Your success as an executive depends on your skill in driving action. You need to know how to set goals, move consistently forward, and reach intended outcomes in a timely manner. You must also demonstrate efficiency and effectiveness, be proactive, and maximize team efforts.

But you can’t do all this alone. You need a team. In fact, over-reliance on your own skills turns strengths into weaknesses. Most executives are competent at driving personal action—that’s how they attained their position. The challenge, however, is building a motivated team that performs at a high level and drives action with the same passion and focus as you. But it’s worth it. The more you improve in driving action through high-performance teamwork, the more your company will flourish.


How to Drive Action as an Executive

1. Increase Drive Toward Action

A black-and-white photo of Wayne Huizenga, a successful executive who excelled at driving action in himself and others

Wayne Huizenga, founder of Waste Management, Inc. and AutoNation.

As Wayne Huizenga is credited with saying, “Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen.”

Executives need to quickly and effectively react to business challenges and opportunities as they come, as well as proactively prepare for those that will arise in the future. A strong bias toward action will help you handle the unexpected.

You likely have such a bias already. Most executives do. But the stronger your drive to act, the better—just as long as you steer it well!

  • What do you need to do?
  • Why do you need to do it?

If you cannot figure out what needs to be done, get the information you need to make a decision. If there is no compelling reason why something needs to be done, stop doing it. You will immediately find that you have more drive to act when your goals and motivations are clear.

Remember, you are the executive. You decide what actions to take!

If you find your drive to act faltering, ask yourself the two questions above again. Do you need to change what you are doing? Is the reason why you are doing it no longer valid? You may simply need to stay the course if you’re losing drive because the job is tough. But if the what or why need to change, then change them.

2. Generate More Action

How do you generate more action without it becoming action for the sake of action? By discerning how you will achieve your goal. Clearly establish which actions will move you closer to completion as fast as possible.

With so many options for which action to take, it’s easy to get frozen in place, like the proverbial “deer in the headlights.” This results in no action at all. The way to avoid this is to sort out where each possible action will take you. Is it in the right direction? If not, discard it. Once you have done this with each action, go all-out on the ones that remain.

3. Make Things Happen More Quickly

Efficiency is key. People often mistake activity for efficiency. However, movement in the wrong direction wastes time, energy and resources.

Imagine you are on a road trip, trying to reach a certain destination. If you’re not sure of where you’re going, don’t keep driving! Sometimes, in order to arrive at a destination quicker, you need to pull off the road to check your directions. This beats driving around in circles (wasting effort), burning through gas (wasting resources), and getting lost (wasting time).

What can you do, then, to not waste effort, resources, or time, and make the right things happen more quickly?

  • Plan—create an action “roadmap” to follow.
  • Be consistent—don’t start one way and then change directions, or you’ll get nowhere.
  • Regularly assess progress—evaluate how well each action is working, whether it can be done more efficiently, and how.
  • Keep your goal and motivation (the “what” and “why”) in mind to achieve your best in the shortest possible time.


4. Drive the Actions of Others

As an executive, the more you can spur your team on to action, the higher the levels of effectiveness and productivity you can achieve. To do this, you must create a motivating environment that encourages others to take initiative and act on their ideas.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a master at driving action

Dwight D. Eisenhower during his tenure as President of the United States.

Dwight Eisenhower said, “The essence of leadership is to get others to do something because they think you want it done and because they know it is worth while doing.”

This is easy when leading go-getters who can’t wait to “go for it.” But it’s much harder to motivate people with low energy and/or risk tolerance to take action. Either they’d rather not move on anything without an extremely good reason, or they’re afraid of the harm a particular action might cause.

How to motivate people to act:

  • Clearly and convincingly articulate the benefits of taking action. Give them the “why” and the “what.”
  • Whenever possible, demonstrate those benefits—back up your words with evidence.
  • Make sure the employee understands the “how” as well. They may be perfectly willing to act, but at a complete loss as to how to achieve the goals set for them.
  • Minimize the risks.
  • Guarantee, as much as possible, a “safety net” for risk-avoiders. For example, “If this fails, you won’t be demoted or lose your job.”
  • Work on solving employee disengagement through coaching.
  • For those who still refuse to take action due to bad attitudes, let them see that such attitudes need to change if they want to stay with the company. Otherwise, they may “infect” and demotivate the rest of the team with their negativity.

