How to Take the Initiative

I’ve read a few posts lately about the importance of taking the initiative. Initiative is one of those elusive buzzwords that we all know we should have, but don’t necessarily understand why or how to get it. We want to balance decision making with collaboration. How?

Here are a few of my personal mantras that I use in my professional life to help me take the initiative.

  • Never ask a question, always propose a solution. Think about the question you’re about to go to your supervisor with. What would you do if she wasn’t there? What would you do if you had total control over the decision making? Nine times out of ten that’s the thing you should do (especially if you have experience in the field). Go to your supervisor with your proposal and see what she says. Trust me, initiative will be the first word that comes to her mind in thinking about your performance.
  • Be opinionated. Nothing’s worse than an ambivalent worker. If you work in a nonprofit, chances are you’re passionate about your work – let that come across in your conversations with your peers. When you’re asked a question, give a thoughtful, honest answer with your opinion. Even if it’s not the opinion of the majority, you will be respected for your contribution and will be looked at as someone with valuable insight.
  • If you think it should be done, do it! This is a quick and easy way to make sure you’re taking the initiative. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, or wonder, shouldn’t ______ be happening? If you’re helping to coordinate a mailing and you know you’ll need a certain amount of labels, envelopes, postage… well, check the supply cabinet. Go to your supervisor and let her know that you’ll need to order more envelopes. I have moments when I’m not sure whether I’m overstepping my boundaries of my job description… and those are usually the ones I get the most praise for later.
  • Learn to manage up. Your supervisor can’t read your mind. Heck, your mother can’t even read your mind. Express yourself to your supervisor and tell her your goals. If she doesn’t react the way you want, remember that her attitude doesn’t determine your job performance. Identify your supervisor’s strengths and weaknesses and work with them in the same way she should work with you. It’s easy to blame a bad boss on laying off the initiative – don’t let that happen.

Taking the initiative doesn’t have to be difficult. And you don’t have to be an extrovert to do it. It’s simply about being aware of the big picture and doing whatever you can to help everyone get to the end. Good luck and go get ’em!


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