Although I’m not particularly fond of it, an often used visual of a “leader” shows her/him out in front of everyone, leading the way. The reason I’m not fond of that visual is that while the leader may be the one taking the initiative, she often isn’t out in front but rather has developed her team with leaders at every level taking initiative. So depending on the topic, in a truly progressive organization you may see different people out front leading change.
What does it mean to “take initiative?” Here are some definitions from Dictionary.com to start with:
1. an introductory act or step; leading action: to take the initiative in making friends.
2. readiness and ability in initiating action
3. one’s personal, responsible decision: to act on one’s own initiative.
Action oriented. A leader, one who takes initiative, takes that introductory act or step to get things going. I like this because it is action not simply coming up with an idea or hypothesis. It’s doing. And further, a leader builds that readiness and ability in initiating action in his or her team. That’s leadership development and is perhaps the single most important part of being a leader – developing other leaders.
And that concept is what is behind David Marquet’s “It is my intention to . . .” method of building leadership at every level of his organizations. People who take initiative are generally proactive as well. They don’t wait for things to happen to them, they make things happen in their professional and in their personal lives.
There is no way our organizations will continue to thrive if we have the old command and control environment. We need every person in our company thinking, taking initiative and implementing change – all the time. That means, by definition, that we must develop leadership at every level of the organization. We are required help people clarify and then follow through on their intentions rather than having us dispensing instructions.