5. Develop Written Goals That Are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Related to Mission, and on a Timetable

These are known as “SMART” goals. Unpacking each criterion:

  • Specific = Clearly defined; more detailed; able to answer “Who, What, When, Where, and Why?”
  • Measurable = A way of evaluating progress toward achieving the goal, including whether it’s been met.
  • Attainable = Realistic. Challenging is one thing. Totally unrealistic is another. You determine this by assessing your / your team’s capabilities and resources.
  • Related (to mission) = Relevant. Achieving this goal will matter in terms of furthering your overall mission. In fact, it’s necessary and vital for the mission.
  • (on a) Timetable = There’s a deadline in place. The goal has to be reached by a definite time in order for it to work. There’s a starting date, a timeline of mini-goals along the way, and a target date for full achievement—all of which will drive action and facilitate progress.

Why Does Driving Action Matter?

Driving action well is foundational for effectiveness as an executive. You must drive action to meet your goals. When you set a goal or expectation and it isn’t met, people notice.

Without action, all your good ideas remain nothing but talk, and theory without practice is useless.

Part of ensuring that ideas are carried out is consistent and regular follow-up—checking in with whoever is supposed to do something. Ask them how it’s going, what progress they’ve made, if any obstacles are blocking progress, and how you can assist them in taking action to make better progress.

Developing your ability to drive action leads to better execution, which leads to accomplishing greater results.

Competency in driving action equips you to improve performance through motivation, course correction, proactivity, and efficiency. Instead of passively waiting for solutions, you build them.

Developing This Strength

To develop this strength, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How strong is my drive toward action?
  2. To what degree am I able to bias my team toward action?
  3. How effective am I in driving actions upward? With peers? With external stakeholders? With direct reports?
  4. How effective are my direct reports in driving action?
  5. How clear is my goal setting?
  6. How good is my follow-up when driving actions?

You can also enlist a coach to help you intentionally take the right actions, set better goals, drive the actions of others, and hold yourself accountable. If you are a CEO or other bona fide executive, I would be happy to coach you in driving action or any other area where you need help. Schedule the first of several complimentary coaching sessions.

About This Competency

SOLID Execution competency highlighted in wheel diagramDriving Action is one of SOLID’s 50 competencies critical to executive success. It falls under the category of Execution, one of 5 categories within the competency model, which is explained and downloadable at the end of this article. Overall, executives are responsible for, and must be competent in:

E2 DRIVING ACTION: Increasing drive toward action; generating more action; making things happen more quickly; driving the action of others; developing written goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, related to mission and on a timetable.

About Our Competency Model

SOLID Executive Competencies eBook CoverThe SOLID Competency Model is based on two decades of research. It is founded on the premise that all executive competencies can be categorized into these five groupings: Core Character, Execution, Relationship, Management and Leadership. Executives must master all five categories to achieve excellence in their roles. This model is useful for gauging and quantifying your skillset, understanding what it takes to be an effective executive, and providing a framework for improving performance. For more information, download “SOLID Executive Competencies: What It Takes to Be an Executive.”

Looking constructively at yourself isn’t easy, but doing so provides the catalyst for transformational change. Having a balanced, objective look at your skillset and a willingness to be self-critical for the sake of continuous improvement is a major marker of a top executive. Take the next step and download “Eliminate Executive Blind Spots.” This free workbook will help you explore your strengths and weaknesses and remove any blind spots you may have.

About the Author

Daniel Joseph Mueller of Austin, Texas, executive coach and President & CEO of SOLIDleadersBased in Austin, Texas, Daniel Joseph Mueller has helped people become more driven for his entire professional career. From his early days as a personal trainer and fitness instructor to his current position as President & CEO of SOLIDleaders, he has coached others in taking action and achieving their full potential.

Join the hundreds of top executives who have achieved transformational results with Daniel. Schedule your first complimentary executive coaching session.