Personal initiative is a critical differentiator between highly competent people who take charge of their destiny and those who are not. Having initiative goes hand-in-glove with being successful.
Research conducted found that highly initiative people are said to be better able to find a new one if they ever lose their jobs. They are also said to be more likely to offer more suggestions at work and in relationships.
What does it mean to have initiative? A study by researchers interested in high and low initiative people provides a clue.
“In their research, they offered people training in computer skills, which they also video recorded. Afterward, the scientists went back and watched how the most enterprising people behaved and how this differed from those who lacked initiative. The latter group frequently interacted with the trainer. Specifically, they asked—over and over—whether they were using their new skills correctly. They were not merely interested in feedback; they invested in getting reassurance.
Rather than taking the reigns of their learning, they demanded a disproportionate amount of the instructor’s attention. By contrast, the folks with the highest initiative were more likely to engage in trial and error, if they could solve their problems, and only asked for feedback once they were truly stuck.”
Taking initiative is about being first. It is a willingness to act.
Three critical elements of taking initiative
1. Taking Action.
People who are high in taking initiative are willing to act. Recall all those times that you considered speaking with a stranger on an elevator or wish you had spoken up when there was a mistake at work. Folks with initiative do something in those situations—they introduce themselves to strangers or speak up about problems.
2. Self-Starter Attitude.
Importantly, the actions taken by people high in taking initiative are self-motivated. These people don’t wait for permission, or for everything to be clearly explained, or for conditions to be completely safe.
3. Seeing Opportunity.
Critically, one of the reasons that people high in taking initiative are self-starters and are willing to act is that they see opportunity. They see opportunity where others overlook it, or worse, where others see threats.
Where do you stand with taking initiative?
Are you a play-it-safe type of person, or are you bold?
Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener created an unscientific checklist to help you gauge how you fare about taking initiative. Give yourself a point for each “yes” answer with the idea that the more points, the more initiative:
_____ When an emergency happens, I rush to help
_____ If I get stuck, I try to solve the problem before asking for help
_____ If I see a problem, I will speak up and let others know
_____ I have a history of taking the first step in new social relationships
_____ I rarely regret missed opportunities
_____ I volunteer for new duties and opportunities at work
_____ I like to try new things
_____ I am on the lookout for an opportunity
How did you fare?
See, here is something I’d like you to keep in mind – we are all a mixed bag of stepping forward and opting out.
“There are times when we wish to act but—for one reason or another—can not bring ourselves to do so, that’s called procrastination. There are times when we wish to act but do not muster the will (like wanting to meet a stranger but holding back instead) that’s called being reserved. And there are also actions we take without much thought or intention, these are called habits. Initiative, however, occurs when we take action.”
How to increase your “Initiative Quotient.”
Dr. Robert asserts that initiative can be learned and if you are interested in increasing your “Initiative Quotient,” he suggested that you consider the following exercises:
- Be First. People spend a lot of time waiting for other people to take the first step or for conditions to be “just right” before taking action. I recommend making a little private competition out of being first. This might mean being the first to smile and say “good morning” to a stranger you pass on the street. It might be that you are the first to volunteer or the first to offer an idea. To do this effectively, use “be first” as a mantra. When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself that you will look for opportunities to be first in a wide range of ways. See what happens.
- Be Brave. Understand this simple fact: Being brave does not guarantee success. Some gambles pay off, and others don’t. But choosing to take a risk at least puts you in the game. I am not suggesting taking foolish risks but rather permitting yourself to try even though you aren’t sure how it will all work out.
If you try these for a week, you will notice changes in your life. Your confidence will improve; you will seize more opportunities and will be well-positioned to become more successful.
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High-Performance Institute Blog: Taking Initiative: A Key to Success is Seizing the Opportunity