How Do You Show Initiative At Work (Concrete Examples Provided)
By the end of reading this post, you will have a full understanding of exactly what initiative is, what it means to take initiative, how to show it in the workplace, why it can make or break your career success, and what to do to be a person who takes initiative.
You’ll also get exactly what types of things you need to say to have a great answer when they ask you to “give me an example of when you showed initiative”.
What Does It Mean To Take Initiative?
Taking initiative means doing something without being asked. Even if it’s difficult, uncomfortable, or embarrassing. But mainly it just means doing the right thing without someone telling you to do it, or before someone else does it.
It’s a form of leadership. It indicates that you are resourceful, and you can act independently.
It means you are able to see the a situation, make a decision and take action.
The official definition below:
A Very Basic Example For Taking Initiative That Anyone Can Do:
We have opportunities to take initiative every single day.
Basic Example of Taking Initiative:
You see someone broke a glass bottle and it’s on the floor in the shared office kitchen. No one is around when you walk in and spot it. You can either clean it up or you can leave it there and no one would ever know you saw it.
Taking initiative means you are the person that cleans it up.
Who doesn’t think twice about cleaning it up you just do.
You don’t leave it there, and pretend you didn’t see it, or leave it for someone else to deal with.
You either clean it up yourself or you notify the janitorial staff. But you don’t just leave it there and walk away.
That’s two different types of people right there.
The first takes responsibility when something is put in front of them.
They never say “That’s not my job”.
They know that it would be dangerous to leave the glass there, someone could hurt themselves if it is left there.
If found out later that someone tripped and hurt themselves, that would then be your fault…
You’d be negligent in a court of law.
No one would know about it, since you were the only one there to see it.
But you would know.
A person who takes initiative knows that they have a responsibility to at least inform someone, to make sure no one gets hurt they either need to:
A) Clean it up
B) Notify janitorial staff to clean it up asap, and put a visible sign there so no one gets hurt in the meanwhile.
Taking Initiative Shows Character
This simple act shows a persons character and it shows what type of potential a future employee has.
I once worked with a Hiring Manager who would drop a pen in each interview on purpose! So as the candidate walked into the office where they were being interviewed, there would always be a pen on the ground in a noticeable spot on the floor.
This was done strategically to see whether the candidate would take the initiative to pick it up or whether they’d leave it on the floor and pretend they didn’t see it.
Reasons For Not Taking Initiative
There are several reasons why someone may choose not to take initiative, or they may not even be aware that it is a choice.
A type of person who doesn’t take initiative may be someone who is lazy, they don’t think it’s their problem to pick up the glass (or the pen), because they didn’t break the bottle and THEY didn’t leave the pen on the floor…
It is the attitude of: I didn’t make the mess, so why should I bother to clean it? Someone else should do it.
I’m not saying you need to be the type of person who cleans up after everyone all the time and gets walked all over and taken advantage of.
I’m saying that you need to be the person who sees something that needs attention, and you do the right thing, without questioning whether it’s “Your job” or not. The point is it needs to be done, so whether you do it yourself, or you make sure it gets done (by bringing awareness to the problem and assigning responsibility to someone else) you’re the person that will make sure that the right thing is done.
Another reason someone may not want to take initiative is that they are afraid that if they do something because they might do it wrong. They are afraid they might get in trouble, told off, or corrected.
They may decide out of fear that it’s not worth it to take that chance. It’s easier to leave it and pretend to not see it or just decide it’s best to leave it for someone else to handle.
Perhaps out of insecurity, fear or panic.
Which type of person do you think employers find the most desirable to have on their team?
Why You Need To Show That You Take Initiative At Work:
A person who takes initiative is an invaluable player in any workplace, on any team.
A person who takes initiative does the right thing, not because they’re going to get rewarded, thanked or praised for it. Not because they’re going to even be noticed for it.
They do it because it’s the right thing to do.
