Taking Initiative


Hi, everybody. I’m Mike Staver. This is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. Here’s this week’s question.

“What is the difference between those that take initiative and those that do not? I am working hard to get my direct report to take initiative, but I am failing.”

Man, these are some tough questions.

Well, the primary difference is that those that take initiative, take initiative, like you taking initiative to send this question in. The primary difference with those that take initiative and those that don’t is the people that take initiative have a mindset or a belief system that they need to step into the thing. They don’t wait. The primary difference is that they’re stepping towards something, not away from something. They’re moving into it.

Sometimes that initiative doesn’t work. Sometimes that initiative is premature. What I’m here to share with you is that the reality is the work is really about stepping into something. You ask, “How do you get people to take initiative?” You say you’re failing. First of all, evaluate what you’re trying to do. If you’re cheerleading them into taking initiative, that’ll fail every time. “Come on, jump in, get in the game, come on, come on.” That won’t work.

If you’re requiring it, that won’t work. If you investigate it and say, and just put it out there, “I want to create a culture of people who take initiative. I want to create a culture of people who are moving forward in a meaningful way and not afraid to grab the ball or grab the sticker, grab the wheel or,” whatever metaphor you want to use. “What can I do to help you do that?” Ask the question.

Number one, put it out there that that’s the culture you want to create, initiative-taking culture. Number two, ask them what you can do to make it easier for them to take initiative. Then number three, I want you to do an inventory on whether you punish initiative. There are times when we tell people to take initiative and they take initially, we went, “No, no, no, that’s not what I mean,” or “No, you can’t do that.”

We have to have a certain tolerance of failure. We have to have a certain tolerance of people, not really doing it the way we want them to do it. Part of taking initiative is them doing the thing they need to do in order to be successful or take a risk, but they need to understand what the ramifications are, the risk. Sometimes we tell people to take initiative and they do it, and then they get punished. We don’t want that.

We want to celebrate the thing that we want them to do, which is take initiative. Those are my suggestions. I hope that’s helpful.

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