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2 Simple Ways to Demonstrate Initiative

Eric has been a member of his organization’s leadership team for a few years, and he worries that he is sometimes perceived by his peers as aloof or disengaged. In our efforts to understand how his peers may have formulated such a misperception of him, we uncovered one relatively simple way for him to begin to change that perception.

It seems that during team meetings, the CEO and other of Eric’s peers on the leadership team have a habit of saying “We need to [fill in desired leadership action here].” Eric usually nods along with such statements, often thinking “Yes, we do need to do something about that.”

Eric does not offer to take the lead on broadly discussed leadership topics for two reasons:

  1. In the absence of clear assignment of responsibility, he assumes that the person talking about the issue owns the topic. Hence, he assumes that the owner will ask for help if he or she would like Eric’s assistance.
  2. He doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Eric doesn’t want to assume that a topic is his to grab if one of his peers thinks it belongs in his or her area.

As a result, Eric rarely “grabs onto” initiatives, takes the lead on them, or proactively follows up on them. His primary follow-up action is simply to wait for updates at future leadership meetings.

Another coaching client, George, recently shared with me that his leader expressed a desire to meet with him more frequently and suggested setting up formal meetings rather than relying upon leadership team meetings or ad hoc one-to-one meetings to stay aligned on key topics. George is relatively new to his organization and extra time with this leader will undoubtedly be helpful for him given the many moving parts of the departments he leads.

During a subsequent coaching session, I asked George when he and his leader would begin their regularly scheduled meetings. George said he was still awaiting a calendar invite from his leader for such meetings.

George, like Eric, is conscientious about being a good teammate by staying in “his lane” and by respecting the roles of others. Sometimes, however, both of these intelligent, competent, and thoughtful leaders miss opportunities to step up into their leadership roles.

To engage even more fully as a leadership teammate look for opportunities to exercise greater initiative, including moments when:

  • You hear “we need to do something about that” at a leadership meeting. In my experience, some leaders are careful about not using outdated command-and-control tactics, so they identify issues for the team using the word “we.” Rather than simply assigning responsibility to someone on the team, these leaders offer an invitation for team members to step up – either by offering to take the lead on an initiative or by raising the question of by whom and how the issue will be tackled. Consider how you may act differently if you interpret “we need to do something about that” as “you need to do something about that,” and accept the invitation.
  • When your leader (or even a peer) suggests that you meet with him or her. In those situations, it is not necessary to wait for explicit instruction. Take the initiative to schedule the meeting.

Ideally, especially if you are new to a leadership team, you will continue to maintain your charming Midwestern politeness and respect for others’ roles while simultaneously increasing your get-er-done proactivity and initiative.

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