This is the difference between being a child and being an adult.
A child does things for attention, for praise, for an “atta boys” or “good job tigers” or for lollipops or smartie packs, or in my case the mini twix’s that my dad kept in his drawer when I was growing up…
Grown ups shouldn’t require this anymore, keyword shouldn’t… We should be emotionally mature enough that when we see something that might be a risk to our fellow humans, we would do something about it, and we wouldn’t hesitate. Even if no one saw or no one else cared but us.
Taking Initiative Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers
Example: Bus Charter Not Available
I’ll give you the example of a perfect situation to take initiative and show you 2 different ways to handle it. One shows that clear initiative was taken. The second shows zero initiative taken.
Task: Say you are asked to call our regular bus company and book a charter bus for our yearly event.
The bus company comes back saying that they can’t accomodate us for the date we want (or our back up date) they are all booked for the month.
Immediately go and tell your manager:
“The bus company has no availability” – leave it at that and wait for a reply. Do nothing until you get a response.
Before going to your manager, you do some of your own independent thinking and that leads you to some research of your own. You then come to your manager with a much better response:
“The bus company you asked me to check was booked, so I looked into these other options (listing 5 more). 3 of them have availability and here are the prices and models of busses available, I made a sheet comparing them I recommend we go with this one for these reasons. It’s the same price, it can accomodate everyone and it has similar bus so the change will be minimal to what we’re used to. They can also make a yearly reservation so we don’t run into this again.”
The second response saves the manager from doing the thinking. Which they shouldn’t need to do as it’s your responsibility. You were tasked with booking a bus, so you need to see that through, no matter what roadblocks you may face along the way to accomplishing that task.
The mistake a lot of people make is they think it’s the manager’s responsibility to do all of their thinking for them.
Who would you rather have working on your team?
This is a super clear demonstration of independent thinking. And the comparison of someone who defaults to Manager, with what do I do now? Or what do you want me to do?
Say that your manager didn’t need all that info you gave in the second answer… That’s ok. It’s still worth while doing it because now you’re learning what your manager wants and needs and you’re moving the task forward, getting better at researching, spreadsheets, and presenting information etc.
The only way to learn is by doing.
You can read a book on how to swim (heck you can read 10 books on how to swim).
Get thrown into the deep end of the pool for the first time…
When you don’t know how to take initiative… Asking your manager is your first and only tool in your tool box.
That gets old fast.
The disadvantages are:
You learn very slowly (if at all).
You need permission for every move you make.
You annoy your Manager.
You work from fear.
You are ONLY comfortable with specific or direct instructions.
You are very limited in where you will go in your career.
Initiative Interview Answers
Example: Taking Initiative By Creating A Streamlined Process
When I was first hired into the HR role I was verbally told, and put together random pieces of info from different people on how to on board a new hire. The Hiring Manager had some pieces, the HR contact at head office had some other pieces, and the communication between the company and the new hire was not at its best.
I took the initiative to create a process with each step involved and who was responsible for it. I put together some email templates with what needed to be sent and when, and I posted this process in a place where all parties involved could see it.
I also wanted to take the time to document this for if I ever wasn’t available it would be clear on what needed to be done.
This was greatly appreciated by the hiring managers and by the new hires themselves. I would often get feedback on how smooth and well their onboarding went.
Examples of using initiative at work
Example: Taking Initiative By Giving Difficult Feedback
The ceo stood up to conduct the Manager training.
His fly was down.
I pulled him aside immediately and let him know privately that his fly was down.
He went to the side and zipped it up.
He thanked me after for sparing him the embarrassment of going through the entire presentation with his fly down.
I said no problem.
That wasn’t comfortable to do. But if I didn’t do it I wasn’t sure someone else would. I’d be the responsible one for letting him embarrass himself for no good reason.
This is a great initiative example because there are few people who will do this. When you find people who will do this you want them around you.
You trust that they want what is best for you.
