Initiative is the quality that allows people to take action before small problems turn into big ones. It’s the key to unlocking potential, both individually and in a group. As a leader, your approach will have a far-reaching impact on whether or not your team members show initiative when the time is right. Not every organization prioritizes – or appreciates – the power of initiative, so if you want to see it, you have to take action.
Let’s look at four ways to inspire initiative in your corporate culture:
1) Model Initiative Yourself
People are constantly taking cues from their leaders in big ways and smaller ones. To encourage initiative, start by showing others how it’s done. Self-leadership is the first step on any journey. To prove to others that initiative is important, let them see you proactively looking for problems to solve and areas to improve – not waiting until circumstances dictate your actions.
2) Share Your Expectations About Initiative
Some organizations celebrate initiative, while others are more likely to punish it. To create the company culture you want, you need to be unambiguous about expectations, even when you’re talking about a value like “initiative.” Before you start expecting initiative from others, make sure you’ve communicated clearly about what it is and when it’s appropriate.
3) Reward Initiative Regularly
When someone decides to take initiative, they have to make a risk-benefit calculation against the status quo. Make sure the rewards look better than the risks: Provide positive reinforcement with praise, recognition, performance incentives, or whatever motivates that individual. Remember, positive reinforcement works best when the reward closely follows the desired behavior.
4) Give People Room to Make Mistakes
This is the flip side of point #3. In hidebound, compliance-driven industries, mistakes are often framed as if they’re fatal to careers. If you want people to be self-motivated and independent, you need to show them that mistakes will be treated as learning experiences. That means using failure to teach others how to take better risks – an approach that will benefit everyone.
Corporate culture is a complex topic that can be difficult to capture in few words. Deciding on your values is the first step. Once you’ve done that, find ways to translate effervescent qualities like initiative into concrete actions and policies. Most importantly: Be consistent! As a leader, your strengths can easily transfer to your teammates, so always be improving.
If you enjoyed this post you might also want to read, “3 Benefits to the Coffee Shop Meeting.”
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