An entrepreneurial mindset—and action orientation, specifically—helps to scale new initiatives that are adaptive to their users’ consistently changing needs. There is no waiting for tomorrow or hoping for a rule book to determine what to do and what not to do. People with an action orientation jump in and solve problems right away.
If you are reading this and can identify with the bias to action, then you might already know that bureaucratic institutions are not friendly to action-orientated people. They often don’t last long as employees. Burnout is one of many symptoms of an action-oriented person in the wrong role—when they try to innovate and get hit with red tape and bureaucracy, a person who scores highly on this trait becomes discouraged. These individuals do best in organizations that value their energy, drive, and willingness to get their hands dirty. Individuals who have a strong action orientation trait thrive in an environment with few constraints and lots of possibilities.
Fascinating insights about action orientation emerged in our research at the University of Pennsylvania. We learned that while action orientation falls in the middle of the spectrum of traits for entrepreneurial, purpose-driven leaders, women outperform men in this trait by 19 percent. This is one of th e largest gaps between the two genders we surveyed.
We asked whether this insight rang true to the InnovateHERs, and perhaps not surprisingly, it did. Action orientation was the second most self-reported strength after passion. The InnovateHERs who had founded their own organizations revealed that they are incredibly hands-on in driving operations forward. They felt taking action kept them on the cutting edge, involved in the business, and deeply integrated into pushing the organization’s growth strategy.
The dangerous flipside to action orientation is erring on the side of going too fast, being too intense, or micromanaging. To avoid these pitfalls, we can think about action orientation as a seesaw. Leaders who strike a good balance between a bias to action and taking time for due diligence are few and far between. Surely, you can reflect on leaders that leaned too far in one direction or the other. Maybe it was a boss who made you do market research for a week and then never looked at the presentation, or conversely, someone who called a shot before consulting the team, leaving everyone to scramble and manage their time around a new deliverable. Either way, many of the women we interviewed agreed that action orientation is among the rare traits that could make or break an organization.
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