You know… The friend who will tell you that you’ve got spinach in your teeth or the friend that will tell you when you’ve got toilet paper on your shoe?
This feedback comes from a place of wanting to do what’s best for the other person.
Wanting that same feedback if you yourself were in the same situation.
That is key, the initiative has to be taken from a good place, a genuine place.
So if I had laughed and pointed, and said ha ha your fly is down in front of the entire room. I would have accomplished the same thing but it wouldn’t have been as well received, and Troy would not be feeling like he could trust me, or that I wanted what was best for him.
So the key in which you take initiative, whether it’s from a good place in your heart or not, is imperative. When telling your stories about taking initiative in interviews you need to ensure that you are telling them with the frame of having the person’s best interest at heart.
Examples of showing initiative in workplace
Example: Taking Initiative By Finding An Alternative Solution
I was working at a fish and lobster taco fast food place. I was on closing shift.
When I went to shut everything down I realized that the fridge seemed broken. I checked, and food was not keeping as cold as it should. I checked the temperature and it was rising. It wasn’t at where it normally would be. It wasn’t too late, but I needed to do something quickly or a lot of stock would be wasted.
I checked our internal resources and files for any information on the fridge manual to see if I could fix it, or a number for the fridge repairman, I didn’t see anything. I didn’t have time to fiddle with the fridge myself to see if I could fix it, time was running out and I couldn’t risk the losses that my manager would come into in the morning.
I called my manager to ask him if he had any tip or trick or if that had ever happened in the past to the fridge, if not I was going to ask him for the number for the fridge repairman.
The manager didn’t answer his phone. I was on my own.
I looked in the yellow pages and found a few options. I made some calls. No one was available until the next day as it was closing time. I found someone reasonably priced who could come first thing in the morning.
I had to close the restaurant but I couldn’t leave the food all night.
I made some space in our other smaller fridge but that wouldn’t hold everything.
I asked the neighbouring restaurant if we could keep some things in their fridge until tomorrow. I’d been on a first name basis with the restaurant owner next door and he said sure.
The next day the fridge repairman showed up and fixed the fridge.
I let the manager know what happened when he arrived the next day.
He said thanks for taking care of it.
The other alternative would have been to think like this:
Meh, I don’t need to do anything, since the manager didn’t answer his phone (that’s his fault)… not mine.
I’ll just leave it and go home. He can deal with it in the morning, it’s not my problem. I’m only paid like $10/hour what does he expect me to do?
I mean it wasn’t my restaurant, he didn’t leave me any information or instructions on what to do if the fridge broke so how would I know what to do?
This way of thinking will a) get you fired. b) make sure that your manager doesn’t trust you again c) keep you making $10/hour because you’re not worthy of more than that.
The best option in this situation was not clear.
Honestly I didn’t know what the best option was, I thought of a few different ones and made the best choice at the time.
The key was to make A decision. Because leaving it and doing nothing would have been the wrong decision. That’s all I knew for sure.
End result worked out.
If it hadn’t worked out. At least I took action. I did my best. I made a choice.
I didn’t walk away and do nothing.
Initiative at Work Examples
Example: Surgeons Always Take Initiative
A patient is in surgery and during surgery they start losing the patient, it would seem the patient is going to die on the table if they don’t at least try something to save them.
Making no decision means the patient will definitely die.
Making a decision on a different course of action means that the patient may still die but at least their odds of surviving have gone up because a decision has been made to do something else.
Even if they die, you can still know you did everything you could and didn’t freeze in the face of fear. And more likely the patient lives because of your decision.
Rather than the alternative which is they die due to fear and no action. Surgeons have to take initiative. They wouldn’t be surgeons otherwise.
Examples of Initiative In The Workplace
Example: Making Something Out Of Nothing (Creating An Initiative From Scratch)
There is something else I wanted to talk about in this post, and that is creating a brand new initiative from scratch. I’ll share a story of a simple example that rose morale and made a huge difference for us in how we related to each other in the workplace.
