert I. Sutton.The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000.
  • Powell, Colin L., with Joseph E. Persico.My American Journey. New York: Random House, 1995.
  • Powell, Colin L., with Joseph E. Persico.My American Journey[sound recording]. New York: Random House Audiobooks, 1995.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.
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