One earmark of a true leader is the display of initiative. “Initiative” means taking the first step, not waiting for opportunities or people to come to you. Initiative is recognizing and doing what needs to be done before you’re asked to do it.
By definition, leaders cannot wait for someone else to make the first move; if they do, they are really followers, not leaders.
To take initiative means we must:
1. Risk. We must take the risk that we might be wrong or might fail.
2. Faith. We must believe what we are doing is the right thing at the right time.
3. Foresight. We must be able to see ahead to the need for our decisive action and the positive results if we take the initiative.
Why do we fail to “take the initiative”?
It seems easier to run from a challenge rather than step out and take a risk. When we initiate we commit ourselves to a direction. We may feel uncertain about what the future holds. What if we change our minds? What if no one follows? What if we fail in front of our followers? We run from commitment and initiative for various reasons.
1. We’re lazy. This is a serious problem. Sometimes we’re just too lazy to get up and do it. We would rather do something else. We haven’t disciplined ourselves to exercise self-control and command ourselves to do things even when we don’t want to or they seem too difficult.
2. We procrastinate. We put off doing what we know we should do until later. Often, later never comes. We forget, the opportunity passes us or someone else does it before us…or our supervisor rebukes us for not doing what needs to be done.
3. We have no vision. We fail to recognize the hand of God upon us for this moment. We fail to see how God is orchestrating circumstances and our important part in what He wants to do. We don’t see the Big Picture and our role in it. Vision creates Action; Action creates Momentum; Momentum creates Forward Motion; Forward Motion creates Accomplishment.
4. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid of embarrassment. We’re afraid of not having a clear plan. Every great endeavor has an element of fear in it. If we believe its the right thing to do and we’ve received confirmation from reliable people or circumstances we must move forward.
5. We don’t want to lose our freedom. If we commit to something it means it will rest on us. It means we will probably have to adjust our priorities, finances, time and personal comfort. Some people aren’t willing to pay the price.
A positive example of taking initiative is a man in the Bible named Nehemiah. In the book of the Bible bearing his name we see that he took initiative to pray for Jerusalem when it was a beaten down city of rubble. He took the initiative to plan on how to rebuild the protective walls around the city, how much it would cost and talking to someone who had the resources to help him. All of this involved a great risk to him and a personal sacrifice. Nevertheless, he took the initiative because he knew it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.
Nehemiah didn’t know all the details of how it was going to turn out, but he knew enough to move him forward.
Keys to Taking Initiative
1. Know that you’re the one. If you don’t do it, it may not get done. Someone may not be helped. An important task my not get done if you don’t take the initiative. God’s plan may be delayed or not come to pass if you don’t take the initiative.
2. Know the situation. You don’t have to know all the details of how it’s going to turn out, but you know enough to be pretty sure it needs to be done.
3. Go through channels of authority. If you are a mid-level supervisor you may have to get permission from those above you. Be positive. Be hopeful. Have a plan.
4. Make yourself do it. Simply overcome the inertness of your laziness or fear or doubt and make the move. Take the first step.
5. Pray without ceasing. Ask God to be with you, guide you, direct you, stop you, inform you every step along the way.
As for employees, be the kind of person who goes to your boss first and makes yourself available, rather than someone he has to remind or look for or follow up with.