Self-starters who take action and get things done are essential to any effective organization. But what are you supposed to do if your teammates don’t show initiative?
I was recently talking with a friend. He was frustrated his employees didn’t take enough initiative. The lack was really affecting his business. The problem was he blamed them and acted like he was powerless—like he was the victim.
I didn’t believe that. And the more I thought about his situation, the more clear it became how to turn it around.
If you’re a leader who needs to get your teammates to take more initiative, I suggest these seven ways.
- Model initiative yourself. “What is it about your leadership that led to this outcome?” It’s one of the most important questions anyone has ever asked me. Why? Team leadership begins with self leadership, and it’s hard to insist on traits we don’t embody.
Hire and screen for initiative. On my team we call this infectious enthusiasm—and we won’t bring anybody aboard who doesn’t have it. We’re all used to screening for talent, aptitude, and experience. This is actually more important. And there’s a corollary to this one: Consider showing can’t-do people the door.
Share your expectations about initiative. Nobody can read your mind. I know—as a leader this sometimes bums me out, too. But it’s the truth, and that’s why leaders can’t over-communicate on this point. It’s useless holding people to standards you don’t set for them. If you want something, let people know.
Make it one of your core values. How important is initiative to you, really? Core values are the DNA of an organization. They shape, direct, and replicate. But here’s the reality: If taking initiative isn’t truly critical for you, it won’t become critical for your team either.
Affirm initiative in real time. You get more of what you encourage. When you have teammates who take initiative, lift them up then and there. And do it publicly. Let people know this is a quality that gets you excited, that it’s something central to the success of the team and something you’re actively looking for.
Reward initiative on a regular basis. It’s important to do more than recognizing initiative in the moment. It’s also important to encourage it long-term. Regular rewards are a great way to do that. These motivators can be extrinsic (such as yearly bonuses) or intrinsic (such as greater opportunities for growth and advancement).
Give people room to make mistakes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve met very few perfect people in my lifetime. I can count them on no hands. The reality is that everybody makes mistakes. We’re all loss averse to one degree or another. What that means is if you punish mistakes you’ll encourage people to not take risks. Kiss initiative goodbye. If you give the right people room to make mistakes, they’ll learn how to take better risks.
So ask that question yourself. If you’re seeing a lack of initiative on your team, what is it about your leadership that created this situation? Then ask which of these seven ways might help you turn it around.
When we own an outcome, we have the power to change it.