Initiative is a word typically used to describe a positive event. As we reach adulthood, we have dreams of how we may shape our future. Unfortunately, too many people love to pour cold water on our dreams, talking about all of the reasons why our ideas will not work. There are three steps we can use to take ownership of initiative, in spite of the naysayers.
STEP 1: Recognize it!
Do we know initiative when we see it? Let’s look at the following examples:
- When a child builds a sand castle on his own for the very first time, how do we respond? Do we giggle because it is lopsided, or mention all the ways it could have been built better? Or do we take pictures and praise the child for using his imagination in building something all alone?
- When an employee cleans up a spill in the office, which he noticed as he walked past, how do we respond – if at all?
- When someone sees that a work group is going to have to work late to meet a deadline and offers to take orders for food, get it and bring it back, how do we respond?
- When a spouse, who knows you have been up all night with a sick child, quietly gathers all of the trash and takes the receptacles out to the street for pickup, how do we respond?
Each of the examples demonstrates a form of initiative. What examples might we add to this list?
STEP 2: DEVELOP IT!
Now that we recognize it when we see it, how can we learn to apply it?
- Our children begin a new school year, knowing one of the projects will be a science fair project of some kind. Do we begin early in the year to ask prompting questions to see what kind of creative approaches to a project the child can take? Or do we think in terms of what part we will play to make sure a top grade is achieved? Caution – this is where adults with a tendency toward perfection may destroy a child’s initiative.
- At work, we have several new employees in the group we supervise. Coming into a new environment, they may see things that could be done more easily, faster, or not done at all. As supervisors, do we pull out the automatic “No” word? Even worse, do we, by our reactions, clearly demonstrate the “do what I say” example? Or do we listen effectively to see what part of their suggestions might work and compliment them?
Try taking one minute, list areas where you might begin to use initiative and encourage others to do the same. Are you surprised at your results?
STEP 3: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
As with any new skill, we need to practice it personally and professionally. It is important to begin with simple issues, like the ones listed below.
- At home, there are many ways we can encourage the entire family to do things without having to remind them. When a child has set the table for an entire week without any prompting from an adult, we can reward their initiative with a special treat.
- When a spouse takes the initiative to build a playhouse in the back yard as a surprise for the kids when they return from camp, we can take group pictures and praise them in front of others.
- At work, when an employee resolves a conflict between himself and another person, without bringing others into the discussion, we can complement them in person and with a note or email.
Just as a plant seedling needs water, the right soil, and nurturing during the growth process, so do the seeds of initiative to grow and spread. The results include satisfaction in taking a risk, demonstrating the ability to make independent decisions, and setting a positive example for others around you. Perhaps the most important reward of all is the feeling of empowerment in guiding the life path you will take. Are you ready to begin?