What does taking initiative really mean?

Taking initiative is about having a good idea, as well as possessing the determination, and support, to implement it. 

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, president and CEO respectively of leadership consultancy Zenger/Folkman, wrote in a Harvard Business Review article on the traits of super productive people, reported in Business Insider UK, that productive people tend to take initiative. 

So, if taking initiative increases productivity, what stops people doing it and how can leaders and managers encourage it? 

Here are our seven top tips to encourage you to take the initiative: 

1. Know who has your back
Work out where you can gain support both for your idea and its implementation. You cannot achieve big things, or even small things, in an organisation on your own. 

2. Be trustworthy 
Succeeding in taking initiative is often dependent on the relationships you have built with your colleagues. Our own research, ‘The truth about trust: honesty and integrity at work’, found that people are more likely to be enthused by your ideas and join you in delivering them if they trust your judgement. Even better, if you have a record of successful delivery and are also known to be generous in acknowledging the support you received along the way, people will be queuing up to support you.
Watch our free webinar on building trust. 

3. Accept failure 
Worrying about failure may stop us from suggesting new initiatives. Consider practising an acceptance of failure if you really aspire to become an effective leader. Create a culture that allows room for mistakes and encourages people to try.

4. Don’t let you get you down
Do you tell yourself that it is not worth making a suggestion as it will not be accepted anyway? Such self-sabotaging often arises in less collaborative organisational cultures. 
Great leaders foster a culture where everyone feels they can contribute and ideas get a fair hearing. 

5. Own your mistakes
Share your successes and own your failures. It requires confidence to know that you will survive if it does not all go according to plan; the sky will not fall in. 

6. Just let it go
Do not over-connect with one of your initiatives. We have many ideas, and if one does not gain traction, let it go, others will come. Actively look for the next opportunity. 
It is very likely that non-acceptance is about you not garnering support for your idea, or people not trusting you (see Tips One and Two).

7. Be resilient
Sticking with something, not giving up and bouncing back when something has not gone to plan is a highly desirable leadership skill. Resilience is not only about having the strength to overcome adversity but also to carry on when things do not work out as we had hoped. 

How to develop taking initiative in practice

To improve your leadership skills further, try out our flagship e-learning tool, MyLeadership, where you can take our leadership profile questionnaire and receive a personalised report.