Initiative . . . and the Dead Bicycle

“Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Only engage, and then the mind grows heated. Begin it, and the work will be completed.”

I am an observer of people and human behaviour.  I guess that’s why I became a performance improvement consultant and a novelist – it’s all about people.

So, here is my second blog from the lovely Island Hideaway resort at Dhonakulhi Island in the Northern Maldives.  It’s a very posh, upscale resort and when you arrive they assign you a “personal” butler.  This young man (they are all men since the Maldives is a Muslim country and they don’t let the women out much – a definite topic for another blog) speaks fairly good English and comes from one of the local islands.  The resort company selects and trains all their staff, the butlers, houseboys, transportation staff, laundry, kitchen crews, etc from the local population (the security staff is from Nepal, former Gurkha soldiers – go figure).  For this young man, and many like him, it’s a very coveted job in a region with little employment other than basic fishing.

My posting today is about my “dead” bicycle.  The way the guests get around on the island (1.4 kilometres long and 500 meters wide) is either by bicycle or walking, for the fit, and by electric golf cart for the elderly or those with too much to drink at night.  When you arrive, there are bicycles waiting at your villa, with your villa number (ours is #32) tagged on the handlebars.  When you park your bike at the restaurant among all the others you can easily recognise  yours by its number.

On the third day of our stay my bicycle died!  A bolt came off that holds on the pedal and my transportation was instantly rendered useless.  I informed our butler about the situation and told him exactly where I left the metal carcass (on one of the main thoroughfares around the island).  He assured me it would be taken care of.  And within a few hours a replacement bicycle showed up at my villa.

Job done?  Not quite.  As I rode my replacement cycle the next day I passed my original broken bicycle, leaning against the exact tree where I left it.  So, I decided to try a little experiment in human behaviour.  I didn’t remind our butler about the original bicycle and decided to see what happened. Everyday I ride my bicycle to the northern part of the island to go flyfishing and I pass my dead bike. Still there, still inoperative.

It’s the end of our 9 day stay and my broken bicycle is still leaning against the same tree, although staff walk, cycle and cart down this road dozens of times each day.  It’s not hidden from view, in fact it’s in plain sight.  But no one has taken it off for repair.

I find that many people who earn a wage, as opposed those who work for themselves, have developed a characteristic pattern of work.  It goes like this:  Tell me what needs doing and I will do it!  But that’s all.  I am not paid to take initiative.  And, if I do take initiative and get it wrong, I may get reprimanded.

I my experience, progress is made only by those who take the initiative.  Those who see something that needs doing, and do it.  Those who ask, What if?  Those who look at something and see an opportunity.

Our butler is nice, knows where the knife and fork goes in setting a table, but initiative is not high on his agenda.

I wonder how long my “dead” bicycle will remain next to that palm tree?

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”   Conrad Hilton

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

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About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Initiative . . . and the Dead Bicycle

  1. I think those with initiative tend not to be butlers very long. I had to google the Maldives to see where they were (I am such an American). Looks beautiful. Might have to consider it as I need to go back to India at some point anyway.


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