Do you have to constantly nag at your kids to do things? Why can't they clean up their mess and get ready for school without being told? Now think about your boss at work. Does your boss always have to tell you what to do. Does your boss have to treat you like a child, or do you take initiative?
Employees who need to be told what to do are said to be "reactive". They do something only after the boss tells them to, or after the need to do something has been pointed out to them.
Employees who do what has to be done and solve problems before they arise are said to be "proactive". Bosses like employees that are proactive and willing to take initiative.
There are many advantages to taking initiative at work:
• By taking initiative you'll gain skills and learn more about your company and the market it serves.
• You'll be less bored at work because you won't be stuck in the same old routine.
But before we learn more of the advantages, let's consider some of the dangers of taking initiative at work.
• Is the problem or task within your area of responsibility? By taking initiative in an area that is outside your area of responsibility you could be trespassing on some else's turf. Before taking on a task outside your normal area of responsibility you should find out who's responsibility it is and involve that person.
If a fellow employee is swamped with work and you are facing a lull in work, ask them if you can help. But don't assume they will welcome your help. Some workers think greater job security is achieved by being behind in their work. They may feel that you are threatening their job security.
• By taking on an additional task, will your boss think you don't have enough work to do and you're looking for more? If this is a possibility, make sure your boss understands that the lull in your work is only temporary, or that you're taking on the extra task to avoid boredom and learn something new. If you're not careful, the extra task could become part of your job.
• Consider your company's culture in handling failure. Is it a "cover your ass" organization where people try to distract attention from their own failures by trying to focus attention on their coworkers failures? Has the company reprimanded workers who took initiative and failed in the past?
A company that punishes failure will stifle initiative and innovation. Workers won't want to do anything new for fear failure. If a company wants to increase initiative and innovation, they have to reward effort and embrace failure.
Despite these dangers, the rewards of taking initiative are great:
• You'll gain skills and knowledge about your company and the market it serves, making you a more valuable employee. When the economy recedes and the company needs to layoff workers, who do you think they'll keep? The individual who is more versatile in the different functions of the organization.
• You'll achieve more independence when you demonstrate that you have the organizations interests in mind and that they can trust your judgment in solving problems.
• You'll gain skills and market knowledge that will make you a more valuable commodity in the labor market. Workers who only do their own little job are not aware of opportunities outside their company.
There are dangers in taking initiative at work, but in an organization with a healthy culture, the the rewards of taking initiative are great.