‘Proactive’, ‘can-do attitude’, ‘self-starter’: you’ve probably come across these words and phrases in more than one job description. They’re all about showing initiative. But what does that really mean?
Showing initiative is showing a willingness to get things done and take responsibility. In the workplace, someone with initiative might: pre-empt what might happen and take sensible, productive action without being asked; take the time to figure out a problem before asking for help; share a process or solution that’s been useful to them because they can see it would help someone else; come up with new ideas; absorb new responsibilities whatever they’re working on or they may simply be engaged enough to ask the right questions.
Employers love to see this kind of behaviour because it drives innovation and it shows them you are creative and forward thinking and eager to contribute to the team and the organisation’s growth.
However, putting yourself out there can feel a bit daunting, especially if you’ve just started in a new role or you’re just not an ‘out there’ person. Here are some things you can do to kick start your initiative.
1. Learn from others
Before you ask for help when you hit a brick wall, consider what the person you’re about to ask would do. Emulate the resourceful, proactive behaviour of people you admire. Notice in which ways your colleagues take initiative at work: how do they go about introducing new ideas, overcoming hurdles or volunteering for certain tasks? Learn from them and don’t be afraid to reach out to them either. You may even want to seek out a mentor.
2. Be alert
Taking initiative means spotting opportunities and acting on them. Pay attention to the people in your team and what they need; develop a thorough understanding of your organisation and how it operates; be aware of any projects and challenges it may be facing and stay in the loop of industry trends and news.
3. Look beyond the confines of your role
Don’t limit yourself by thinking you can only take initiative within your current role or team. Making observations and suggesting you help with something normally outside your remit is how you get picked for promotion. If there’s a project within another team you think you could make a valuable contribution to, volunteer yourself. Offering to get involved in the planning of a team meeting, suggesting a topic to present to the team or joining an office committee can also be great ways to show initiative.
4. Consider your career goals
According to research, people who have clear career goals are more likely to take initiative at work because they understand what they want to achieve and the positive action they need to take to get there. For example, if your goal is to become a manager you will probably be more inclined to volunteer to take the lead on projects. So, really work on understanding what it is you want to do with your career and use that knowledge as a motivator to take initiative.
5. Be realistic
Don’t put your hand up for something if you can’t follow through. Always consider whether you have the time and resources to do something and don’t get overambitious by taking on any projects you’re not ready for. Over-promising and under-delivering is never a good thing.
Taking initiative is something you learn through practice, and with so many employers looking for this skill in candidates, it’s worth practising it as soon as possible. So wherever you’re working or volunteering, try to take the initiative where you can so you have plenty of examples to refer to when it comes to applying for your next role.