“Grab him ! He’s got Initiative.”. How many times have you heard people say this when they are looking for talent for their teams? “What I look for most in my staff ” a CEO once told me ” is that they have plenty of initiative”.

As we kept chatting, it struck me that here was a recurring theme. A song I had heard many times before. This was something all leaders would appreciate in their team members – initiative. The ability to do things on their own without having to be told. They are the self- starters. They save you valuable supervisory time and effort.


In my experience, here are 7 things that set apart people with high initiative:

  1. They are Curious: They want to go beyond the obvious and understand the basic constructs. This makes them ever on the look out for information. They are not the types to be fobbed off with ” We have always done it this way.”
  2. They are Innovative: Closely related to the previous point, they look at things in different and often non-conventional ways. “Thinking out of the box” has become a common phrase these days. People with high initiative thrive on this and look for newer and better ways of doing things.
  3. They are Well Informed: They are on the ball, these guys. What gives them a quick start is the data and information they have about their work. They don’t waste time hunting for information, they know it or know where to find it- fast.
  4. They take Risks: Doing something of your own bat does have risks. If you play very safe and wait for things to happen as they should ( but usually don’t) , it is unlikely you will ever develop initiative. Some amount of risk is called for when you act and act quickly. Sometimes you make mistakes and learn from them but to show high initiative, be ready to take calculated risks.
  5. They Keep Trying: Taking initiative does not always guarantee you success at the first shot. People with high initiative don’t give up easily. They keep trying till they succeed. Since they are accustomed to work with less supervision- and indeed prefer it that way- they device alternate ways to reach the goal, without giving up easily.
  6. They Learn all The Time: Learning from their own mistakes as well as mistakes committed by others, comes easily to those with high initiative. They are quick to learn and experiment with different behaviours and approaches to achieve results.
  7. They are Self Supporting: Unlike those who have high needs for recognition, people with high initiative get rewards from task completion. Sure, they like recognition like everybody else, but are not down and out if they don’t get it. They ride on intrinsic motivators which make them more goal oriented.

At the end of the day, you need to be visible as a contributor. Having high initiative helps you get there.

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This is the 95 th of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.