Showing initiative; this is an admirable trait we certainly expect from leaders. However, there are times when each one of us has an opportunity to use our initiative, no matter where in the organisation we may work. To what extent do employers really encourage this behaviour?
Initiative sends a strong message
Some years ago, an international hotel chain ran a series of adverts highlighting instances where their employees had ‘gone the extra mile’ for a guest. The general theme being that any hotel employee encountering a guest with a problem would take personal responsibility for resolving the issue and delighting the guest. As in all advertising, there was a strong message here for the employees of the hotel chain.
“We will support you if you take responsibility and use your initiative, even beyond the limits of your role in the organisation – the satisfaction of our guests comes first.”
What messages about using one’s initiative and taking responsibility are given out by the senior leaders in your organisation? Do people feel encouraged to use their initiative, or are they fearful of ‘stepping outside their boxes’? There are many organisations who profess to be keen to see their employees thinking for themselves – do their behaviours support their aspirational words?
The right leadership style for encouraging initiative
There has been a major shift over the past decade from authoritarian/directive leadership to a more consultative and inclusive style. But when it comes to letting go, many of us still feel real concern about others acting on our behalf – particularly if they are doing so without our knowledge! This concern I believe comes from our own need to feel confident that we can recover any given situation for which we will be held accountable, even though others may be acting for us.
How can we get the assurance we need, and at the same time give others as much free rein as possible? Let me begin with an example. If you were to ask three different people for directions to a particular location, you will certainly get at least three, if not more, options! The point being that each one of us has a different way of finding solutions, based on our experience, thinking pattern and personal competence. The same applies when it comes to achieving outcomes at work. Each person will have their own ‘route’, but providing it can achieve the outcome, without involving harm to others, reckless expenditure or illegal activity, they should be encouraged to follow that path. All that is needed for others to feel reassured is an outline of the intended route, with possibly a few ‘milestones’ along the way to enable progress to be monitored.
Showing initiative in uncontrolled environments
So that may work well in controlled environments, but what about people using their initiative on the spur of the moment – when their actions may really be saving the reputation of your organisation? If everyone you work with understands how you think, what is important to you and how you make decisions, it will be possible to establish a high level of trust. Trust that in any situation you will respond in a way that is at least to some degree predictable based on your previous performance. This in turn establishes a level of confidence between people. This is what will ultimately encourage everyone to take initiative without fearing the consequences.
There are many opportunities in everyday life for us to think and act responsibly, or use our initiative to deal with a situation. We are all leaders – even if only of ourselves. How prepared are we to stand up and be counted, even when no-one else is watching?
The current Covid-19 pandemic has forced us all into a situation where we will be required to take responsibility – for ourselves and our loved ones, but also to take initiatives, looking out for those less fortunate, for example. If we are forced to spend time in isolation, what a better way to use that time but in reflection on how we can really act responsibly and with initiative in any situation?
Please contact us to find out how Change Partners can help you implement the right practices for giving or showing initiative in your particular organisation and community.
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I have been involved in coaching for over 25 years. My focus is primarily particularly on leadership issues, since I had the good fortune to have been specifically trained as a leader in my early career, and to hone my skills surrounded by understanding followers.
In 1998 I founded Change Partners - a pioneer in the executive coaching field in South Africa. I have also worked for several non-profit organisations over the past 30 years. All of which has given me an understanding of a wide swathe of leadership roles.