I have applied this same initiative in a couple of different work places now and each time it has been a little different but it works super well each time.
The act of coming up with An Initiative and running with it, is a high level way of taking initiative on a small task or a part of a larger task.
Here is an example of showing initiative at work by way of creating a brand new initiative, rather than simply seeing one thing that needed to be done and doing it.
Example: The My Co-worker Rocks Trophy
Often times coworkers would go out of their way to help someone. That might be by spending time on a problem that wasn’t theirs but they wanted to help their colleague get something done so they helped. No one made them, they just wanted to.
That was time they would take away from working on their own work and priorities to help someone else. I wanted a way to thank people who did that and encourage more of that behavior with a fun initiative. In the lunchroom I mentioned this and some people started coming up with some ideas.
One colleague said he could bring in a “Trophy” Nothing fancy… that someone could “win” each month. This would mean that whoever gave the most help that month, would get to keep the trophy for that month and they could add something to it.
This sounded good, I said sure let’s try it.
So he brought in a rustic piece of wood on a base for a “trophy” the idea being that whoever won it that month would get to add something to it, like a sticker or a little figurine or something that was their contribution. To sweeten the deal we got approval to also award a $20 gift card to the restaurant of the person’s choice.
This lasted until the day I stopped working at that company – and I’m sure it still lives on there now. That is an example of making something out of nothing.
Also known as Creating An Initiative From Scratch.
Taking Initiative is Not Always The Easy Thing To Do
It means making decisions you’re not totally comfortable with or 100% certain about
It means taking risks
It means figuring stuff out on your own when a boss or someone who knows the right answer is not available
It means you develop your decision making skills and learn from experience
It means you flex your analytical and critical thinking skills
I am sure that you have taken initiative several times in your life. Some led to good outcomes and some didn’t. That’s called being a human. The more times we take initiative the better we get at it, and the wiser and smarter we become.
Taking initiative isn’t always about getting it right. It’s about doing something rather than nothing. It’s about acting quickly in the face of uncertainty. It’s about doing the right thing when others are afraid to either do anything, or afraid to make the wrong call so they do nothing at all.
It can also be as simple as picking up a pen off the ground, or cleaning up some broken glass so someone doesn’t get hurt. It can be big or it can be little.
The point is what type of person are you?
Are you the innocent bystander who doesn’t do anything? Or do you call for help? Do you try to help or get right in there and start doing the CPR yourself. Either of the last 2 options qualify as taking initiative.
Exercising sound judgment is important too. There are varying degrees of taking initiative. What are your examples?
Simple or complex I wanna hear them.
When have you taken initiative? Share your example in the comments below, let’s build a bank of ‘em!
If you’d like to learn more, you can get started with me by clicking the link below to grab my free guide:
What you’ll get inside the guide:
Top-ten examples of stories that have proven to be impressive interview answers
The S.A.R.I. formula breakdown of how to answer these questions
The step-by-step of why it works
Fill-in-the-blank templates for each question so, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks and get going!
Now you’ll need to come up with your own stories! (You can steal the ones in the guide if they apply to you though too, I don’t mind)
If you are still getting stuck because you can’t think of your own stories…
I’ve included 25 questions that you can ask yourself to come up with your stories much quicker!
You’ll get all this in a beautifully designed workbook prepared specifically for you to prepare for your interviews.
By the end of working through this guide, you’ll be feeling >confidentsituational interview that comes your way!
Here is some feedback I’ve gotten from this guide, and I get new emails like this every day, and they NEVER get old!
Do you know one person who could benefit from the information in this post? If so, do your friend a favour and share this info with him/her.
And remember, the current system isn’t perfect, but you can outsmart it. I’m here to prove to you that you do have what it takes.
I’ll see you next time and I can’t wait!
In Work & Life
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