Self-management - Taking initiative

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The importance of taking initiative

Initiative means seeing something that needs to be done and starting it. It means taking the first step rather than waiting for someone else or waiting for a "better time". Forward momentum relies on people taking initiative; without it you'll just tread water.

The role of a leader

A leader's role is to drive things forward and overcome any obstacles that get in the way, including resolving customer issues, improving products and services, improving operational efficiency and anything else that needs to happen to achieve the goal.

These things don't happen if leaders sit back and do nothing - they only happen when leaders take the initiative and make it happen.

  • Take ownership
    One of the most common career-limiters is the “it’s not my job” mentality. If no-one else does it, and it will negatively impact a customer or another team member if it’s not done, make it your responsibility.
  • Find the answers
    As a leader you need to get used to operating in ambiguity. You will rarely (if ever) get all of the information or answers you need, and the further up the chain you go, the more you will be expected to figure things out on your own. So if you don't have all of the information or all of the answers, source the information you need, speak to others in the business; do whatever you need to do to figure it out.
  • Be proactive
    Don't sit around and wait for work to come to you. Always be on the lookout for ways to improve things and take the steps to make it happen.
  • Be an active contributor
    Make your voice heard in a positive way. Make suggestions. Speak up when you see that things can be done better. Be an active contributor.

Overcoming inaction

But what if I fail?

Failing is always a possibility. Remember that in order to learn you need to challenge yourself and take risks. If you try and you don't succeed, you've still learned something.

It's too hard

Taking initiative creates work and is harder than doing nothing. But if your efforts are focused in the right place, it's short-term pain for long-term gain. If you do nothing, problems persist, opportunities pass you by, and nothing moves forward.

If you find yourself being deterred by the amount of work involved, think about the benefits that your efforts will bring.

I shouldn't have to do it

"Other people don’t do it, so why should I?"

If you've ever thought this before, you're not alone. Doing more than your fair share because others around you do the bare minimum can be frustrating. But it's not a constructive attitude. Leaders think for themselves and take initiative even when others won’t. So forget about what's fair and just do what needs to be done - your efforts won't go unnoticed.


Good leaders do what needs to be done even when those around them do nothing. Find the answers. Push to change things for the better. Be proactive and don't be afraid to go it alone - others will follow if you lead the way.

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Next: Self-management - Building trust with others